The effects of aerosols of cadmium chloride (CdCl2) and cadmium oxide (CdO) on pulmonary biochemical function were compared. Rats and rabbits were exposed to 0.25, 0.45, or 4.5 mg Cd/m3 for 2 h. Pulmonary toxicity was determined histologically and biochemically. Cadmium chloride and CdO showed a deposition response that was linearly related to the chamber concentration. Both compounds caused multifocal, interstitial pneumonitis 72 h after exposure, but the CdO lesion was more severe with proliferation of fibrocytic-like cells as well as pneumocytes. Comparing the two Cd compounds at the highest concentration (4.5 mg Cd/m3), the biochemical responses in the rat were similar. The majority of the effects occurred 72 h after exposure, with significant increases in lung weight, lung-to-body weight ratio, GSH reductase, GSH transferase, and G-6-PDH. However, GSH peroxidase was inhibited immediately after the CdO exposure. Cadmium oxide-related alterations in the parameters studied could easily be distinguished from those of CdCl2 at the exposure concentration of 0.45 mg Cd/m3. The response pattern in the rabbit resembled that of the rat. In both species Cd had a consistent inhibitory effect on pulmonary GSH peroxidase, even at the lowest concentration of 0.25 mg Cd/m3. Based on these findings, inhaled CdO appeared to be more toxic to the lung than inhaled CdCl2.