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Heavy Breathing & Panting in Cats

Heavy Breathing & Panting in Cats

While you may notice that your cat is breathing quicker than usual if they just finished running and playing but there are times when your kitty's heavy breaths might be concerning. Here, our vets at Badger Veterinary Hospital talk about the causes of heavy breathing or panting in cats and when you should seek veterinary care.

Heavy Breathing & Panting in Cats: Is it normal?

A normal rate of breath for cats is 10 to 30 breaths per minute. Each breath travels to the lungs where it oxygenates the blood. Oxygenated blood then circulates through your cat's body allowing your kitty's vital organs to do a range of essential jobs. Rapid breathing - tachypnea - in cats is often irregular and shallow and can be an indication that insufficient oxygen is making its way into the lungs. When your cat is breathing normal you should only see a slight rise and fall of the chest.

Does my cat need veterinary care?

If your cat is breathing excessively quickly it could be an indication of a serious condition. Since proper oxygenation of the blood is essential to your cat's health, rapid breathing at rest is a symptom that should never be ignored.

If your cat’s sides are moving in and out dramatically, or if breathing is accompanied by a whistling sound or gasps contact your vet right away or call your nearest after-hours animal emergency hospital.

What are the symptoms associated with panting in cats?

Fast breathing at rest is generally a sign of an underlying illness and will often occur along with other symptoms. Depending on the cause of your cat's fast breathing you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Sides, chest and stomach moving in and out rapidly
  • Open mouth breathing or panting
  • Lowered head with extension of neck and body forward
  • Dyspnea in cats (shortness of breath)
  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Noisy breathing such as whistling, wheezing, or groaning with each breath.
  • Lack of energy, lethargy
  • Blue color to the gums
  • Reluctance to move, jump or play
  • Extended periods of sleep
  • Loss of appetite

Breathing difficulties are a very serious health concern. Contact your vet right away if your cat is showing any of the symptoms seek urgent veterinary care for your kitty.

Why is my cat breathing heavy?

Our Southern Wisconsin vets commonly hear from pet parents that are wondering why their cat is panting. Some of the conditions that may lead to heavy breathing or panting in cats include:


  • Common signs of asthma in cats include heavy breathing with mouth open, panting, wheezing, and coughing, and increased respiratory rate.  While asthma in cats may not be cured, it can be successfully 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. Heartworm disease is extremely serious and can be fatal, which is why our vets recommend keeping your cat on a monthly heartworm preventative medication.

Hydrothorax & Congestive Heart Failure

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

Respiratory Infections

  • If your cat has contracted a respiratory infection it can lead to them having difficulties with breathing. Respiratory infections can lead to heavy 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's condition so that they can breathe easier. While your cat is on the mend you could place a humidifier in the pace to help make breathing a little easier.

Other Reasons Why Your Cat is Panting or Breathing Heavy

Some of the other illnesses and conditions that can lead to your cat breathing heavy include:

  • Trauma or injury
  • Tumors in the chest, lungs or throat
  • Anemia
  • Pulmonary edema (lungs filling with fluid)
  • Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
  • Pneumonia
  • Allergies
  • Airway obstruction (something stuck in the throat)
  • Pain, stress or shock

What can be done for heavy breathing in cats?

As with most other health concerns, the treatment of panting in cats depends on the treatment of the underlying condition. This may require a number of diagnostic tests such as bloodwork, urinalysis and/or diagnostic imaging.

Your cat's treatment will be focused on the underlying cause of the breathing issues. Depending on the cause of your kitty's rapid breathing treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Oxygen
  • Antihistamines
  • Steroids
  • Surgery to remove tumors
  • Procedures to drain fluid from the chest
  • Acupuncture

If you are unsure of the cause of your cat's heavy breathing you should reach out to your vet right away to schedule an examination and to have your cat's condition diagnosed. After all, when it comes to your cat's health it's always better to err on the side of caution. 

Treatment is typically most effective when a condition is diagnosed early, before developing into a more severe health concern. Do not wait until your kitty's symptoms become severe. Early treatment could save you money in the long run and may help to protect your cat's health.

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.

Is your cat having difficulty breathing? Contact our Southern Wisconsin vets right away to schedule an examination for your feline friend.

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Badger Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients. Our team is passionate about the health of animals from across Southern Wisconsin. Contact our closest location to book your first appointment today!

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