Overview of Pneumothorax in Cats
Pneumothorax is the abnormal presence of air within the chest cavity, which restricts the lungs from inflating normally during inhalation. Air is normally confined to spaces within the lungs.
Pneumothorax can be sub-divided into the following categories:
General Causes of Pneumothorax
Pneumothorax can be the result of any of the following:
Cats with pneumothorax exhibit difficulty breathing and, in severe cases that are left untreated, pneumothorax can be fatal.
What to Watch For
Diagnosis of Pneumothorax in Cats
Depending on how much difficulty breathing your cat is experiencing, your veterinarian may want to place him in an oxygen cage immediately before obtaining a history from you regarding his condition. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination with careful auscultation (listening with a stethoscope) of your cat's chest to determine the cause of trouble breathing. Additionally, your veterinarian will likely recommend the following tests:
Treatment of Pneumothorax in Cats
Treatment of a pneumothorax may need to be done as an emergency procedure and may include any of the following:
Home Care and Prevention
Cats that show signs of difficulty breathing should be taken to your veterinarian immediately. Restrict exercise initially following discharge from the hospital.
Keeping cats indoors can reduce the risk of pneumothorax caused by traumatic injuries due to automobile accidents or attacks by other animals.
There is no way to prevent a spontaneous pneumothorax from occurring.
In-depth Information on Pneumothorax in Cats
The chest cavity does not normally contain air, except for air within the lungs. Any air in the chest cavity is abnormal. A pneumothorax develops when air is allowed into the chest cavity through a breach in the chest wall due to injury (external leak), and/or air leaks into the chest cavity due to a leak in the lung tissue or airways (internal leak).
The presence of air within the chest cavity exerts pressure on the lungs so they cannot expand or inflate when the pet tries to take a breath. Large volumes of air cause the lungs to collapse completely. If the lungs do not inflate normally or are collapsed, the pet cannot obtain enough oxygen and develops signs of difficulty breathing such as rapid, shallow breaths, and cyanotic (blue) gums and tongue. The volume of air and the rate at which it accumulates within the chest varies with the degree of traumatic injury or underlying problem.
Pets with pneumothorax require hospitalization for an average of two to five days.
Related Symptoms or Diseases
There are many other problems involving the lungs that could produce symptoms similar to those observed with pneumothorax, such as:
Your veterinarian may recommend any of the following in order to make a definitive diagnosis:
- No endpoint is reached during thoracocentesis indicating a large continuous leak in the airways
- An endpoint was reached during thoracocentesis but thoracocentesis must be repeated more than two to three times, indicating a slow but continuous leak in the airways
- The volume of air removed during thoracocentesis was excessive for the patient's size.
Chest tubes are also placed following chest surgery to allow removal of residual air for the first 24 to 48 hours post surgery. Chest tubes are placed using sterile techniques, and require that the cat be heavily sedated or anesthetized. The tubes are held in place by sutures in the skin where the tube exits the chest, and with a bandage placed around the chest. Tubes are removed when minimal volumes of air or negative pressure are obtained during aspiration over a 6 to 12 hour period, indicating the leaky airway has sealed.
Home Care of Cats with Pneumothorax
Cats that show signs of difficulty breathing should be taken to your veterinarian immediately.
Restrict exercise following discharge from the hospital. Cats that are recovering from a pneumothorax should be rested for at least 1 week following discharge from the hospital and then gradually reintroduced to their regular activities. Cats that are allowed to exercise too soon may cause a sealed leak to re-open or may tire easily and prolong their recovery.