I love words. Spelling and vocabulary were among my favorite subjects in school. Medical terminology was the most fun course I took in veterinary school. I know, geeky. Starting this week, each Wednesday on the blog I’ll define a medical term and share how it relates to our companion animals.
Without further ado, this week’s word is dyspnea.
adjective; meaning labored or difficult breathing; indicates inadequate ventilation or insufficient levels of oxygen in the circulating blood.
Hopefully you haven’t experienced this first-hand with your pet. An animal with dyspnea may have trouble breathing when laying down and will be restless as a result. The chest and abdominal walls may be heaving. When you look at your dog or cat’s gums, they may appear pale or even bluish in color. Coughing may be present depending on the cause. The respiratory rate may be increased or decreased.
What can cause dyspnea?
Causes outside of the respiratory system
- Heart (Cardiac): congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy, severe arrhythmias, cardiogenic shock
- Neuromuscular diseases: severe central nervous system disease, spinal disease, myasthenia gravis, polymyopathies
- Hematologic: acetaminophen (Tylenol) toxicity, anemia, hyperviscosity syndrome
- Other: pain, fever, anxiety, heat stroke, obesity, ascites (fluid in the abdomen), abdominal organ enlargement
Causes within the respiratory system
- Brachycephalic syndrome (dogs with very short noses and excessive tissue in the back of the mouth/throat)
- Nasal obstruction (such as a tumor or foreign body)
- Enlarged tonsils
- Laryngeal paralysis
- Tracheal (windpipe) narrowing or collapse
- Traumatic airway rupture
- Compression of the airways from a mass inside the chest
- Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
- Lung lobe torsion
- Effusion (blood, pus, or chyle) in the chest cavity
- Free air in the chest cavity (pneumothorax)
- Rib fractures
Whew, it’s a long list (and I’ve probably missed a few things). If you see your pet having dyspnea, it’s very important to take him or her to the veterinarian, whose job it is to narrow down this long list to a definite cause. Your pet will likely need x-rays, followed by additional testing such as bloodwork, EKG, blood pressure, or ultrasound. Depending on the cause, treatment can be implemented to ease your pet’s breathing.
If your pet is in distress while trying to breathe — neck stretched out, sides heaving, gums pale and tongue appearing blue — this is a medical emergency and you should rush him or her to the vet’s office right away!