Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) in Cats What Is ARDS and How To Manage It In Cats

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) in Cats

Cats that experience Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) are dealing with a dangerous and sometimes fatal illness that affects their respiratory system. Find out more here.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a dangerous and potentially fatal illness, affects cats' respiratory systems. It is characterized by fluid buildup and inflammation in the cat's lungs, which can make breathing difficult and deprive them of oxygen.

In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for ARDS in cats, as well as tips for preventing and managing the condition.


ARDS in cats can have several causes, including:

  • Infections: Infections with bacteria, viruses, or fungi can lead to fluid buildup and inflammation in the cat's lungs, which can result in ARDS.

  • Toxins: Exposure to certain chemicals or drugs can damage the lungs and cause ARDS.

  • Trauma: Physical injury or trauma to the chest can cause ARDS.

  • Shock: Shock can be brought on by severe blood loss or dehydration, and shock can result in ARDS.

  • Other underlying diseases: Chronic lung diseases, heart failure, or other underlying conditions can predispose a cat to ARDS.

There may be underlying genetic or congenital characteristics that make certain cats more susceptible to ARDS.

However, in cats, the underlying cause of ARDS is often not identified, and the condition is considered idiopathic. To establish the cause and the most effective course of action, consult a veterinarian.


The symptoms of ARDS in cats can include:

  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing

  • Open-mouth breathing

  • Blue or purple color to the gums or tongue (cyanosis)

  • Increased effort to breathe, such as using the abdominal muscles or chest retractions

  • Nasal irritation

  • Coughing or gagging

  • Fatigue or weakness

  • Appetite loss

  • Drastic loss of weight

  • Depression

  • Increased heart rate

  • Rapid, shallow breathing

  • Fluid accumulation in the cat’s lungs (pleural effusion)

These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so it's important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the cause of the symptoms and appropriate treatment. If a cat is showing signs of difficulty breathing, it is considered a medical emergency, and immediate veterinary care should be sought.

Treatment Options

The underlying source of ARDS in cats will determine the available therapy choices. However, a few typical remedies are as follows:

  • Oxygen therapy: Cats with ARDS often require oxygen therapy to help them breathe. This can be provided through a nasal catheter, mask, or oxygen chamber.

  • Intravenous fluids: Cats with ARDS may be dehydrated and require fluids to help maintain blood pressure and support organ function.

  • Medications: Cats with ARDS may be given medications to help open the airways, reduce inflammation, and remove fluid from the lungs. These may include bronchodilators, diuretics, corticosteroids, and antibiotics.

  • Nutritional support: Cats with ARDS may have difficulty eating and may require a feeding tube to receive nutrition.

  • Mechanical ventilation: A cat may need to be put on a ventilator in extreme circumstances to assist with breathing.

  • Treating underlying cause: If the underlying cause is identified and treatable, it should be treated accordingly.

A veterinary hospital may need to provide critical care as part of the comprehensive treatments for ARDS. The prognosis for cats with ARDS also varies according to the underlying etiology and the severity of the illness.

However, to ascertain the reason and the best course of action, consult a veterinarian.

 The veterinarian will use various diagnostic tools such as blood tests, X-rays, and ultrasounds to determine the underlying cause and severity of the condition.

Preventive Measures

Preventive measures against Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in cats may include vaccinations to prevent infectious causes of ARDS, such as feline viral respiratory infections. Additionally, proper management of underlying conditions, such as heart or lung disease, can help prevent the development of ARDS. 

It is also important to maintain good overall health and hygiene for the cat, including regular veterinary check-ups and a balanced diet. Avoiding exposure to environmental toxins and irritants, such as smoke and air pollution, can also help prevent ARDS in cats.

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