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.
Cats are supreme tree-climbing hunters, with strongly muscled backs and hindquarters that give them tremendous power to jump-either horizontally or vertically. It’s normal for cats to jump and climb to high places as they explore their environment. They have sharp, protractile (extendable) claws that serve as useful crampons for climbing.
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 aromatic.
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 disease.