Nutmeg the cat seemed fine, except that she had started panting like a dog.
Luckily her owners recognised this was not normal for her, and brought her to me.
I could hear that her heartbeat was muffled and very fast.
I warned her owners that I was worried about pleural effusion, and explained that difficulty breathing is a dangerous emergency. We agreed on some additional tests, which would have to be done very carefully to avoid increasing her fright, resulting in a higher demand for oxygen.
Nutmeg received oxygen therapy, and a gentle sedative to calm her.
Then we drained the pleural fluid away, allowing her to breathe more easily.
Pleural fluid is liquid that has collected in the potential space between the lungs and the ribcage. Usually there is just a vacuum there, holding the lungs firmly against the ribs, which allows the rib movements to expand the lungs, drawing air in through the nostrils.
But the presence of fluid in this space causes the lungs to collapse, preventing normal breathing.
When we drain off the fluid we allow the lungs to re-expand, which is a huge relief to the patient, and we acquire a sample, because now we need to know why this has happened in order to guide our next decisions.
With ultrasound and fluid analysis in our in-house laboratory, we were able to confirm that Nutmeg’s problem was heart disease, within an hour or two of her arrival. As she is insured, and a sweet natured soul, we were able to start her on medications that would help her. But there are other possible causes that would not have had such a good outcome, sadly.
It always amazes me each time I drain a chest like this. It is the stuff of drama movies. The pets accept the required needle incredibly calmly, presumably because their whole being is focussed on their next breath. The amount of fluid that appears into my syringe is always shocking relative to the size of the pet, and the improvement it makes to their breathing within a few heartbeats is a joy to see.
On these occasions I really know that I am using my skills to save a life.