Recognizing the Signs is Key
Considering that pets cannot communicate when their medical condition is getting worse at home, being able to recognize signs that a pet is deteriorating is crucial to the pet’s successful treatment and well being. This is especially true with medical conditions that lead to hypoxemia (a lack of oxygen in the blood) as this is a potentially life-threatening emergency.
There are many conditions that can lead to hypoxemia and respiratory distress. Collapsing trachea, brachycephalic syndrome, congestive heart failure, feline asthma are common veterinary conditions that are managed at home but will likely recur or progress, resulting in hypoxemia and respiratory distress.
Here are 3 ways you can learn if your pet is experiencing respitory distress:
1. Listen for airway noises
Pets should not be making a lot of noise while breathing. A honking noise, stridor (high pitched continuous squeal usually on inspiration, or breathing in), or stertor (discontinuous low pitched sound like a clicking or snore) heard from a dog with collapsing trachea, laryngeal paralysis, or brachycephalic syndrome, may indicate that the pet is having trouble getting air in or out. Likewise, wheezes heard from a cat may also indicate respiratory distress. It is important to know what normal sounds your pet makes when they are breathing, as these respiratory noises can be the first clue that a pet is starting to decompensate and needs help breathing.
2. Assess your pet’s Respiratory Rate and effort
After listening for airway sounds, assess the breathing for both rate and effort.
Another sign of increased respiratory effort is open mouth breathing. Cats breathing with their mouth open is always a concerning sign. The same is true for dogs that are not heat stressed or have just exerted themselves. Additionally, dogs standing with extended necks, flared nostrils, and elbows out are working very hard to breathe.
3. Check for blue gums or tongue.
One should not shove anything into or near the mouth of a pet to avoid getting bit or impeding the pets breathing; however if a pet’s tongue or gums have a blue tint, referred to as being “cyanotic,” the pet is indeed hypoxemic and experiencing respiratory distress.
Unfortunately, a pet with pink gums and tongue is not necessarily normal so one has to infer based on the pet’s other signs to determine if they are showing signs of respiratory distress.
A pet in respiratory distress is a medical emergency and an action plan that has been pre-determined with a veterinarian should be instituted when signs indicate that the pet’s condition has deteriorated.
Speak to your veterinarian today about having Transport and Rescue oxygen on hand incase your pet is having a respiratory emergency at home and requires transport to a veterinary practice.
About Sean Smarick, VMD, DACVECC