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The Signs of Fluid in the Lungs of a Cat

| Updated September 26, 2017

Your cat could develop fluid in his lungs for a number of reasons, but pneumonia is the most common cause. It's important to get him to the vet as soon as you detect symptoms. Fluid in the lungs is formally known as pulmonary edema.

Pleural Effusion Versus Pulmonary Edema

Although some of the symptoms of pulmonary edema and pleural effusion are similar, they are two different conditions. Pulmonary edema refers to fluid actually in the lungs, while pleural effusion involves fluid located in the pleural sac, a membrane covering the lungs. Pleural effusion often results from congestive heart failure, diaphragmatic hernia, lung infections, blood clots, cancer and pancreatitis, and pulmonary edema can occur from some of the same disorders. Conditions specific to pulmonary edema include:

  • near drowning
  • airway obstruction
  • or reaction to toxins.

Pulmonary Edema Symptoms

Symptoms of pulmonary edema include:

  • breathing difficulties or breathing with an open mouth
  • wheezing
  • or dry coughing.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet will perform blood and urine tests and take an X-ray of your cat's chest to make a diagnosis. She'll also conduct tests to see if your cat is suffering from heart disease, pneumonia or bronchitis, or has heartworms. She may give your cat oxygen if his breathing issues are severe. He may require intravenous fluid therapy. Your vet may also prescribe diuretics, which help the cat lose excess fluid through urination.

Other treatment depends on the cause of the pulmonary edema. For pneumonia, that includes aggressive antibiotic therapy or antifungal drugs, determined by the agent causing the disease. Your cat will likely require at least a few days in the veterinary hospital. For congestive heart failure, your vet may recommend a diet low in sodium and prescribe a variety of cardiac medications. This is another situation requiring some veterinary hospitalization. Although congestive heart failure is manageable, it isn't curable, and the cat will likely die of the disease.