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Clinical Signs of Respiratory Disease in Animals

By

Caroline C. Tonozzi

, DVM, DACVECC, University of Illinois

Last full review/revision Apr 2021 | Content last modified May 2021

Nasal discharge may be serous, catarrhal, purulent, or hemorrhagic, depending on the extent of mucosal or turbinate damage. It indicates increased production of normal secretions, sometimes supplemented by neutrophils (purulent) or blood (hemorrhage). It probably also indicates decreased “grooming” of the nostrils with the tongue when animals are ill. Epistaxis (bleeding from the nose) is often caused by vascular rupture, such as in mycotic infection of the guttural pouch or exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage in horses, or by intranasal fungal infection or neoplasia, systemic coagulopathy, vasculitis, thrombocytopenia (immune-mediated or a result of rickettsial infection), hyperviscosity syndrome, hypertension, or nasal trauma. Hemoptysis (the coughing up of blood) occurs after rupture of pulmonary aneurysms in the lungs of cattle with chronic lung abscesses. Bleeding may also result from polyps, neoplasms, granulomas, trauma, thrombocytopenia, and bracken fern or sweet clover toxicity.

Tachypnea (an increase in rate and depth of breathing) may be a sign of disease; however, it also occurs in healthy animals such as after vigorous exercise. Infectious respiratory diseases that cause sepsis and inflammation may further compromise the host, eg, pneumonia in cattle due to Mannheimia haemolytica. Respiratory lesion localization may occur when the animal is observed to have more notable signs on either inhalation or exhalation. Labored inhalation (ie, stridor or stertor) is seen with upper airway obstruction or if the obstruction is above the thoracic inlet (eg, laryngeal paralysis, cervical tracheal collapse). Labored expiration is seen with obstructive diseases distal to the thoracic inlet (eg, diffuse bronchitis, principal bronchial collapse, or pulmonary edema). Fixed airway obstructions (eg, tracheal neoplasia, foreign body, or stenosis) or a combination of upper and lower airway diseases (eg, pleural effusion with congestive heart failure) result in marked respiratory distress or respiratory failure. Other responses include coughing, clear nasal exudate, and shallow breathing with grunting; are often associated with the pain due to pleuritis.

For More Information

  • Also see pet health content regarding lung and airway disorders in dogs, cats, and horses.

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