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Why is my cat panting and breathing heavy?

It is very common for dogs to pant to cool down, but this can be alarming behavior when seen in cats and could be a sign of an underlying health issue. Our Dallas veterinarians provide some reasons your cat might be breathing heavy and when to seek medical care.

Panting In Cats

While minimal panting, or breathing with their mouth open can be normal for cats, it may also be an indicator of serious health problems that need to be addressed.

If you notice that your cat is panting or exhibiting labored breathing, start by assessing the situation based on the criteria below.

If your kitty's breathing seems out of the ordinary, or if your cat's heavy breathing continues for a long period of time, it's time to seek veterinary care.

Normal Panting in Cats

There are some times when panting is normal behavior for cats. Think about what your cat might have been doing or experiencing right before they started panting.

Similar to dogs, cats might feel the need to pant when they are anxious, overheated, or after exercise. Panting for any of these reasons should resolve once your cat has had a chance to calm down, cool down, or rest.

However, it's important to note that this sort of panting is rarer in our feline friends than it is in dogs, so if you notice regular panting from your cat it is worth a visit to your veterinarian.

Abnormal Breathing in Cats (Dyspnea)

If your cat is breathing heavily but isn’t too hot, stressed, or tired from exercise, it could be a sign of a serious medical condition. That's when emergency veterinary care comes in. Some common causes of heavy breathing in cats are: 


  • Some of the most common symptoms of asthma in cats include panting, coughing, wheezing, and a higher respiratory rate.  While you can't cure asthma, it can be managed with corticosteroids or bronchodilators.


  • Heartworms can cause breathing difficulties. Treatment for heartworms include supportive care with corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and, in more serious cases, oxygen therapy. Because heartworms can be fatal, it’s important to keep your cat on monthly heartworm preventative medications.

Hydrothorax & Congestive Heart Failure

  • Hydrothorax is the build-up of fluid in and around the lungs. It can cause deep, rapid breathing, panting, and coughing. Treatment can include draining the fluid and medications to dilate blood vessels, get rid of excess fluid. This can allow the heart to contract more forcefully.

Respiratory Infections

  • Respiratory infections can lead to labored breathing or panting. In cats, these infections typically begin as viral infections, but often develop into secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics may be needed to treat your cat's condition so they can breathe easier. Humidifiers and steam can help loosen mucus and make nasal breathing easier as your cat recovers.

Other Conditions

  • 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.

Labored breathing in cats should not be ignored. Contact our Dallas veterinarians right away to get your kitty the help they need.

New Patients Welcome, New Hope Animal Hospital, Dallas

New Patients Welcome

New Hope Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Dallas companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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