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Why is my Cat Breathing Heavy?

You may catch some animals panting heavily on occasion, some more frequently than others, such as dogs. One animal that doesn't pant often is cats. In fact, if you notice that your cat is breathing heavy or panting then you may want to pay attention. Here, our Nashville vets discuss some of the reasons your cat is experiencing heavy breathing and when you should be concerned.

Heavy Breathing Cat

Cats rarely pant, and if they do it is a fairly good indicator that they may be experiencing some sort of medical distress.

As soon as you notice that your cat is panting you should compare their state to the information below and potentially call your vet. If you are at all concerned with your cat's heavy breathing or they are displaying any other troubling symptoms, it's best to err on the side of caution and head to the vet for emergency care right away. 

Times When Heavy Breathing is Normal for Cats

While panting in cats can be a straightforward sign of illness, there have been situations in which panting has been perfectly normal in cats. Take a moment to consider what your cat was doing or experiencing immediately before you noticed their panting.

Just like their canine counterparts, cats may pant if they become overheated, anxious, or following very strenuous exercise (such as being chased by a dog). If your cat is breathing heavy due to any of those reasons the panting should resolve itself once the cat has had an opportunity 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.

The Most Common Causes of Cats Breathing Heavy

Our Nashville vets often hear from pet owners wondering why their feline friend is breathing so heavily. Below are just a few of the reasons why your cat may be breathing heavy or panting excessively.


  • If your cat is experiencing asthma the main symptoms they experience may include heavy breathing with mouth open, panting, wheezing, and coughing, and increased respiratory rate.  While asthma in cats may not be cured, it can be successfully managed with corticosteroids or bronchodilators.


  • It may surprise you but heartworm in cats has the ability to cause breathing difficulties. Treatment for heartworm includes supportive care with corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and oxygen therapy in more serious cases. Heartworm disease is extremely serious and can be fatal, which is why our vets recommend keeping 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. If your cat is suffering from this condition then your vet may treat them by 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 feline friend has developed a respiratory infection it may be difficult for them to breathe normally. Respiratory infections are a common cause of heavy breathing or panting in cats. These infections typically begin as viral infections, but often develop into secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics may be required to treat your cat's condition so that they can breathe easier. Humidifiers and steam can help loosen mucus and make nasal breathing easier as your cat recovers.

Other Possible Causes For Cats Breathing Heavy

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

Ensuring Your Cat's Long-term Health

You should always be aware of the health of your cat and if they are exhibiting any symptoms of any conditions. If you feel they may be showing signs of illness then it is ideal to have them assessed as soon as possible.  When it comes to the health of your feline friend you should always be cautious.

It's also important to remember that treatment is most effective when a condition is diagnosed early, before developing into a more severe health concern. Early treatment could save you money in the long run, and may help to protect your cat's health.

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.

If you happen to notice that your cat is breathing pretty heavy you should contact our Nashville vets to schedule a visit.

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