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Cat xray with fluid in chest.

Species: Cat
Breed: Domestic short hair
Age: 11-15 years
We euthanized our cat this week based on the recommendation of our vet. We feel we should have waited longer to make the decision unfortunately, which may be common in this case. I don't know.

Our cat had been losing weight over the past few months and becoming less active. He would typically sleep all day when our son was active, since he was afraid of most kids. He would come out at night after my son would go to sleep, a behavior that mostly stopped the past few weeks. We tried many types of food and he ate almost nothing over the past month. Almost no stool in his litter box, only urine. His weight decreased enough that I could feel each spinal vertebrae. I decided to take him to the vet because his belly enlarged abnormally while he breathed, even at rest. No coughing or vomiting, or other symptoms. Looking back for signs, his meow was almost like a squeek this last week which made me think it was a breathing issue.

I brought up him to the vet and left him for x rays and blood work to pick him up an hour later. The vet immediately called and said she couldn't draw blood since as he became stressed he started mouth breathing. She put him in the oxygen chamber at about 28% oxygen and developed the X-ray which showed a large amount of fluid in his chest, squeezing the lung space. She thought he would not survive the general anesthesia and would have to remove the fluid without it. Her opinion was that the causes of that much fluid are essentially all very bad and it was more humane to euthanize him.
I looked at x ray and compared it to a healthy feline lung on X-ray. We decided to take her advice and euthanize him because we did not want him to suffer gasping for air. When we held him at the vet after oxygen therapy, he was still belly breathing but not gasping. Breathing looked labored but because of his age (13-14+) it was hard to tell how he should look since he was very sedentary the last months or year.
I just want another set of eyes to see this X-ray since compared to other X-rays I've found online, since it isn't as bad as some I've seen. Still very limited compared to normal lung capacity. I just want to know if this looks bad to you as well. Looking back. I probably should have had her try to remove the fluid and see his response, but with life sometimes there are no second chances. Attached is his X-ray. He did. To have any other conditions we knew of, but had not been to the vet for several years. Thanks in advance for your review.


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I'm so sorry to hear of this sad story. I have to say though that even before I looked at the xray, I agreed with the decision to euthanize. Your cat sounded very sick indeed. Any time there is labored breathing in a cat it is a serious issue. In an older cat it is almost always a life threatening issue.

Now, let's look at the xrays. I lightened it up a bit so that we could see the details. The head is at the left:

cat xray fluid in chest

I highlighted the important issues for you here:

diagram of cat's chest with fluid xray

The entire lung field should look black. But, all that I can see in the front of the lungs is fluid. Normally I should be able to see a very distinct outline of the heart but I can't and this is because there is fluid all around the heart.

Why is there fluid there? It's hard to say. It could be because of heart failure. It could be because of cancer.

There are other reasons as well, but none that are easily treatable. Fluid in the chest of an older cat is, in my books, always a reason to euthanize. Removing it is extremely unlikely to solve the problem.

I hope this helps.

My condolences on your loss.

Dr. Marie.



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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. AskAVetQuestion.com and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Thanks so much for your reply. We have been struggling with our decision to euthanize him since we had to make that choice. Looking back we should have taken him home for a night to spend time with him rather than deciding all of this in an hour at the vets office. Knowing that he was likely very ill makes us feel better about the decision though, and your opinion helped us fell more confident that it was the right decision for him.

This is one of the worst types of decisions I would say I ever had to make, and never want to go through it again. I can't imagine having to euthanize animals, I couldn't do it. The animal has no say in their medical care which makes it seem worse to me, even when it is to avoid suffering or pain for the animal.

Thanks again for your reply. I have many friends who are physicians, but no veterinarians to discuss medial issues. Your website is a great service.


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I know it's hard when you're analyzing situations in hindsight, but I can tell you that if this were my case I probably would not have allowed you to take your cat home to spend a night with her. In every case that I have seen where a cat went into respiratory trouble needing oxygen and had significant fluid in the chest, the result was that within an hour or two the cat was in horrible respiratory distress. It is not something I would wish on anyone to see their animal go through this.

I have been in several situations where owners did not want to euthanize and the end results was a cat that was struggling to breathe, panicking, screaming and then seizuring. At that point the act of euthanasia is extremely difficult as it is close to impossible to find a vein on a thrashing animal in distress. Situations like these are some of the worst memories of my career.

Now, I can't say for certain that this would have happened to your boy but there is a very high chance that this is where he was headed. Please don't second guess yourself. It really does sound like things happened the way that they should have.



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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.