Lethargic cat
Is your cat coughing, wheezing and producing nasty-looking snot from her nose? It’s not a run-of-the-mill cold as we might think of it. Cats can be prone to respiratory problems. If they go unrecognized or untreated, the result can be a bad case of pneumonia.

Yes, cats can get pneumonia. If you’ve ever had this inflammation of the lungs, you know just how unpleasant it can be.

Pneumonia tends to be uncommon in healthy adult cats, but kittens and senior cats may be at risk. That’s because young kittens and older cats tend to have a less effective immune system to fight off body invaders.

Causes of Pneumonia

Feline pneumonia can have several possible causes including bacterial, viral or fungal organisms. For instance, Mycoplasma bacteria, calicivirus and cryptococcal fungi are all potential culprits. The protozoal parasite toxoplasmosis (T. gondii) can also cause pneumonia if it makes its way to the lungs. If these foreign organisms sneak into the nostrils or trachea, they can cause inflammation or infection that then continues on to the lungs. Fluid, pus and cellular debris can build up in the lungs, resulting in pneumonia.

Pneumonia can also occur when cats aspirate, or accidentally suck in fluid, vomit or some substance that irritates the respiratory tract. That can be something as tiny and seemingly harmless as a seed.

Some cases of pneumonia are complicated by multiple invading organisms. A virus or fungus can do the initial damage, weakening the cat so that a secondary bacterial infection takes hold.

Recognizing the Signs

Here are some typical signs of pneumonia in cats:
  • Shallow, labored or difficult breathing.
  • Rapid respiratory rate (normal for cats is 2015 to 30 breaths per minute).
  • Loss of appetite.
  • A dry, hacking cough or a wetter cough that may bring up mucus or blood.
  • Lethargy.
  • Green or cloudy yellow discharge from the nose (if the upper respiratory tract is involved).

These can also be signs of other illnesses. Any time your cat exhibits these signs, she needs a visit to the veterinarian.

After your veterinarian performs a physical exam and history, diagnostics for pneumonia may include a full blood panel and chest X-rays. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, additional tests may be recommended to help determine the underlying cause. Multiple medications may be needed to treat the infection. They can include antibiotics, drugs to help open up the airways and a nasal decongestant to help break up mucus.

Treatment can take several weeks to be successful. Cats with severe cases may require hospitalization so they can receive supportive care such as intravenous fluids and oxygen.

A bad case of pneumonia can be difficult for a cat to fight off. If the infection spreads throughout the body, other organs may become inflamed, affecting their ability to function. When things get this bad, it’s hard for these cats to recover, and their survival can be in doubt. That’s why prompt veterinary care is a must if you notice these signs in your cat.

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