By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM
The veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center, myself included, spent much of last week diagnosing and treating pneumonia in our canine and feline patients. I suspect many readers are surprised to find me writing about pneumonia in the summer. Cold weather, colds, and the flu bring pneumonia to mind, not the heat and humidity of August. None of these patients had a cold or the flu, but all had other medical problems leading to pneumonia.
Asthma in cats differs in most ways from the disease in humans – except both cats and humans with asthma are prone to developing pneumonia. The bronchi (breathing tubes in the lungs) of cats with asthma become inflamed. The inflammation blocks transfer of oxygen in the lungs, causing a cough or difficult breathing. Inflammation of the bronchi disturbs normal lung function, increasing a cat’s risk of developing pneumonia. This is exactly what happened to Delbert. He has asthma. Last summer and again this summer, he is fighting a case of pneumonia provoked by his asthma.
Gem’s tummy troubles
Twisted stomachs, also called bloat, threaten dog’s lives; not just because of the stomach problem, but because these dog’s vomit frequently. Gem successfully underwent surgery to put her twisted stomach back in place, but one of the many times she vomited, food went down the wrong pipe and into her lungs. When food goes into the lungs, the condition is called aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia can occur after any episode of vomiting, but is most likely to occur in an already critically ill pet, not after a simple case of tummy upset.
Frederik the Great
This champion Cavalier King Charles spaniel stars in an award-winning children’s book, Frederik goes to Hollywood. Right now he is the star ICU patient with, you guessed it, pneumonia. Frederik has a malfunctioning esophagus which cannot properly transport food into the stomach. This abnormality, called megaesophagus, creates a situation similar to Gem’s, where food ends up in Frederik’s lungs and causes pneumonia. Frederik has the most severe case of the three patients. Severe cases of pneumonia require treatment in an oxygen cage, intravenous fluids, and antibiotics. Happily, the pneumonia has been improving and he will go home shortly.
How can you as a pet owner recognize pneumonia before your pet is seriously ill? As these cases show, the time of year clearly does not help you recognize pneumonia in your pet. Pneumonia might start with a cough which gets worse over time. Delbert’s family noticed weight loss and a few days later a cough. I saw Frederik in the waiting room just prior to his admission to the hospital. He looked like a limp rag. His owner thinks the pneumonia could have been triggered by the difference between last week’s heat and humidity outdoors compared to the cool of the air conditioned apartment. Gem developed a fever following surgery. The fever clued her doctors in to the possibility of pneumonia. Cough, weight loss, lethargy, and fever are all good reasons to see your pet’s veterinarian to make sure pneumonia is not the problem.