Pneumonia, the inflammation of the lungs, is relatively uncommon in cats. Regardless, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of feline pneumonia, as it can be life-threatening if left untreated. Find out how to treat three types of pneumonia in cats, including aspiration pneumonia, bacterial pneumonia, and fungal pneumonia.
Reminder: What are upper respiratory infections in cats?
Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are far more common in cats than pneumonia. As Dr. Justine Lee explains, URIs are the equivalent of a “common cold” in humans, although the underlying causes are different. URIs are a common cause of sneezing, fever, runny eyes, and conjunctivitis in cats.
Unfortunately, feline upper respiratory infections are extremely infectious and contagious—and if left untreated, they can lead to pneumonia in cats.
Signs of pneumonia in cats
Like humans, pneumonia in cats is more likely to occur (and more difficult to treat) in the very young, the very old, and cats with compromised immune systems. Although symptoms can vary slightly depending on the type of pneumonia, you should generally be on the lookout for signs that include:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Increased respiratory rate
- Rapid heartbeat
- Green or yellow nasal discharge
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Aspiration pneumonia in cats
Aspiration pneumonia occurs when a cat has inhaled (aspirated) substances into the lungs, including vomit, food, or foreign matter such as a tiny piece of plastic. For instance, “a cat may vomit and, in the process, inhale some of its stomach contents, which tend to be very acidic and will also irritate the tissues,” explains Dr. Daniel Fletcher of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Other surprising triggers of aspiration pneumonia in cats include general anesthesia, faulty administration of liquid medication, inhalation of smoke or other harsh chemicals, seizure disorders, and chronic vomiting.
Treating aspiration pneumonia
Aspiration pneumonia in cats usually requires extensive treatment that may include abdominal palpation, chest X-rays, a complete blood count, a complete chemistry profile, removing fluid from the lungs or airway suctioning, oxygen therapy, and an IV drip. Cats with this type of pneumonia will need to rest in a stress-free environment under careful supervision, potentially for several weeks.
Even with treatment, cats with aspiration pneumonia may have a poor prognosis. That’s why it’s imperative to get your cat to the vet if you notice any of the symptoms above.
Bacterial pneumonia in cats
Bacterial pneumonia in cats can occur after exposure to bacterial agents inhaled from the environment or from other cats. It can also arise from an existing bacterial infection elsewhere in the body. According to PetMD, the bacterial organisms Bordetella bronchiseptica, Pasteurella, and Moraxella are most frequently reported in cases of bacterial pneumonia.
Treating bacterial pneumonia
With proper treatment, the prognosis for bacterial pneumonia in cats is generally good. The vet may perform a tracheal wash to gather material for analysis, along with other tests such as chest X-rays, a complete blood count, and urinalysis. Antimicrobial treatment will be determined once the specific bacteria has been identified. Depending on the cat’s condition, oxygen therapy and an IV drip may need to be administered as well.
Fungal pneumonia in cats
Fungal pneumonia in cats results from an infection after exposure to fungi inhaled from the environment or from other cats. Some types of fungi or mold that can cause lung fungal infections include Blastomyces, Histoplasma, and Aspergillus. According to Dr. Karen Shaw Becker, “exposure can happen through contact with soil that’s rich in organic matter, bird droppings, or feces.”
Treating fungal pneumonia
A fungal infection in cats may first present as an eye or skin problem. A veterinarian will need to analyze fluid collected on the cat’s transtracheal wash. Other tests may include a urinalysis, chest X-rays, a fungal PCR assay, and an abdominal ultrasound.
The precise treatment depends on the type of fungus that has caused the infection. Unfortunately, many cats are unresponsive to fungal pneumonia medication.
How to prevent pneumonia in cats
The good news is, pneumonia in cats is relatively rare. Keep your cat up to date on vaccines, and keep your cat indoors if possible. Do your part to limit your kitty’s exposure to smoke, chemicals, and other problematic inhalations. Furthermore, if you suspect your cat has even an upper respiratory infection or you notice your cat exhibiting any of the symptoms above, get to a veterinarian right away to prevent the illness from worsening.
Cover photo by Zosia Korcz on Unsplash