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Heavy Breathing in Cats

Heavy Breathing in Cats

While our canine companions will often pant to help cool themselves down or regulate their temperature, this is a much less common behavior in cats and may be a symptom of an underlying health problem. Here, our Apple Valley vets share some of the reasons why your cat may be panting or breathing heavily and when it's appropriate to seek emergency care for your cat.

Heavy Breathing in Cats

If your cat is experiencing heavy breathing, it may be an indicator of a serious health issue that may require prompt veterinary care.

If you notice that your cat is exhibiting labored breathing, begin by assessing the situation based on some of the criteria outlined below. If you are still concerned or your cat continues to display these symptoms, it's best to err on the side of caution and bring them to your vet's office for immediate emergency veterinary care.

Normal Panting in Cats

In some instances, panting is a normal behavior for cats. Take some time to consider what your cat may have been doing or experiencing right before you noticed their panting.

As with dogs, cats may pant when they are overheated, anxious, or following strenuous exercise. Panting for these reasons should resolve itself once the cat has had an opportunity to calm down, cool down or rest.

However, it's important to remember that this kind of panting is much, much rarer in cats than it is in dogs. So, if you aren't sure about the concrete reason why your cat is panting, it's always worth it to bring them to see your vet.

Causes of Heavy Breathing in Cats:


  • Some of the most common symptoms of asthma in cats can include coughing, wheezing, and panting as well as an increased breathing rate for your cat. While asthma in cats isn't curable, it can be successfully managed with corticosteroids or bronchodilators.


  • Heartworm in cats can cause breathing difficulties. Treatment for heartworm includes supportive care with corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and oxygen therapy in more serious cases. Because heartworm disease can be fatal, it is important to keep your cat on a monthly heartworm preventative medication.

Hydrothorax & Congestive Heart Failure

  • Hydrothorax is a condition characterized by the accumulation of fluid in and around the lungs, it 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 developed a respiratory infection, it can be a challenging prospect for them to breathe normally. Respiratory infections in cats may lead to labored breathing or panting. In cats, these infections generally begin as viral infections but will often develop into secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics may be required to treat your cat's condition so that it can breathe easier. Steam and humidifiers can help to loosen mucus and make breathing through your cat's nose much easier for them.

Other Conditions

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

Are you concerned about your cat's heavy breathing? Contact Apple Valley Animal Hospital today to bring them in for an urgent care appointment. Our veterinarians are here for you and your cat.

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