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Recognizing Respiratory Distress in Cats & Dogs

If your pet goes into respiratory distress, you may only have a matter of minutes to react. If you act quickly, you can get your pet the lifesaving medical treatment he needs to survive. Being aware of the signs of respiratory distress in cats and dogs, and knowing how to respond, can help you stay calm and act quickly in an emergency. 

Symptoms of Respiratory Distress

Be aware of the most common symptoms of respiratory distress so you can act quickly:

  • Trouble catching his breath
  • Heaving, wheezing, or gasping for breath
  • Gray, blue, or white gums
  • Blue skin
  • Sitting upright with the head and neck extended
  • Breathing with an open mouth (cats only)
  • Rapid breathing or panting
  • Long, drawn-out breathing
  • Unable to settle down
  • Collapse or loss of consciousness
  • Exaggerated movement of the chest and abdomen while breathing

Causes of Respiratory Distress

It may help to know the cause of your pet’s respiratory distress, so you can tell the veterinarian when you arrive. A common cause of respiratory distress is anaphylactic shock from a life-threatening allergy. If your pet ate something strange, was exposed to a chemical or unknown substance, or was bitten or stung by an insect or snake, make sure to tell the veterinarian immediately. Other common causes of respiratory distress are:

  • Asthma and allergies
  • Pneumonia
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Exposure to toxins or chemicals
  • Infections
  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Exposure to smoke
  • Near drowning
  • Choking
  • Aspiration from vomiting or acid reflux
  • Heat exhaustion

What to Do to Save Your Pet

Every second counts when you’re dealing with a pet in respiratory distress. If you suspect your pet is choking, don’t use an instrument or apparatus to try to get the obstruction out of your pet’s mouth or throat. You risk pushing it in further. If your pet is struggling to breathe, has passed out or collapsed, or has blue skin or gums, take him to the closest veterinary hospital as quickly as possible.

Having the phone number for the closest emergency veterinarian in your phone or on hand will help you during an emergency. Call ahead and let them know you’re coming so they can prepare.