The Blue Patient: Approach to Respiratory Emergencies in Small Animals

Atkinson, B.K. BSc Veterinary Biology,
BVSc Veterinary Science (Hons), MMedVet (Small Animal Medicine)
Resident. University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital, Old Soutpan Road
(M35), Onderstepoort, Pretoria, 0110. Email:

Respiratory distress is a common clinical emergency veterinarians are faced with. Respiratory pathology may be the reason these animals are presented or be the unfortunate consequence of in hospital management or procedures. As with any emergency, prompt identification of the underlying cause withappropriate management are essential to improve the chances of a successful outcome. However, unlike other organ systems, diagnosis of pathology of the respiratory system may prove challenging and often lifesaving interventions are made based on an educated guess. At least until more in-depth diagnostics are possible. As respiratory distress is a life-threatening emergency, initial stabilisation is the priority. Provision of supplemental oxygen, although potentially not necessary will do no harm and may potentially save a patient’s life. Supplemental oxygen will also allow the veterinarian time to think as well as conduct a thorough physical examination to attempt to localise the site of pathology and obtain a basic pertinent history to guide the initial treatment and diagnostics. A logical stepwise approach is the best when investigating respiratory disease. Although there are some constant key elements, this a recipe that will have to be adjusted to the patient, the veterinarian as well as the equipment and facilities available.

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