Symptoms of Chylothorax in Cats

Chylothorax is a condition that affects cats of all breeds and ages. However, older cats and Siamese and Himalayan cats are more prone to this condition. This life-threatening condition is characterized by the accumulation of fluid in the cavity surrounding the lungs known as the pleural cavity.

Development of Chylothorax

The pleural cavity normally has a small amount of clear white fluid, known as pleural fluid. This fluid plays an important role to keep the surfaces of the lungs lubricated and prevents them from sticking to the chest wall. However, sometimes there is an accumulation of chyle in the pleural cavity or a complete replacement of the pleural fluid by chyle. Chyle is a fatty lymphatic fluid drained from the intestines. The accumulation of chyle in the pleural cavity makes it difficult for the lungs to expand and, hence, for the cat to breathe.

Causes of Chylothorax in Cats

  • A growth of masses, known as mediastinal masses, in the space between the left and right lungs can block blood vessels into which the thoracic ducts empty and this can lead to chylothorax.
  • Congenital heart failure can cause hypotension in the heart and blood vessels, causing the lymphatic fluid to back up into the thoracic ducts instead of emptying into these blood vessels. Chylothorax can develop as a result of this accumulation of lymphatic fluid.
  • If there is an accumulation of fluid in the sac surrounding the heart, it can exert pressure on the blood vessels into which the thoracic ducts empty and also result in chylothorax.
  • Heartworm infection can cause hypertension in the blood vessels and lead to chylothorax by adversely affecting the functioning of the thoracic ducts.
  • The presence of tumors can also often exert pressure on blood vessels and cause chylothorax.
  • Trauma, resulting in the rupture of the thoracic duct, can give risk to chylothorax.

Symptoms of Chylothorax in Cats

Cats that suffer from chylothorax experience difficulty breathing and this is characterized by rapid and shallow breaths. The breathing is labored and there is a gap between inhalation and exhalation and it seems as though the cat stops breathing between breaths. Some cats start coughing at the onset of the condition and, since there are very few conditions affecting cats that have cough as a symptom, chylothorax is easily diagnosed in cats that exhibit this clinical sign.

Other Symptoms

Cats with chylothorax seem depressed and lethargic and are intolerant to exercise. They show signs of loss of appetite and a resultant loss of weight. Some cats even refuse to eat and are anorexic. In others, there is a bluish discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes, and nails which indicates diminished supply of oxygen in the blood. This life-threatening condition, known as cyanosis, is caused by respiratory distress and can result in heart failure.

Although chylothorax is a serious condition, prognosis is good if, after treatment such as removal of the excess fluid, the cat displays stabilization of the respiratory process. The cat can recover fully if the underlying cause is identified and treated and doesn’t recur. Hence, it’s imperative that you seek medical help at the earliest if your pet shows signs of respiratory distress.