I arrived home from work around midnight to two hungry cats pacing in circles for their dinner.  After giving them each a scoop of food and fixing myself some trader joe’s pancakes for my own dinner, i settled down with a glass of red wine and TLC’s Trading Spaces to help unwind from the day.  But a strange noise caught my ear.  I looked down to see Louise staring at me, grunting and sniffling.  What’s wrong, Squeezie? I cooed.  She didn’t answer me, just kept making those funny breathing noises.

You’d think that as an ER doctor I could figure out what was wrong.  Sure, if she was a newborn, or a toddler, or even a full grown adult I could have examined her nose, her throat, her lungs, etc and try to isolate the problem. But she’s a cat…a very tiny body compared to a full grown adult.  I peered up her nostrils to see if her nose was running.  I pried open her teeth to see if there were any furballs in the back of her throat. Nope, none.  I cut her nails…I knew this was going to get hairy and decided to protect myself.

I grabbed my stethescope and began listening to her lungs, her heart, her throat…but I had no clue what I was hearing.  it sounded like she was purring.  Did she have stridor?  The noise she made reminded me of a 2 year old with croup.  Should I take her into the steamy bathroom and then out into the cold air?  No…she’s a cat, I reminded myself.

I was getting concerned. It was now 2 AM and her symptoms were worse, not better.  I had no idea what was wrong, and felt a little silly.  I had to work the next day, could I afford to be up all night at the veterinary clinic?  I realized I didn’t have a choice.  her breathing was getting worse, and as a people doctor, I knew that the type of noise she was making was potentially a sign of airway obstruction….this was a kitty emergency!

So I wrapped her up in a blanket and off we went.  Fortunately there is a clinic about 5 miles from my house that is open all night. I rehearsed my chief complaint on the way over.   I knew a long winded explanation was not necessary.  if she were a people, we’d bring her right back to the treatment area for urgent evaluation before wasting time asking questions in  triage.

I rang the bell and entered the animal hospital.

“What’s wrong?”

“She’s having trouble breathing”

She was immediately taken back to the treatment area and placed in an oxygen cage.

I have to admit that I was more than a little worried.  I imagined all the things that I do when I see a patient with trouble breathing. I imagined that I knew what they were doing with her in the back.  I hoped that they could figure it out and wouldn’t need to do a kitty intubation.  Eternal moments later, the veterinarian came out to ask me some questions. I tried to assess how concerned she was…or was she just being matter of fact?

Has she been sick?
Does she take any medicines?
Has she had any illnesses in the past?

I asked how Louise was doing, and the vet told me that they had given her a shot of terbutaline, a medicine related to adrenaline to help with her breathing.  She was pretty certain that it was an asthma attack.

Asthma.

Asthma???

Cats get asthma?????   Well it’s no wonder, they GIVE asthma to plenty of people.

So they gave her steroids, terbutaline, a kitty chest x-ray (2 views!), prescriptions for flovent & albuterol, and sheet of paper with a website with videos and information about giving cats aerosol treatments.  Little kitty breathing masks and little kitty spacers.

Poor kitty.  They gave her a sedative as well…she looks kind of stoned now, she’s been staring at the same spot on the wall since we got home about 20 minutes ago, but at least her breathing is better.  She’s still a little wheezy.  Weesie.  That’s her nickname, who would have ever guessed it would be prophetic?

Just like parents who have kids with peanut allergies have to educate their friends, the childs teachers, and other parents about treatment of allergic reactions with medications, I’ll have to teach all my friends how to check a kitty respiratory rate (should be less than 30), and give kitty albuterol in case of an acute asthma attack.

So…who wants to watch my cat for me next time I’m on vacation?