Heavy Breathing in Cats
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Heavy Breathing in Cats

Est. read time: 8 min.

Have you noticed your cat’s breathing is louder than usual? If so, you might feel a growing concern over their respiration patterns. While not all heavy breathing in cats is cause for alarm, you should pay close attention to your fur baby’s breathing to determine if you need to visit the vet. While dogs pant often, here are a few things you should consider when it comes to cats.

What is normal breathing for cats?

To have a better understanding of what heavy breathing in cats looks like, you might need to consider what normal breathing looks like. A cat has a resting respiration rate that typically ranges from 15-30 breaths per minute. A respiratory rate over 50 breaths per minute means you should contact the vet. Hint: Count the number of breaths in 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get the total breaths per minute. You can use your phone or a timer to keep track. 

Reasons why your cat is breathing so hard

You tracked your cat's breathing and you noticed that they’re breathing hard—now what? First, it is important to stay calm if you sense your animal is in distress. There are a few reasons that your cat may be breathing heavily, and some are more serious than others. Let’s take a look. 

Cat dyspnea

Trouble breathing, or cat dyspnea, is not uncommon and should be taken seriously. This can be caused by a variety of conditions. Though it can be concerning and scary to watch your kitty struggling to breathe, it can be treated once the underlying cause is determined. 

In addition to heavy breathing, a cat with dyspnea might also cough, foam at the mouth, experience open-mouth breathing, or have blue-tinged gums. If any of these symptoms occur, take your cat to the vet to get assessed immediately. 

Pregnant or laboring 

Though panting is not as common for cats as it is for dogs, there are times when heavy breathing in cats is normal—like when they are pregnant, especially laboring. If your pregnant cat is panting and acting strange, there might be some kittens on the way! 

Heat and exercise

Finding your feline friend panting after exercise is normal and does not need to be monitored closely—unless the heavy breathing lasts for a significant amount of time after playtime is over. Provide cats with fresh water and food after exercise play, especially if you notice them panting more on a hot summer day. (Be sure to monitor for signs of heat exhaustion.) If you notice your cat panting after a day of little to no movement, this could be reason enough to contact your vet. 

Feline heart disease

Feline heart disease is a serious medical condition. Fortunately, it is not as common in cats as dogs or even humans. In addition to heavy breathing, other symptoms of feline heart disease include poor appetite, weight loss, sudden collapse, and even sudden paralysis of the hind legs. Feline heart disease can be predisposed in certain breeds of cats. It can be congenital, present at birth, or adult-onset. Either way, this condition can be treated, and depending on the severity your feline friend can still go on to live a normal life. 


Tracheitis, an infection of the trachea, might appear as rapid and shallow breathing in your cat. It can be accompanied by a cough and sometimes there can be a bluish tint of the gums and mucous membranes. This is called cyanosis. You should take your cat to the vet right away if you notice these symptoms, or if they are lethargic or not eating. 

Cat hay fever

Did you know your cat can get hay fever too? Though it presents a little differently than in humans, cats can get hay fever, or seasonal allergies, just like us. Some common symptoms of hay fever in cats can include itchy eyes, chewing at their paws, sores or missing patches of fur, and even snoring as a result of a sore throat. The inflammation as a result of the allergen can cause heavy breathing in your cat.  

Generally, cat hay fever is not too much of a concern, but you’ll want to find the source of the allergy to help your cat. This could include bathing or wiping off their paws to remove pollen from their fur if they’ve been outside. 


Asthma is an all-too-common diagnosis in cats. Feline asthma is caused by an allergic reaction to inhaled allergens. This can be dust, candles, incense, or even cologne. Inhaling these allergens can trigger an immune response that causes inflammation. The inflammation can make it difficult for your cat to breathe. 

Feline asthma can include coughing, hacking, and vomiting. Though asthma can be managed, it is important to keep an eye on heavy breathing along with the symptoms mentioned. If you find this issue is happening often, bring it up to your vet at an appointment and have your cat tested. 

Foreign objects

If you find your cat is suddenly having trouble breathing, check their mouths and airway for choking hazards. Be sure that small toys or any choking hazard are out of the way to keep your cat safe. 

Note: You might not be able to see a piece of a toy or choking hazard lodged in your cat’s throat. If you believe your cat is choking, get them to an animal hospital immediately. 

Anxiety or nervousness

If a cat is anxious or nervous, you might notice a change in their breathing pattern. Cats can pant in times of emotional distress. You can calm your cat down by comforting them and even giving them free space to roam. If you find that your cat is often plagued with anxiety and it is causing panting and other symptoms, consider consulting a vet to help them manage their symptoms. 

Respiratory infection

Have a sneezing cat? It could be a sign of a respiratory infection. A respiratory infection is similar to the common cold. They can be viral, bacterial, or fungal and can last for some time. It’s important to remember that a cat respiratory infection is contagious and can be passed along to your other cats. In addition to sneezing and wheezing, you might see heavy breathing in cats, vomiting, gas, diarrhea, and even skin itchiness.  


Pneumonia can occur as a result of a respiratory infection. Though not common, young cats, old cats, and cats with a compromised immune system can be more prone to pneumonia. Cats can have difficulty breathing, fever, dehydration, loss of appetite, weight loss, and difficulty swallowing. 

Pneumonia comes in different forms, from inhaling problematic fumes or exposure to smoke or chemicals, to inhaling substances into the lungs. It’s vital to get your cat checked out as soon as possible if you suspect pneumonia. 


Hydrothorax, or the accumulation of fluid in and around the lungs, can cause difficulty breathing in your cat. In addition to difficulty breathing, your cat could also experience open-mouth breathing, coughing, and lack of energy. You might even see them putting themselves into unusual positions to breathe better. 


Heartworm can cause hydrothorax. Another symptom of heartworm is breathing difficulties. Symptoms of heartworm can look a lot different in cats than in dogs. You may notice coughing, vomiting, and even a loss of appetite.

What should you do if notice heavy breathing in cats?

You might notice your cat panting after playing or in very warm conditions, but this should not last long. If you notice prolonged panting or your cat panting outside of these conditions, you should contact your veterinarian. 

If you suspect that your cat is panting as a result of anxiety, provide some fun items to help them manage those feelings. Your cat might enjoy a corduroy cat tunnel or a cat orb. Both options provide your cat with a nice private place to calm themselves down. They also provide a great place to lounge! 

When in doubt, call your vet! 

Heavy breathing in cats isn’t always a reason to panic. But if you count a respiratory rate of over 50 breaths per minute or notice other unusual symptoms, contact your veterinarian. 

How can I help my cat with breathing problems?

Take your cat to the vet if you notice breathing problems; treatment will depend on the underlying cause. At home, try to keep the air filtered and clean for your cat.

When should I be concerned about my cat’s breathing?

You should be concerned if your cat is having trouble breathing often or they have a consistent respiratory rate of over 50 breaths per minute, along with other symptoms such as foaming at the mouth or blue-tinged gums.

Why is my pregnant cat breathing fast?

Panting in pregnant cats could be a sign that labor is starting.

Cover photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam on Unsplash

long-haired white cat with blue eyes - heavy breathing in cats