The Pet Staff is proud & humbled to be reader-supported. If you buy through our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you.

A Concerned Pet Parent’s Guide to Cat Panting

Last Updated - December 2, 2021

Do cats pant? Why do cats pant? While dogs pant regularly to release excess heat, cat panting isn't a common occurrence. Cats are usually more discreet, and most cats aren't over the top than dog panting. Needless to say, it can be a bit concerning when it does. So in this guide to cats panting, we'll answer some of the most commonly asked questions from pet parents about what causes cat panting and when to be concerned.

What does cat panting look like?

When a cat pants, it looks quite similar to a dog panting. Your pet's mouth will be open wide, taking short breaths with their tongue out. They may be lying down to conserve energy or standing at attention in a stressful situation. Their breathing may sound louder, more labored, or even a bit shallow. But unlike dogs who pant regularly to regulate their body temperature, cat panting is not very typical.

Why is my cat panting?

There are a handful of reasons why your cat may be breathing heavily. If you notice your cat is panting, keep an eye out for any other abnormal behaviors that may be related.

Common Causes Panting In Cats

Most are temporary and are no cause for concern:

Anxiety and Stress

Your cat may be panting because they are anxious or scared due to a stressful situation. This could include traveling, visiting the vet, encountering other dogs or cats, and persistent loud noises. Try eliminating the source of stress and helping them relax with treats and snuggles. Their heavy breathing should return to normal once they have a chance to calm down.

Overheating

Your cat may be overheated and need to cool down. Give your cat a fresh bowl of cool water, crank up the AC, and turn on a fan to get a breeze going. In hot weather conditions, cat breeds with long, thick fur can easily overheat. You may want to consider taking your cat to the groomer for a summer haircut. Regular grooming can also get rid of excess hair that causes overheating.

Exercise

Your cat may exhibit some heavy breathing and normal panting following strenuous exercise. It's totally normal for your cat or kitten to be a bit out of breath after zooming around the house, chasing after toys, or wrestling with their siblings. Their breathing should return to normal once they've gotten a chance to rest. Pause your playtime to give your cat a quick break and a bowl of water.

Serious Causes of Cat Panting

While most panting is no cause for concern, there are some times when cat panting is a sign of a more serious health problem. If your cat is panting for any of the following reasons, it'll require immediate veterinary care:

Pain

Cats often show they're in pain by panting, becoming aggressive, hiding, and meowing or purring excessively. If changes in eating or mobility accompany your cat's panting, it may be a sign they need medical attention. A distended abdomen, vomiting, or serious behavior changes signal something more serious is going on.

Asthma

Did you know that, just like humans, cats can get asthma attacks? In fact, this chronic lung inflammation is relatively common in cats. Cat asthma affects up to 5% of all cats. Stress, allergens, and other triggers can lead to an uncomfortable narrowing of the airway, resulting in coughing, wheezing, and labored breathing. According to Cornell Veterinary Medicine, cats experiencing inflammation from a respiratory infection will have difficulty breathing, cough, pant, and be very lethargic. Similar to people, asthma can be treated with an inhaler.

Heartworm Disease

Heartworms are small parasites that affect your cat's heart and lungs. When left untreated, they can lead to serious respiratory and heart issues, including heartworm disease and heartworm-associated respiratory disease (HARD). Even an indoor cat can be exposed to this disease. Other signs include coughing, wheezing, lethargy, and lack of appetite.

While there's no real cure for a serious heartworm problem, your vet can reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms caused by the pesky parasite through steroids and oxygen therapy. You can prevent heartworms altogether by giving your cat a preventative heartworm medication monthly.

Respiratory Infection

Cats and kittens can easily get upper respiratory infections or respiratory distress with symptoms similar to a common cold. In addition to panting, your kitty may cough, wheeze, sneeze, and be a bit lethargic. While the average respiratory infection can be cleared up with antibiotics and a humidifier, more serious viral infections may require intense veterinary care.

Anemia

A simple blood work test from your vet can determine if your cat has anemia, a lack of oxygen in red blood cells that may cause tiredness and heavy breathing. If tests come back positive, your vet will likely recommend a combination of dietary changes and medications to increase your kitty's iron count. Anemia is common in older cats with kidney or liver disease.

Heart Disease and Other Heart Problems

Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to heart disease that causes fluid build-up and excess fluid around the lungs and heart, especially senior cats. Alarmingly, heart problems can go undetected until serious blood clots or life-threatening congestive heart failure occurs. Other signs to look for include weight loss, decreased appetite, coughing, and breathing difficulties. Treatment includes medication to remove fluid from the lungs, slow down heart rate, and prevent blood clots.

One heart problem, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), is particularly common in Maine Coons, Persians, Himalayans, and other long-haired breeds. If you own a long hair breed, you'll want to speak with your vet about preventive treatment.

Trauma

Cats and kittens may exhibit heavy breathing under extreme stress or emotional trauma. Rescues from abusive or neglectful situations often pant, hide, cry, have a bathroom accident, or become aggressive when triggered. Talk with your vet to find anti-anxiety medications, calming aids, and behavioral modifications that can help keep your kitty calm.

When should I be worried about my cat's panting?

While typically, panting is temporary and nothing too serious, there are times when it's cause for concern. Persistent panting can be a sign of more serious breathing or heart issues. Contact your vet immediately if you notice any of the symptoms below:

  • Rapid breathing or rapid pulse
  • Difficulty breathing or breathing that sounds shallow and raspy
  • Lethargy, changes in mobility, and loss of appetite
  • Blue-tinged or pale gums
  • Changes in behavior, such as hiding, excessive vocalization, or aggression

While normal panting from exercise or heat resolves after a few minutes, these more serious causes will cause your cat to have difficulty breathing for a long period of time. While cats of all ages and breeds can experience abnormal panting, it's most common in kittens, elderly cats, and immunocompromised kitties.

How can I help my cat with panting?

If you see your cat or kitten panting, first things first, stay calm. There's no need to be concerned just yet. Like we said before, your feline friends huffing and puffing, mouth open is likely nothing serious. The most common causes of a panting cat or open-mouthed breathing are exercise and excess heat, so the best way to help is by providing cool water and a place to rest. Remove any sources of stress and give your cat plenty of snuggles until they're calm again.

When in doubt, call your veterinarian. It's always better to be safe than sorry. If you notice sudden or excessive panting, start taking note of any other symptoms, such as lethargy, lack of appetite, and changes in mood or mobility. Communicating these symptoms and concerns to your vet can be key to diagnosing the underlying health problem before it gets more serious.

lara grisko the pet staff

About the Author

Lara Girsko

Doctor of veterinary medicine with extensive experience in animal welfare with a strong interest in feline medicine and plans to pursue ABVP-Feline specialty board certification. A key member of many local veterinary associations and avid reader of animal related science journals and studies.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE


Get expert advice on products & services for a happy & healthy home for your pets.