Diagnosing Chylothorax in Cats

Chylothorax is a condition that generally occurs in felines in the older age group. However, the condition is also seen in cats that are very young. Chylothoax is a medical condition that’s caused when there’s an excessive accumulation of fluid in the cat’s chest or pleural space.

Chylothorax in Cats

The fluid that accumulates in the cat’s chest cavity is known as lymph fluid or chyle. Lymph fluid contains a lot of lipids or chylomicrons that accumulate as chyle in the pleural cavity and cause respiration problems in cats. A normal chest cavity has a small quantity of clear fluid that works as a lubricant. Some cats may have an excess accumulation of clear fluid, while others may have a buildup of lymph fluid that’s drained from the intestines or tissues.

Causes of Chylothorax in Cats 

Certain cat breeds such as Siamese and Himalayan are more susceptible to chylothorax. Other factors such as heart disease and tumor formations induce fluid accumulation in pets. The fluid buildup is also termed as idiopathic chylothorax, when there is no known cause of the condition.

Symptoms of Chylothorax:

  • Difficult or laborious breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Cough

Diagnosis of Chylothorax

The vet will conduct a physical examination of the pet to look for any external signs of disease. A stethoscope may enable the vet to determine the presence of fluid. The main aim of treatment is to diagnose the cause of chylothorax and remove the fluid accumulation to bring relief to the cat. The vet will also determine if the cat shows symptoms of cough, as this is an important indicator of chylothorax.

Diagnostic Tests

The primary diagnostic test is an x-ray that provides a radiograph of the chest cavity and surrounding tissues. An x-ray can also determine if there’s fluid present in the pleural space. The vet will then obtain a sample of fluid from the chest in order to conduct a laboratory analysis. The analysis will reveal the color, lipid content and the presence of lymphocytes. Fluid that contains a large amount of triglyceride or appears whitish in color indicates chylothorax. The vet will also perform additional tests based on individual requirements for each pet. These tests include an echocardiogram, leukemia virus testing and immunodeficiency test.


The initial treatment involves complete removal of accumulated lymph fluid to prevent breathing problems. Diet modification is another essential treatment option, which involves feeding the cat a low-fat diet. Surgery is necessary for pets that suffer from further fluid accumulation within the first three months after initial treatment. If the underlying cause of chylothorax is determined, the treatment is likely to be successful once the main cause is treated. The vet may also prescribe medication that should be administered according to the instructions mentioned.

There aren’t any preventive measures to protect pets from chylothorax. However, pet owners should monitor cats that are treated for chylothorax, and seek medical help if the condition still persists.