Why is My Cat Panting?

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Dogs are often known to pant in hot weather as a way to cool themselves down, but have you ever seen a cat pant? Although panting is rare in cats, unfortunately, cats can pant for a variety of reasons, from less severe reasons such as overheating to life-threatening underlying conditions such as heart failure.1 

You may be alarmed watching your feline friend breathing rapid shallow breaths in and out, but knowing the different reasons why cats pant and the other clinical signs associated with panting can help you take action. It will allow you to assess the severity of your cat’s condition and get them veterinary attention as soon as possible.

Panting can be a clinical sign for many of the health issues that affect cats. In this article, we will cover some of the feline health issues most connected to panting, when it’s time to see a vet for your cat’s panting, and how panting and its associated conditions are diagnosed and treated.

What Cat Panting Looks And Sounds Like

Panting is typically defined as a form of rapid, open-mouth respiration, similar to how humans would breathe after intense exercise or a panic attack. A panting cat will look and sound very similar to a dog that is panting. They will have their mouth open while taking quick shallow breaths, and at times, their tongue may also be out, moving back and forth with each breath.

Reasons Your Cat Is Panting

Be aware of other behaviors your cat exhibits while panting because they may point to the cause of the panting. An overheating or exhausted cat might lay on the floor while panting to cool off, but if your cat appears frantic and alert while panting it could be due to stress. Other causes including asthma, anemia, or heart failure can be more serious and might require veterinary assistance.1

Reasons why cats pant

Your cat is overheating

The most common and least worrisome cause of cat panting is overheating. Much like dogs, cats will sometimes pant as a way to cool down. Panting rapidly expels hot breath and brings in cool air which causes water to evaporate from internal body surfaces. Panting cools your cat down but also expends large amounts of water in the process.2

Overheating is the easiest cause to identify and diagnose because you will know how hot it is outside or in your home and how long your cat has been exposed to high temperatures. If your cat is panting due to overheating, you can help them by providing them with a cool spot to recover as well as water to rehydrate.

Your cat is stressed

Sometimes cats will pant as a stress reaction to something traumatic. If this is the case, your cat’s panting will often be coupled with other stress reactions such as shaking, hiding, over or under eating, uncontrollable urination or defecation, hesitation or reluctance, hissing, scratching furniture, excessive meowing, or vomiting.

If your cat is panting due to stress, there is likely a trigger for that stress, and it is best to remove that trigger as soon as possible if you are able to identify it. Common situations where your cat may begin to pant due to stress are during car rides or veterinary visits.

Your cat has a respiratory infection

If your cat isn’t panting due to heat or stress, it may be a symptom that your cat is suffering from a respiratory infection similar to a human cold. A respiratory infection can make it difficult to breathe, and your cat may be panting as a way to compensate for this difficulty.

To identify if your cat is suffering from a respiratory infection, look for accompanying symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, or wheezing. If your cat’s condition doesn’t steadily improve, seek assistance from a veterinarian since your cat may need antibiotics to fully recover.

Your cat has asthma

Between 1 and 5 percent of cats suffer from asthma as a result of inhaled allergens.3 When an asthmatic cat inhales an allergen, their immune system reacts with a cascade of immune cells which can inflame and restrict airways, resulting in labored breathing. This is also often coupled with coughing, wheezing, and sometimes vomiting. Many cats also assume a crouched pose with their heads leaning forward when suffering from asthma.3

To know for sure if your cat has asthma you should consult your veterinarian. If your cat does have asthma, most vets will prescribe corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and bronchodilators to open their airways. On average, cats are between 4 and 5 years old when they are first diagnosed with asthma, and with the right attention and treatment, live long happy lives.3

Your cat is anemic

Panting could also be a sign of anemia in your cat. Anemia is a disease characterized by a lack of sufficient red blood cells in the body.4 Red blood cells carry oxygen and other nutrients to the body’s tissues and without enough of them, your cat may easily become tired. Your cat might pant to make up for this lack of oxygen in its blood.5

Accompanying symptoms include lethargy or pale gums. Increased respiratory and heart rates, as well as weakness, are more extreme symptoms and should therefore be taken very seriously.5 If you think your cat is suffering from anemia you should seek veterinary assistance.

Your cat is in pain

Panting may also be a sign that your cat is in pain. While most cats are likely to let you know immediately if they suffer sudden pain, they are quite good at masking long-term pain as a survival mechanism to remain safe from predators in the wild. As a result, it can be hard to tell if your cat is quietly suffering from constant pain. However, panting is one of many signs to look out for.

In addition to panting, other signs that your cat is in pain can include reduced appetite, lethargy, hiding, reduced interest in play/socializing, irritability, frequent vocalization, decreased grooming, or overgrooming a specific spot on their body.

Your cat has a heartworm

Panting can also be a sign of heartworm infection in cats. Though rare, this infection is insidious and potentially life-threatening. Heartworm infection occurs when a cat is stung by a mosquito containing heartworm larvae. Over the course of 8 months, the larvae grow and interfere with blood flow causing strain on the animal’s heart.6

In addition to panting, symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, loss of appetite, and lethargy.6 Many of these symptoms can be confused with asthma, so it's important to have your cat see a vet to confirm the diagnosis and treat it appropriately.

You can also take preventative measures to ensure your cat is protected against parasites with regular administration of appropriate medications such as monthly heartworm prevention.

Your cat has fluid in their chest

Accumulated fluid in your cat’s lung is a life-threatening emergency

Having fluid in the chest is also known as hydrothorax. Typically, fluid fills the space between the lungs and ribs, making it incredibly difficult for an affected cat to breathe. There are many medical conditions that cause hydrothorax and they are usually life-threatening. Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is one of the most common causes; it is a viral disease that was up until recently considered to have no cure.  FIP is a progressive disease and  results in fluid accumulating in the chest and abdomen regions.7

Other signs to look out for include lethargy, a loss of appetite, coughing, and blue gums and mucous membranes.

Your cat has heart failure

Unfortunately, heart failure is also a reason your cat could be panting. Exhibiting outward signs like panting usually means that your cat has already progressed through the early stages of this health issue and their condition is worsening. During later stages of heart failure, fluid may begin to build up in the chest cavity, resulting in reduced lung capacity.8 

When Does Cat Panting Need Veterinary Attention?

If your cat starts to pant after some time in the sun, you may not have much to worry about. It is very likely that their panting will resolve on its own as they cool down. However, any time your cat pants or has labored breathing without being in hot weather, you should keep an eye on them to see if they are displaying any other signs of discomfort.

Keep in mind that it is not common for cats to pant, and if you are not sure if your cat is experiencing any other health issues, it is always a good idea to take them to the vet for a check-up. Help your cat get veterinary attention if:

  • They have begun panting suddenly.
  • They are panting intensely and it is not subsiding. 
  • Your cat seems to be in pain.
  • Your cat’s panting is coupled with other signs of illness.

Situations in which you should seek veterinary attention for your cat’s panting

Cat Panting: Diagnosis & Treatment

The diagnosis and treatment of panting in cats will vary depending on the underlying condition that is causing your cat to have trouble breathing. However, the visit to the vet will likely follow this process.

 After taking your cat to the animal hospital. The first course of action your vet will take is likely putting your cat on oxygen and waiting for them to slowly steady their breathing. Then, your cat will need a thorough physical examination. You can help your vet during this time by clearly delineating what has happened in the hours before your cat has started panting and if you have noticed anything odd about your cat. 

Your vet will closely review the condition of your cat’s heart and lungs, possibly taking x-rays to get a clearer view. If there is confirmed to be fluid build up in your cat’s chest cavity, your vet will remove as much fluid as possible with a needle. Then, your cat will likely be hospitalized until they can properly eat and drink on their own. During their stay, they will receive IV fluids to help them recover and possibly be administered diuretics and enalapril for their heart if needed. Bloodwork and a chest ultrasound may also be recommended.

Why Is My Cat Panting?: FAQs

How do you calm a stressed cat?

To calm a stressed cat, you may just have to leave them alone for a while. Give them time to be alone in a calm and quiet environment. If they come to you for comfort or reassurance, do your best to speak softly and gently pet them on their preferred spots. There are many treatments that can help if the panting is caused by stress or fear. It’s best to seek a veterinarian to discuss the situation to determine the cause and find an appropriate treatment that can be applied. 

How do I know if my cat is in pain?

Your cat may show physical signs of pain or their behavior may be abnormal in attempts to hide their pain. Watch out for lethargy, hiding, avoiding doing things they usually enjoy, decreased grooming, crouching, hunching, squinting their eyes, and flattened ears.

How can I cool down my cat?

If your cat is overheating, take them to a cool place immediately. You should give them water to hydrate and even spray some water on their bodies or rub their bodies with a damp cloth. A fan or a breeze can also help your cat feel better.

Cat being treated for asthma by veterinarian

Final Notes

If you want to learn more about other ways cats can have trouble breathing, including difficulty breathing or fast breathing, consult a Dutch licensed vet. Dutch is an accessible, reliable resource for all pet owners, dealing with all aspects of a pet’s  life, from nutrition to allergies. We can even help you pick out the best cat toys. Learn more about telemedicine at Dutch and get started with Dutch today.  

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References

  1. "Breathing Difficulties in Cats." PetMD, 19 Jun. 2008, https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/respiratory/c_ct_dyspnea_tachypnea_panting

  2. Geiling, Natasha. "From Panting to Pooping, 8 Weird Ways Animals Keep Cool." Smithsonian Magazine, 7 Aug. 2014, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/panting-pooping-8-weird-ways-animals-keep-cool-180952226/.

  3. "Feline Asthma: What You Need To Know." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell Feline Health Center, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-asthma-what-you-need-know.

  4. "Anemia." Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20351360a.

  5. "Anemia." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell Feline Health Center, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/anemia.

  6. "Heartworm in Cats." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell Feline Health Center, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/heartworm-cats.

  7. "Cat Panting or Breathing Heavily (Dyspnea)." PetMD, 11 Nov. 2010, https://www.petmd.com/cat/emergency/common-emergencies/e_ct_difficulty_breathing.

  8. Kittleson, Mark D. "Heart Failure in Cats" Merck Veterinary Manual, Oct 2020, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders-of-cats/heart-failure-in-cats.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

What is a visit with Dutch like?

When booking a video call with a vet, you'll be asked a few questions about your pet’s health issue. Depending on the issue, you may also be asked to fill out a longer questionnaire about their symptoms and share photographs of them so our veterinarians can better understand what’s going on. You’ll then pick an appointment time that works best for you.

During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

After your video call, the vet will send you a message with a custom treatment plan to help your pet feel better, including a link to buy any recommended prescription or over-the-counter medications. Place your order and we’ll ship it free.

How much will it cost for Dutch to treat my pet?

The Dutch membership starts at $15/mo for unlimited access to the vet. No more long waits for appointments or surprise bills.

In addition to the base membership plan, our veterinarians may also recommend additional medication (Rx and/or OTC) that you will have the option of adding to your plan at an additional cost.