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Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook

Conditions that prevent oxygen from getting into the lungs and blood cause asphyxiation. These are carbon monoxide poisoning; inhalation of toxic fumes (smoke, gasoline, propane, refrigerants, solvents); drowning; and smothering (which can happen when a cat is left too long in an airtight space). Other causes are foreign bodies in the airways and injuries to the chest that interfere with breathing.

A cat's collar can get snagged on a fence, and the cat can strangle while struggling to get free. Be sure to provide an elastic collar that can stretch and slip over your cat's head in an emergency.

Cats are natural swimmers and can negotiate short distances well. However, they can't climb out of water over a ledge. They might drown in a swimming pool if a ramp exit is not provided.

The symptoms of oxygen lack are straining to breathe; gasping for breath (often with the head extended); extreme anxiety; and weakness progressing to loss of consciousness as the cat begins to succumb. The pupils begin to dilate. The tongue and mucous membranes turn blue, which is a reflection of insufficient oxygen in the blood. One exception to the blue color is carbon monoxide poisoning, in which the membranes are a bright red.

Treatment: The most important consideration is to provide your cat with fresh air to breathe. (Better yet, give oxygen if available.) If respiration is shallow or absent, immediately give mouth-to-nose respiration.

If the cat has a pneumothoray, an open wound into the chest (which you can determine if you hear air sucking in and out as the cat breathes), seal off the chest by pinching the skin together over the wound.

For drowning, remove as much water as possible from the lungs. Hold the cat upside down by placing your hands around the lower abdomen, and swing the cat back and forth for 30 seconds. Then position the cat on its right side with the head lower than the chest, and begin mouth to nose breathing. With heart stoppage, heart massage should be attempted. Continue efforts to resuscitate until the cat breathes without assistance or until no heartbeat is felt for 30 minutes (see CPR in this chapter).

Once the immediate crisis is over, veterinary aid should be sought. Pneumonia from inhalation is a frequent complication.



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