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Show full transcript for Cat and Dog Breathing Problems (Respiratory Distress) video

In this lesson, we'll be covering cat and dog breathing problems, also known as respiratory distress. We'll provide you with a list of signs and symptoms to watch out for, as well as some information on what normal breathing looks like in order to contrast that with troubled breathing. At the end of this lesson, we'll provide you with a special Word on whether or not your pet can get the Coronavirus.

If you've ever had the wind knocked out of you, you know what a frightful situation that can be and the panic that can cause. Because when the wind gets knocked out of you, it's difficult to know when or if you'll be able to take your next breath.

Pets likely experience a similar sensation known as dyspnea (difficult or labored breathing) or severe respiratory distress. And experiencing this condition is probably just as scary for them as it would be for you.

Pro Tip #1: It's really important to understand what normal breathing looks like so you can pick up on the subtle changes to your pet's breathing before severe respiratory distress sets in.

When you watch your cat or dog breathe, you want to see the chest expanding and contracting. It should move out slightly on the inspiration (inhalation) and fall back to baseline on the expiration (exhalation). Your pets abdominal muscles will move slightly with every breath, and this is normal. As is panting, as this is also considered a normal breathing pattern.

Warning: What isn't normal are abdominal muscles that are flexing or becoming engaged with each breath. This is a sign of labored breathing and should be considered serious.

Signs of Respiratory Distress in Your Pets

Pro Tip #2: If you notice that your pet is suddenly having to work harder to breathe than she normally does, and she hasn't just finished playing or exercising, this is a sign that she's in trouble. In this case, you need to get your pet to veterinary care as soon as possible.

Some specific signs you may see in your pet if she is having trouble breathing include engaging other muscles for inspiration, which can be seen as nostril flaring, and using neck muscles on inspiration when taking a deep breath.

On the expiration, some signs to watch out for include abdominal muscles that become engaged, as we've mentioned, or a cough that occurs simultaneously with the expiration.

Some animals might also sit or lay differently than what is normal for them. This includes extending the neck or head and splaying the elbows out. In some cases, you even hear strange or loud breathing sounds, or you may notice that your pet is breathing faster or deeper than normal. And finally, you might notice a discoloration of the gums, particularly blue or white.

To recap, the signs of respiratory distress in your pet include the following:

  • Breathing harder than normal while at rest
  • Flaring nostrils
  • Using neck muscles
  • Using abdominal muscles
  • Coughing during expiration
  • Spread elbows
  • Louder or faster breathing
  • Discoloration of the gums

If you see any of those signs listed above, you need to get your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

There isn't much you can do at home to help with respiratory distress or breathing problems, but you should try to keep your pet calm. Once at the vet's office, he or she will be able to provide much more care in the way of supplemental oxygen, sedation if required, and also recommend various tests to help decide the next best course of action.

A Word About Your Pets and the Coronavirus

These are strange times indeed. And while many of you are concerned for yourself and your loved ones, particularly those who are older, many of you (especially everyone in this course) are probably wondering if your pets can get the Coronavirus.

While the short answer is, no, it's not quite that simple. You see, pets have their own version of the Coronavirus, that for some odd and confusing reason shares the same name of the virus that we humans are battling now. However, it's important to point out that …


Having said that, it appears likely that our human version of the Coronavirus was indeed transmitted by an animal, rather than the escaped biological weapons rumors you may have heard in the news.

However, the question remains: Should you be concerned for your pets during this Coronavirus pandemic. While the situation is certainly a fluid one, and while we don't know enough about the virus at this stage, it certainly will be important to be informed in the coming months and maybe even years.

To that end, if you'd like to get an expert opinion, Cara Armour recently (depending on when you're taking this course) wrote a blog article for ProPetHero on this very subject, which you can check out here: Can My Pets Get Coronavirus?