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Why is my cat breathing heavily or panting?

Why is my cat breathing heavily or panting?

Unlike other animals, cats can't cool themselves effectively by panting. If your cat is panting without strenuous play or exercise, it could be an indication of an underlying health issue. Our Tracy vets talk about why your cat might be panting, and when to see the vet.  

Panting In Cats

There will be moments when your cat might pant or breathe with their mouth open and it will be perfectly normal. However, there will be times when heavy breathing or panting are caused by serious health issues and your cat will need to be examined.

When you notice that your cat is panting excessively or exhibiting labored breathing for long periods of time, you should bring your cat in to be assessed immediately.  

Normal Panting in Cats

The first and most important thing when you notice that your cat has started panting is to think about what they were doing in the time leading up to when they began breathing heavily. 

Sometimes it will be normal for your cat to pant such as when they are anxious, overheated, or after exercise.  Once your cat is calm and rested, the panting should have resolved itself. 

Since panting is not commonly seen in cats it is important to remember that continual or excessive panting is unusual. These symptoms should be followed up with a visit to your vet or emergency care if necessary. 

Abnormal Breathing in Cats (Dyspnea)

If your cat is breathing heavily but isn’t too hot, stressed, or tired from exercise, their labored breathing could be a sign of a serious medical issue. That's when emergency veterinary care may be required. Some common causes of abnormal breathing in cats are: 


  • Some of the more common symptoms of asthma in cats include panting, coughing, wheezing, and increased respiratory rate.  While asthma in cats cannot be cured, it can be well managed with corticosteroids or bronchodilators.


  • Heartworm in cats can cause breathing difficulties. Treatment for heartworm includes supportive care with corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and oxygen therapy in more serious cases. Because heartworm disease can be fatal, it is important to keep your cat on monthly heartworm preventative medications.

Hydrothorax & Congestive Heart Failure

  • Hydrothorax is a condition that can cause deep, rapid breathing, panting, and coughing, characterized by the build-up of fluid in and around the lungs. Treatment may include draining the fluid, as well as medications to dilate blood vessels, get rid of excess fluid, which can allow the heart to contract more forcefully.

Respiratory Infections

  • If your kitty has developed a respiratory infection this will almost always cause issues breathing for your cat. Respiratory infections in cats can lead to labored breathing or panting. In cats, these infections typically begin as viral infections, but often develop into secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics may be required to treat your cat if they are suffering from a respiratory infection so that they can recover and breathe easier. Humidifiers and steam are helpful in loosening mucus and making nasal breathing easier for your cat.

Other Conditions

  • There are many other conditions that could also cause heavy breathing or panting in your cat such as anemia, neurologic disorders, trauma, abdominal enlargement, and pain.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your cat is panting or breathing heavily, contact our Tracy specialists right away.

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