Cats typically don’t pant rapidly to cool themselves in the same way dogs do, so why do they pant at all? When a cat pants, it’s often due to extreme overheating, stress, excitement or, in some cases, a serious health condition. If your cat is panting, it’s important to find out why to ensure your cat stays as healthy and happy as possible.
What your cat’s panting or heavy breathing means
Normally, your cat will breathe easily through their nose – so if your cat is breathing hard through their mouth, it could be a sign that something is wrong.
Symptoms of heavy breathing or panting
- Fast breathing. Cats naturally breathe more rapidly than humans, with a normal range of 20-30 breaths per minute. Their breathing will likely quicken even more after exertion but should slow back down fairly soon. However, if your cat isn’t getting enough oxygen, you might notice their breathing is quicker than usual and isn’t slowing.
- Wheezing. Listen for a high-pitched, slightly whistling sound coming from your cat.
- Difficulty breathing. Deep or laboured breaths can be a sign your cat is struggling to breathe. If your cat’s abdominal muscles are moving excessively, this can indicate laboured breathing.
- Mouth breathing.
- Loud breathing or breathing that sounds congested.
Normal panting in cats
Cats can pant due to overexertion, stress or overheating. So, if your cat has been playing, is in transit to the vet or the weather is extremely warm, this is unlikely to be a major cause for concern. Try to remove the cause of your cat’s stress, give them plenty of fresh water and make sure they’re in a cool area. If you’re worried and able to do so, check your cat’s gum colour; a normal pink indicates they’re fine and their panting should settle down soon.
Abnormal panting in cats
If your cat is panting excessively, it could indicate a heart issue or respiratory disease. Check your cat’s gums or tongue if you can: if their gums are very pale pink, grey, purple, blue or white, or if their tongue turns blue or purple, immediately take them to a vet as it’s likely they’re not getting enough oxygen. If your cat is breathing at a rate of over 40 breaths per minute, this indicates respiratory distress.
A cat can get upper and lower respiratory tract infections – both of which would likely come on slowly and gradually worsen over time. Pulmonary edema, a diaphragmatic hernia or a growth in their chest, nose or throat could also cause breathing issues for your cat.
An asthmatic cat may cough, wheeze or struggle to breathe – and this can be exacerbated by stressful situations.
Congestive heart failure
Coughing and quickened breathing are the most common signs of congestive heart failure in cats – often coupled with loss of appetite and lethargy. Decreased blood flow could also cause your cat’s extremities, like ears and paws, to feel colder than normal.
Heartworm is a parasite that’s spread through mosquito bites. Respiratory-related symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing and mouth breathing – often coupled with lethargy, decreased appetite and vomiting.
There can be multiple reasons why your cat is struggling to breathe. Other causes for panting or heavy breathing could include:
- Pregnancy resulting in pressure to the chest and abdomen
- Red blood cell damage
- Pleural effusion
- Heat stroke
- Nasal problems
What to do next
If your cat is unable to stop panting, struggling to breathe or breathing too rapidly, immediately get in touch with an emergency vet. Take note of your cat’s symptoms and provide the vet with as much information as you can about your cat’s health and lifestyle.
Diagnosis and treatment
Your vet may need to stabilise your cat with oxygen before testing to discover underlying problems. Treatment for your cat’s breathing will vary depending on the cause, and may involve:
- Oxygen therapy
- Fluid therapy
- Nutritional support
Discovering the cause of your cat’s panting can be challenging – but it’s very important to make sure there’s no underlying health condition so your cat stays healthy. You can find more information about taking care of your cat at the blog page.
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