Why Do Cats Pant? 8 Most Common Causes of Panting in Felines
Why do cats pant? Many cat owners may have observed their cats panting a few times. Is it something that pet parents should be worried about? What could be the reason behind some cats panting like dogs? Let’s find out more about the most common causes of panting in cats according to vets.
Why Do Cats Pant? Is It Normal?
A cat’s normal breathing should not be labored. Its breathing rhythm should sound smooth and relaxed. Some degree of normal panting can sometimes be observed as cats pant to release heat from their bodies. This can happen after strenuous exercise or playtime.
However, a cat panting like a dog or breathing with its mouth open is not considered normal for a healthy pet. There could be an underlying health condition causing the panting and heavy or labored breathing. It can also be a sign of extreme distress.
8 Common Causes of Panting in Cats
Cats may pant briefly after physically overexerting themselves during playtime. This can happen after a round of zoomies around the house, chasing other pets, jumping between cat towers and perches, or playing for a long period.
Cat panting due to overexertion is more commonly observed in kittens than adult cats due to young kittens' high energy levels. If you see your cat or kitten panting while playing, try to encourage them to calm down by separating them or petting them to get them to settle and catch their breaths.
A healthy cat should stop panting after a few minutes from stopping activity. If the cat’s heavy breathing or panting has not subsided after several minutes, we recommend seeking veterinary help.
While many cats seem to have adapted well to higher temperatures compared to dogs, extremely hot weather can still cause them to pant.
According to PetMD, cats experience minor sweating through their little paw pads and between their toes to release heat. As sweating through paw pads are quite small compared to sweating all over the body as humans do, cats need to pant to release more body heat and bring down their body temperature.
If you notice that your cat is panting on a particularly hot day, move her to a dark, cool room with air conditioning and get her to rest. While in the room, give your cat fresh, cool water to drink.
However, if the cat is panting and appears to be breathing heavily or rapidly, take her to your vet immediately as this could be a sign of a heat stroke. Heat stroke is a serious problem and can be life-threatening in cats of both short-haired and long-haired breeds. Here are the signs to look out for if you suspect that your cat is having a heat stroke:
Signs of Heat Stroke in Cats
- Restless behavior
- Sweaty feet
- Excessive grooming
- Rectal temperature is usually normal to slightly elevated
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid pulse
- Redness of the tongue and mouth
- Rectal temperature is over 105° F
A cat in pain may start panting. Pain from an underlying cause like disease, neurologic disorders, or injury can cause a cat to pant. It can also cause their heart rate to increase.
If your cat is panting for no recognizable reason such as recently zooming around the house or hot weather, check her for any signs of injuries or cause of pain. Give your cat a thorough check and see if there are any areas that she does not like being prodded or touched.
While it is common for cats to not like certain parts of their bodies touched, you will notice if your cat is extra sensitive or defensive over a body part that may be hurting. Pay attention to any changes in her body language as well (e.g. limping, excessively licking one spot, loss of appetite, etc).
Cat panting can be an indicator of severe stress. This can happen when in stressful situations such as their first time going on a walk outdoors, moving to a new house, traveling in crates, etc.
Respiratory illness can cause various symptoms in cats, and panting happens to be one of them. Conditions that affect a cat’s respiratory system make it difficult for them to breathe. Aside from panting, respiratory distress can cause heavy breathing, wheezing, coughing, stuffy nose, etc.
A cat breathing heavily or experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above may need veterinary attention. Depending on the specific condition, your vet may prescribe meds such as antibiotics to clear up a respiratory infection or if any secondary bacterial infection develops.
Such infections can be caused by viruses like the herpes virus. Other abnormal causes of respiratory diseases include nasal polyps, tumors, lung damage due to trauma, etc.
Respiratory problems are also common among brachycephalic breeds or short-nosed, flat-faced cat breeds. This is due to their narrow nostrils, and/ or abnormally small trachea. These physical characteristics are common to Himalayans, Exotic Shorthairs, and Persians.
Heart disease or heart failure is another condition that has abnormal panting as one of its symptoms, especially in more advanced stages of the disease. When congestive heart failure has progressed, excess fluid in the heart and lungs make breathing difficult for the cat. The disease may cause pain which can make cats pant as well.
Heart problems can be due to heartworm disease or even conditions that can be genetic, such as cardiomyopathy – a term used to describe diseases of the heart muscle. Certain breeds are more prone to the disease than others. Such diseases can affect cats’ hearts, blood vessels, and/ or blood pressure.
While kittens can be born with congenital heart disease, senior cats are more at risk of heart conditions as a secondary condition to health problems such as hyperthyroidism.
Cat Breeds Prone to Cardiomyopathy According to the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine
Cat Asthma/ Allergies
Asthma is a common condition among our feline friends. It causes cats’ lungs to be inflamed which leads to difficulty breathing. Feline asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing, and panting.
Depending on the severity of the condition, vets may prescribe treatment through inhalers, oral, or injectible medication.
Inhaled/ Swallowed Object
A foreign object that has been swallowed or inhaled can get lodged in a cat’s throat or airways. This makes breathing extremely difficult and the cat may pant when this happens. A cat may also breathe with its mouth open as an inhaled object can make nasal breathing difficult.
Take your cat to the vet immediately if you suspect that your cat is choking or has inhaled an object that may be trapped in its airways.
At the Vet: Diagnosis and Treatment
Upon taking your cat to the vet, diagnostic tests will likely be performed to determine the cause of the excessive panting. Your vet may also put your cat on oxygen therapy to help her breathe and calm down. Nasal spray may also be used on cats to loosen mucus buildup if there is any.
A physical exam will be given to the cat. The vet may check for things like a distended abdomen, growths, etc. They will also be listening to the sound of your cat’s heart and lungs as she breathes. Chest x-rays may also be taken.
If any fluid buildup is present in the lungs, the vet may remove it first before proceeding to any next steps. If your cat is stable enough and will be able to eat and drink on her own, it is likely that the vet will let her go home on the same day. Otherwise, your cat may have to spend the night at the hospital for further observation or treatment.
How to Calm a Panting Cat
Cats are quite adept at hiding illness and discomfort. So a panting cat is a legitimate cause for concern. Calming them down is very important as even a slight increase in their stress levels can push them into a dangerous state in a very short period. Progressing into such a state can make it extremely hard for them to cope or even breathe.
Here are steps that you can take while preparing to take your cat to the vet:
- Keep yourself calm and try to get your cat to relax by taking her to a cool room in the house with air conditioning and keeping your cat as comfortable as possible. Give her gentle pets to help her relax.
- If you suspect that your cat has overheated, help her cool down by moistening her paws and ears with a cool wet towel.
- Do not give your cat any food or water by mouth unless advised by the vet
When is Cat Panting an Emergency?
A certain degree of panting can be considered normal in cats, especially after getting a case of the zoomies. A cat’s gum color can be an indication of whether or not she just needs to catch her breath or if she needs immediate medical assistance.
- If your cat is panting, take her cat to a cool room with an air conditioner in your house, keep your cat comfortable and try to get her to relax by giving her gentle strokes
- Without distressing your cat, try to check the color of her gums.
- If they are their usual shade of pink or pale pink, monitor your cat for several minutes. The cat’s panting should settle within 5-15 minutes. If heavy breathing or abnormal panting is still observed, contact your vet immediately.
- If your cat’s gums appear to be significantly paler than normal, white, grayish, blue, or purple, it is likely that they are not getting enough oxygen and should be taken to the emergency care clinic right away.
How to Prepare Your Anxious Cats for a Road Trip
Travelling can be quite stressful for anxious cats or those who are not accustomed to car rides. Most cats like many other pets like their territory. It is a place where they feel safe and comfortable. Putting cats in an unfamiliar place can cause them to be anxious or panicked.
Thankfully, there are ways you can prepare your kitty for an upcoming road trip to help prevent cat panting and minimize stress for your cat.
Prepping for a Road Trip
- Allow them to explore their travel crate at least a few days before the day of your trip. You can put some of their catnip toys or any favorite toys or bedding inside to help them get comfortable inside the crate
- You can also get pheromone-based calming sprays, which have been proven to be effective in calming cats down during travels. Simply spray it inside the crate or on a mat/ blanket and put it inside the crate. It can also be sprayed on any favorite toys that your cat may want to bring on the trip.
- Calming treats are also worth trying to help with cat panting. Depending on the brand or type of calming treats, you may need to start giving the treats to the cat about 3 days before the trip.
Unlike dogs, it is not normal for cats to be panting often. Cat panting may be caused by a number of reasons from hot weather, and overexertion, to respiratory distress.
Because it can be hard to pinpoint the cause, veterinary care is important to help you resolve any medical issue that your cat may have.
If the panting does not resolve within several minutes of calming down or the cat is breathing heavily, seek emergency care immediately. Cats are quite resilient and are generally quite good at hiding any pain or illness that they may experience. This is where vets can help us whenever there are symptoms they are exhibiting that are out of the ordinary.
Aside from the capability to diagnose any underlying medical condition that may be ailing our cats, vets can also help guide pet parents on supportive care after treatments, or once the cat recovers.