A week later, we got her results. The fluid in Kali's chest was chyle. The vet's final diagnosis was chylothorax.
What is chylothorax?
There's some information on the web about chylothorax in cats, but not really a lot, like there is for more common conditions. PetMD has a page devoted to explaining what the fluid is, how it's supposed to travel, and what happens in cats with chylothorax. Chyle, which is fatty lymphatic fluid, travels from the intestines, through the abdomen and chest, and into the veins. In Kali, what's happening is that some of the chyle leaks into her chest from the vessels it travels through, and just kind of collects there. It's not in her lungs, it's outside her lungs, so it irritates them. If we'd left it too long, it could've caused damage, which could have resulted in lifelong breathing problems. Thankfully, this didn't happen with her.
Most of what was on the web didn't answer my questions, though. I wanted to know how easy it was to treat or manage, whether her quality of life was going to be affected, and if it was going to affect her lifespan. Most importantly, I wanted to know what caused it.
PetMD says that oftentimes, the cause is unknown. This is true of Kali. Our vet did a thorough exam and Kali doesn't have any heart problems, tumors or other growths, or lesions that might caused it. She just has it.
There are several options for treating chylothorax in cats.
After our vet removed as much fluid from Kali's chest as possible, she gave us a treatment plan. Rutin, which is a supplement you can find online and at places like GNC and Vitamin World, can be used to help treat it. It comes in powder form or pill form, but if you get pills, they're so big that you're better off crushing them into powder so you can mix it with your cat's food. Our vet recommended giving Kali 1200 mg per day to start.
During that same time, we were taking her in for chest x-rays every few months, and her condition improved quickly. We took her off the rutin nearly a year ago, but we keep all our cats on the lower-fat diet. Kali's chest has been pretty clear ever since we first started treating her. According to our vet, sometimes, chylothorax is self-limiting. She also thinks it could be the low-fat diet that's helping.
Sometimes these methods don't work well enough. Chylothorax in cats can also be addressed with surgery, but your vet will probably want to try everything else first.
Today, Kali is happy, playful, and healthy. If your cat is diagnosed with chylothorax, don't panic. Even if your cat's condition can't be cured, it is manageable. With the right treatment plan, your cat can still live a good life, even with this condition.