Pneumonia (Aspiration) in Cats Leave a comment

Pneumonia from Inhalation of Foreign Matter in Cats

Aspiration pneumonia is a condition in which a cat’s lungs become inflamed due to the inhalation of foreign matter, from vomiting, or from the regurgitation of gastric acid contents. This type of pneumonia can also be a direct result of a neuromuscular disorder, which would cause difficulty with swallowing, as well as problems associated with the esophagus, with possible paralysis of the esophagus.

Other causes for a dysfunction of the lungs may be an obstructed airway, or inhalation of gastric acids, which can cause extensive damage to the internal tissues of the lungs. Bacteria present in the inhaled foreign matter may also bring about infection.

Aspiration pneumonia is more prevalent in dogs than cats. If you would like to learn how this disease affects dogs, please visit this page in the health library.

Symptoms and Types

Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia include breathing difficulties, swallowing difficulties, coughing, fever, discharge from the nasal passages, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, a bluish tinge to the skin (cyanosis), and a possible intolerance to exercise due to weakness. An altered mood, loss of appetite, vomiting, and regurgitation may be present, depending on the underlying reasons for this condition.


Common causes associated with aspiration pneumonia include abnormalities associated with the pharynx, and neuromuscular disorders, which affect both the nerves and muscles.

An enlargement of the lower aspect of the cat’s esophagus (due to regurgitation of gastric acid), or an incorrectly placed feeding tube can also lead to aspiration pneumonia.


Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination using visual and audio diagnostic tools in order to gain a full perspective of the condition of the cat’s lungs. Further testing, such as abdominal palpation, chest X-rays, a complete blood profile, including a chemical blood profile, and a complete blood count, may also be called for.

Blood tests will indicate the presence of infection, and chest X-rays will show if aspiration pneumonia is present. Fluid may be taken from the lungs for the purpose of defining whether there are bacteria present, and if so, will help determine which antibiotic will best serve in healing your cat.

If your pet is suffering from respiratory distress, your veterinarian may suggest a blood gas analysis, which is a test that measures the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations in the blood.

Your veterinarian may also order a swallowing study for the purpose of concluding whether or not there is a dysfunction of the esophagus. An internal flourescent video X-ray, called a fluoroscopy, may be considered as well, to further assess the muscles of the esophagus, and their ability to move food down to the stomach.


Suction of the airways can be performed immediately after inhalation of foreign matter. If your cat is showing signs of respiratory distress, oxygen will be required as part of a stabilizing treatment. Should signs of dehydration or shock be present, or if intake of oral fluids has been prohibited, an intravenous drip may be inserted. Until the primary problem has been diagnosed, oral intake should be withheld, especially in acute cases of aspiration pneumonia.

Your cat should be given a quiet place to rest, preferably in a cage, away from other animals or active children. However, supervision is still important. An animal with this condition should not be left lying on its side in an inactive state for more than two hours at a time, to avoid the risk of fluid accumulation in one area. Encourage your cat to change positions throughout the day.

Once your cat is showing signs of stability, a mild form of gentle exercise could be beneficial in stimulating a cough, which will in turn help to clear the airways. If recovery is progressing slowly, a saline drip may be recommended.

Living and Management

Aspiration pneumonia is a life threatening condition. Your cat may need to be in intensive care for several days before it is fully stabilized. In some instances, if the condition is related to complications with paralysis of the esophagus, a cat will experience great difficulty gaining full recovery. Once your cat’s condition has stabilized, you will need to continue the full course of medication, as well as any follow-up procedures your veterinarian deems necessary.


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