Veterinary Handbook Disease Finder

Respiratory Distress


Other Names

  • Dyspnoea



Dyspnoea refers to laboured or difficult breathing, often in association with evidence of general distress such as extended head and neck, sawhorse posture, and an anxious expression. Hypoxic animals will show signs of dyspnoea.

Clinical Signs and Diagnosis

Dyspnoea is most often associated with disease of the respiratory tract, such as airway obstruction, pneumonia, or other diseases of the airways or lungs. A range of other conditions may cause or exacerbate dyspnoea, including physical exertion, pain, trauma, severe systemic diseases, acidosis, and heat stress.

Dyspnoea accompanied by coughing is indicative of tracheobronchial disease.

The most likely differential diagnoses in shipboard cattle with respiratory distress include:

  • Pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
  • Heat stress.
  • Bloat causing compression of the diaphragm.
  • Physical exertion.
  • Hypoxia from engine exhaust gases, or exposure to toxins in feed (nitrate/nitrite, cyanide).


Choice of treatment will be dictated by the diagnosis. Animals that are dyspnoeic due to advanced respiratory disease should be humanely euthanased.


The preventative measures implemented will depend on the hazards identified, the likelihood of mishap, and the cost of consequences should they eventuate.