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Why is My Cat Breathing Heavy?

You may be aware that dogs pant to cool down, but panting in cats is much less common and could be a sign of an underlying health problem. Our Murfreesboro veterinarians and the team discuss some of the reasons why cats pant, as well as when to visit the vet.

Heavy Breathing in Cats

Since cats don't typically pant, heavy breathing can be an indication of a serious health concern that requires prompt veterinary care. 

If you notice that your cat is panting or breathing heavily start by assessing the situation based on the criteria below. If you are at all concerned with your cat's heavy breathing or if they are displaying any other troubling symptoms, it's best to err on the side of caution and head to the vet for emergency veterinary care right away. 

When Heavy Breathing is Normal for Cats

While uncommon, in some cases, panting is normal behavior for cats. Take a moment to consider what your cat was doing or experiencing immediately before you noticed their panting.

Cats, like dogs, may pant if they become overheated, anxious, or after engaging in strenuous exercise (such as being chased by a dog). If your cat is panting for any of these reasons, the panting should stop once the cat has had a chance to calm down, cool down, or rest.

As mentioned previously, panting and heavy breathing are much less common in our feline friends than it is in dogs. So if you're not entirely sure why your cat is panting, it’s worth a visit to your vet.

Causes of Heavy Breathing in Cats:


  • Common signs of asthma in cats include heavy breathing with mouth open, panting, wheezing, coughing, and increased respiratory rate.  While asthma in cats may not be cured, it can be successfully managed with corticosteroids or bronchodilators.


  • In cats, a heartworm can cause breathing problems. Heartworm treatment includes supportive care with corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and, in more severe cases, oxygen therapy. Because heartworm disease is extremely serious and can be fatal, our veterinarians recommend that you keep your cat on a monthly heartworm preventative medication.

Hydrothorax & Congestive Heart Failure

  • Hydrothorax is 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 a respiratory infection, it may be difficult for them to breathe normally. In cats, respiratory infections can cause heavy breathing or panting. These infections usually begin as viral infections, but they frequently progress to secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics may be necessary to treat your cat's condition and allow them to breathe easier. As your cat recovers, humidifiers and steam can help loosen mucus and make nasal breathing easier.

Other Conditions Which Can Lead To Cats Breathing Heavy

  • Anemia, neurologic disorders, trauma, abdominal enlargement, and pain can also cause cats to pant or exhibit heavy breathing.

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 breathing heavily or panting? Call our Murfreesboro vets at Animal Medical Center right away for assistance. 

New Patients Always Welcome

Animal Medical Center is happy to welcome new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about improving the health of Murfreesboro companion animals. Contact us today to book your pet's first appointment.

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