Pneumonia is an infection of
the lungs and is classified according to cause: viral, bacterial, fungal,
parasitic, or inhalation.
Pneumonia can follow one of the feline viral respiratory illnesses, when the
cat’s natural defenses are weakened by the primary
infection. This allows secondary bacterial invaders to gain a foothold.
Individuals most likely to develop pneumonia are kittens, old cats, cats who
are malnourished or immunosuppressed, and cats with long-standing respiratory
diseases such as chronic bronchitis.
Rarely diagnosed in cats but one of the most common conditions affecting dogs, mange is a skin disease caused by several species of tiny mites. Some mange mites are normal residents of a cat’s skin and hair follicles, while others are considered parasites. All mites can cause mild to severe skin infections if they proliferate.
Aspiration of foreign material during vomiting (perhaps while the cat
is under anesthesia) and the unskilled
administration of medications or supplemental feedings account for occasional
cases. Tuberculosis and systemic fungus infections are infrequent causes of
pneumonia. These illnesses are discussed in chapter 3, Infectious Diseases.
The general symptoms of pneumonia include high fever, rapid breathing, splinting,
cough, fast pulse, and rattling and bubbling in the chest. When the disease is
severe enough to cause an oxygen deficiency, you will notice a blue cast to the
mucous membranes of the mouth. The diagnosis is confirmed by laboratory tests
and a chest X-ray.
Treatment: Pneumonia is a serious illness requiring urgent veterinary
attention. Until veterinary help is available, move your cat to warm, dry
quarters and humidify the air. Give her plenty of water. Do not use cough
medications, because coughing in a cat with
pneumonia helps to clear the airways.
Pneumonia usually responds to an antibiotic selected specifically for the
causative agent. Your veterinarian can select the proper antibiotic. A
nebulizer may be used as the best method of getting antibiotics into the cat’s
lungs. Your cat may need to be hospitalized for fluids and oxygen therapy.
Cats with severe respiratory infections may not want to eat because they
can’t smell the food. Strong-smelling food, such as canned tuna, may help to
stimulate appetite. Gently warming the food will also make it more
The most common cause of difficult breathing in cats is pleural
effusion-fluid accumulation in the pleural space surrounding the lungs. The
fluid compresses the lungs and keeps them from filling with air. This condition
is much more common in cats than it is in other animals. The reason is that
cats suffer from two diseases that produce pleural effusion: feline infectious
peritonitis and feline leukemia. Other causes of
pleural effusion include cancers, congestive heart failure, and liver
Infections in the pleural space follow puncture wounds of the chest, often
acquired in fights with other animals, including other cats. The infection
leads to pus formation in the lungs, a condition called empyema or
Bleeding into the chest cavity and lungs often follows chest trauma. A
severe blow to the abdomen can rupture a cat’s diaphragm, allowing the
abdominal organs to enter the chest cavity and compress the lungs. This is a
diaphragmatic hernia. These cats can show evidence of shock.