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My cat is breathing heavy and panting, what can I do?

Heavy breathing is normal in dogs after running around but it is much less commonly seen in cats. This isn't to say that it doesn't happen, but you should be wary of serious conditions that can cause panting. Our Thornton vets talk about the various normal and abnormal causes of heavy breathing or panting cats, and when you should reach out to your vet or nearby emergency clinic.

Heavy Breathing in Cats

Heavy breathing or dyspnea in cats, while unusual, can occur after a period of heavy physical exertion. But there may also be other times when this may be a sign of a serious health concern that needs immediate veterinary attention. 

If you notice your cat breathing heavily, start by assessing the situation to see if one of the circumstances below may be a contributing factor. If your cat's heavy breathing is out of the ordinary or if it's been happening for a long time, bring your feline friend in for veterinary treatment. 

When is heavy breathing or panting in cats normal?

Sometimes it's normal for a cat to be panting. Think about what your cat was doing or experiencing right before you noticed their change in breathing. 

Similar to dogs, cats may pant when they are anxious, stressed, overheated, or after exercising. This type of panting should stop once your kitty calms down, rests, or cools down. 

That said, this kind of panting is still significantly more rare for cats than it is for dogs. So, if you aren't 100% sure why your cat is panting, it's time to see your vet. 

What is considered abnormally heavy breathing or panting in cats?

If your cat isn't too warm, or stressed and hasn't been exercised, heavy or labored breathing can point to a serious medical issue.

Umbrella medical terms for breathing problems include respiratory distress or dyspnea. While it's not a disease in itself, it's a common clinical sign of many different diseases. Emergency veterinary care may be required in circumstances involving dyspnea in cats. 


Asthma can also be a reason for cats panting, wheezing, and coughing, it can also increase their respiratory rate.  Asthma is treatable in cats and often requires medications called corticosteroids or bronchodilators.


Heartworms in cats can cause breathing difficulties. Treatment for heartworm includes supportive care with corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and oxygen therapy in more serious cases. Since heartworm disease can be fatal for cats, it's essential to keep your kitty on monthly heartworm preventatives.

Congestive Heart Failure

When fluid builds up in and around the lungs, it can cause deep, rapid breathing, coughing, and panting. Treatment might 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 Infection

Respiratory infections can make it very hard for cats to breathe, causing heavy breathing. Respiratory infections are usually viral, but when a secondary bacterial infection develops, antibiotics might be needed for treatment. Humidifiers and steam may help loosen mucus and make nasal breathing easier as your cat gets better.

Other Conditions That Can Cause Heavy Breathing in Cats

Trauma, anemia, neurologic disorders, 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 people or pets. Always follow your doctor's advice regarding asthma or other allergy symptoms. 

If you are concerned that your cat's heavy breathing may be related to a serious medical issue, contact our Thornton vets at Caring Hands Veterinary Hospital immediately during our regular business hours, or a 24-hour emergency animal hospital after-hours. 

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Caring Hands Veterinary Hospital is always accepting new patients! Our vets are passionate about providing kind and loving veterinary care to Thornton companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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