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First aid for pets struggling to breathe

isolated cat dog and rabbits

Overview

  • Struggling to breathe is a life-threatening emergency.
  • Stay calm: stress is likely to make them worse.
  • Take your pet to your nearest vets if they are struggling to breathe, call them on the way to let them know you are coming.
  • Pets that are struggling to breathe often have noisy breathing, lie stretched out and take fast, short breaths.

Covid-19 update

In the current situation, if your pet is struggling to breathe, head straight to your vets but call them before you arrive to check they are open. If they are closed, you will be directed to another local practice.

First aid

Step one: Stay calm

  • Keep your pet calm and cool – stress will make their breathing worse.

Step two: Check your pet

  • If your pet is struggling to breath, they are likely to have the some of the following symptoms:
    • Noisy breathing
    • Fast breathing
    • White, blue or grey gums
    • Stretching out to breathe more easily
    • Cats will open their mouths to breathe if they are really struggling.
  • Check for choking - do they have anything stuck in their mouth or throat that you can remove?
  • Stopped breathing? If your pet has stopped breathing, give CPR.

Step three: Call your vet

  • Whether you need to call your vet, or go straight to your vet practice will depend on how severe your pet’s breathing problem is.
  • Take your pet to your vets immediately if they:
    • are unable to breathe
    • have collapsed
    • have white, grey or blue gums
    • are getting rapidly worse.
  • If possible, phone on the way to check they are ready for your pet to arrive.
  • If your pet has less serious signs that improve once they calm down, they may not need emergency treatment, but it’s still best to get them checked, especially if their breathing is quicker or noisier than usual.

Pre-existing conditions

If your pet has a condition that affects their breathing, such as heart disease, asthma or BOAS, it’s important to contact your vet if their breathing changes.

Published: May 2020

PetWise Pet Health Hub – brought to you thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery 

Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst