Now normal resting breathing rates for kitties is ~20-30 breaths per minute, so if he is breathing that quickly, then that is a terribly elevated breathing rate and tells us that poor Oscar is in respiratory distress. And this sign alone is a red flag that his situation is severe, serious, and he needs this addressed for him before he gets to a point where he cannot breathe fast enough to get enough oxygen into his body.
Now to hear that your elderly cat has a distended belly but has been losing weight everywhere else raises our concerns to what is within the belly and what is stealing nutrition from him. Furthermore, if he is struggling to breathe, we have to consider that this entity in his belly may be pushing up on his chest from the inside to limit his ability to expand his lungs or may have spread to the lungs reducing how much lung tissue he actually can breathe with.
Now when we have abdominal distension of this nature, we have a few concerns. We don't usually see air in the abdomen unless a cat has had a severe trauma (ie a hole in the body wall that could let air in or perforation of the gut letting gas into the abdomen). Instead, we can see organ enlargement, tumors, and fluid build up (which when severe can feel taut on palpation)
Now enlargement of organs like the liver are self-explanatory and can arise due to organ disease as well as secondary to metabolic diseases affecting the body on the whole. Otherwise, in regards to fluid build up within the belly (ascites), we can see fluid cause a similar distension of the belly and when we do it is often a side effect of a primary condition (which could also cause the weight loss and wasting). Examples of conditions of the elderly cat that could cause ascites in the belly includes heart disease, small tumors significantly affecting the circulation, liver disease, protein deficiency caused by protein losing diseases of the kidney or GI (we can also see this with viral or bacterial infections, but would be less likely with this history).
Finally, if we have a firm entity (not necessarily hard) in the distended abdomen, we have to always consider a potential tumor growing within the abdomen. This could be a nasty cancer or even a benign growth and can arise from the liver, kidneys, spleen internal lymph nodes, or even gastrointestinal tract. These masses often grow quietly until they get to a size where the cause distension of the belly, compression of the other abdominal contents, and steal nutrients from the rest of the body (leading to weight loss despite a great appetite)
In this situation, it would be ideal to have Oscar checked by his vet. (especially if he is struggling to breathe) They can have a feel of his belly to tell you if you are facing a tumor or fluid from one of the above conditions. They can also listen to his heart to determine if there are any murmurs or irregular rhythms that would elevate suspicions of heart disease. And if fluid is suspect, then they can either test a blood sample (to check organ function) or test the fluid directly (which can be checked for tumor cells, protein levels, and help determine the cause for its origin). And depending on their findings, will give you an idea to whether this is something that can be treated or if this is something that would have a poor prognosis for him and that he needs relief from suffering for.
I hope this information is helpful.
If you need any additional information, do not hesitate to ask!
All the best,
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