A closer look: Blue (Cyanotic) Gums in Cats
Cyanosis is an emergency, immediate medical attention may be crucial in saving the animal's life.
There are two types of cyanosis:
Central cyanosis affects all the animal's tissues. It is caused by the decrease of oxygenated blood throughout the body as a result of heart or lung problems.
Peripheral cyanosis is localized, and the discoloration affects only one specific part of the body.
Differentiating between central and peripheral cyanosis is not always easy, and either condition indicates a need for emergency care.
Cyanosis is caused by poor oxygenation. A number of underlying conditions and risk factors can lead to cyanosis.
Several chemicals can restrict a cat’s hemoglobin from correctly delivering oxygen to the body. These chemicals include:
- Nitrates (found in soil and water, or food additives)
- Methylene blue
- Some topical anesthetics
Short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds (e.g. Persian, Himalayan, Shorthair, Burmese) are more likely to develop cyanosis. Blue gums are often accompanied by panting. Unlike dogs, panting in cats is a symptom of severe distress and medical attention is warranted.
Testing and diagnosis
A cat presenting with severe cyanosis may require supplemental oxygen before diagnostic testing can begin.
Once stabilized, a cat presenting with cyanosis usually undergoes the following diagnostics:
- Arterial blood gas test (ABG): the ABG test involves obtaining a sample of arterial blood while the animal is receiving oxygen supplementation
- Diagnostic imaging
- Pulse oximetry
- Blood tests
Treatment of cyanosis is dependent on the underlying cause.
Blue gums are unique and self evident, but cyanosis may be confused with pale or gray gums in the early moments of development of the symptom.