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Heavy Breathing in Cats

Heavy Breathing in Cats

Heavy breathing in cats is not typically common and may warrant a trip to the vet. In this post, our Cordova vets discuss heavy breathing in cats including the causes, signs, and treatment options.

Panting or Heavy Breathing in Cats

While some panting in cats is normal, in other cases it can be a sign of a serious problem that needs immediate veterinary care. If you notice your cat breathing heavily, assess the situation based on the criteria we describe below. If the heavy breathing is out of the ordinary or goes on for a long period of time, bring your cat to the vet.

Normal Panting in Cats

In some cases, a kitty’s pants may be normal. What was your cat experiencing or doing immediately before you noticed her panting?

Similar to dogs, cats may pant if they are anxious, stressed, or overheated. Strenuous exercise may be another cause. Once your cat has had a chance to rest, calm down, and cool down, this sort of panting should subside.

However, even this type of panting is much more rarely seen in cats than in dogs. So, if you’re not 100% positive about why your cat is panting, it’s best to bring her to the veterinarian.

Symptoms of Heavy Breathing or Panting

There are some common symptoms of heavy breathing or panting that cat owners should be aware of. Here are a few we see most often:

  • Hiding
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing (in some cases)
  • Hiding
  • Raspy, rattling breaths
  • Purple or blue tint to gums
  • Rapid, noisy, or shallow breathing

Abnormal Panting in Cats

If you’ve checked your cat’s activity and temperature, and she isn’t tired from exercise, stressed, or too warm, her heavy or labored breathing may be an indication of a serious medical issue. In this case, emergency veterinary care is required. With early intervention, we may be able to reduce recovery time, or even save a life. 

Respiratory Infection

These infections are typically viral and can make it difficult for cats to breathe, leading to heavy breathing. If a secondary bacterial infection develops, your cat may need to be treated with antibiotics.

Steam and humidifiers can help loosen mucus and ease nasal breathing as your cat recovers.


This treatable condition can cause cats to cough, wheeze, and pant. It may also cause an increased respiratory rate. Medications such as bronchodilators or corticosteroids are often taken to treat asthma in cats.

Congestive Heart Failure

Fluid can build up in and around a cat’s lungs, which causes coughing, deep, rapid breathing, and panting. Your vet may need to drain the fluid and prescribe medications to eliminate excess fluid, dilate blood vessels and force the heart to contract more forcefully to treat the condition.


Heartworm can easily cause breathing problems in cats. Because the disease can be fatal, it’s important to ensure your cat is kept on a monthly heartworm-preventive medication. Treatment for the disease may include supportive care using corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. In more serious cases, oxygen therapy may be needed.

Other Conditions

Pain, neurologic disorders, enlargement of the abdomen, trauma, and anemia can also cause cats to display heavy breathing or panting.

What to Do Next

If your cat is having problems breathing or is breathing heavily, take her to your veterinarian immediately. While she’s being transported, you’ll want to minimize stress as much as possible. Use a box or carrier to keep your cat safe while on the way to the clinic, so her breathing is not compromised by being held.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If your kitty is experiencing respiratory distress, she’ll be put on oxygen right away while the veterinarian waits for your cat to calm down. Your vet should perform a thorough physical exam, paying especially close attention to how the lungs and heart sound. Chest X-rays will often be taken as well.

If your vet discovers evidence of fluid buildup in the chest, your vet will focus on treating the condition by removing the fluid with a needle, then keeping it from accumulating again. While most cats will tolerate the needle well, preventing the fluid’s return may prove difficult depending on the underlying cause of your cat’s breathing problems.

Your vet’s goal will be to treat your cat so she will be well enough to eat and drink on her own. This may need to be hospitalized for a few days while receiving intravenous fluids and medication. Oxygen therapy may be necessary long-term or indefinitely.

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

Do you think your cat's heavy breathing constitutes an emergency? Contact our Cordova vets to have your companion cared for.

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