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Causes of Heavy Breathing in Cats

For dog's panting is a normal way to cool their body temperature, but this can be alarming behavior when seen in cats and could be a sign of an underlying health issue. Today our Clemmons vets share some reasons why your cat might be breathing heavy and when to head to the vet.

Why is my cat breathing heavy?

Although a small amount of light panting or open-mouth breathing can be normal for cats, it may also be an indicator of serious health problems that need to be addressed.

If your cat is panting or exhibiting labored breathing, start by assessing the situation based on the criteria below.

If your kitty's breathing seems out of the ordinary, or if your cat's heavy breathing continues for a long period of time, it's time to seek veterinary care.

Normal Panting in Cats

There are some times when panting is normal behavior for cats. Think about what your cat might have been doing or experiencing right before they started panting.

Similar to dogs, cats may feel the need to pant when they are anxious, overheated, or after heavy exercise. Panting for any of these reasons should resolve itself once your cat has had a chance to calm down, cool down, or rest.

That said, it's important to note that this sort of panting is rarer in our feline friends than it is in dogs, so if you notice regular panting from your cat it is worth a trip to your vet. When it comes to the health of your cherished pet it is always best to err on the side of caution. 

Common Causes of Dyspnea in Cats (Heavy Breathing in Cats)

If your cat is breathing heavily but isn’t too hot, stressed, or tired from exercise, their rapid breathing could be a sign of a serious health issue. That's when emergency veterinary care may be required. Some common causes of abnormal breathing in cats are: 

Upper Respiratory Infections (URI)

  • If your kitty has developed a respiratory infection it can be challenging for them to breathe normally. Upper respiratory infections in cats are similar to the human cold and can lead to labored 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.


  • Panting is a common symptom of asthma in cats. Other symptoms of cat asthma include coughing, wheezing, and increased respiratory rate.  While you can't cure asthma in cats, it can be well 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 monthly heartworm preventative medications.

Hydrothorax & Congestive Heart Failure

  • Hydrothorax is a condition characterized by the build-up of fluid in and around the lungs, it can cause deep, rapid breathing, panting, and coughing. Treatment may include draining the fluid, as well as medications to dilate blood vessels, get rid of excess fluid, which can allow the heart to contract more forcefully.

Other Conditions

  • Anemia, neurologic disorders, trauma, abdominal enlargement, and pain could also cause your cat 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 pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

If your cat is panting, wheezing, or having difficulties breathing contact us right away. At Animal Hospital of Clemmons we are passionate about improving the health of pets in Clemmons and beyond.

Cat Breathing Heavy | Clemmons Vet

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