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Why is my cat breathing heavy?

While panting is common for dogs, panting or heavy breathing in cats is rare. In fact, if your cat is breathing heavily it could be a sign of an underlying health concern. Here, our Poway vets share a few of the reasons why cats may breathe heavily or pant, and when it's time to head to the vet.

Heavy Breathing Cat

Since cats don't usually pant, heavy breathing can be an indication of a serious health concern that requires prompt veterinary care. 

If you notice that your cat is breathing heavily start by assessing the situation based on the criteria below. 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 uncommon, in some cases, panting is normal behavior for cats. Take a moment to consider what your cat was doing or experiencing immediately before you noticed their panting.

Cats, like dogs, may pant if they become overheated, or anxious, or after engaging in strenuous exercise (such as being chased by a dog). If your cat is panting for any of these reasons, the panting should stop once the cat has had a chance 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.

Possible Causes of Heavy Breathing in Cats:

Our Poway vets often hear from concerned pet parents wondering, "why is my cat breathing heavily?". Here are a few of the possible causes of your cat's panting or heavy breathing.


  • Common signs of asthma in cats 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.


  • 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. 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. Treatment may 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 Infections

  • If your cat has a respiratory infection, it may be difficult for them to breathe normally. In cats, respiratory infections can cause heavy breathing or panting. These infections usually begin as viral infections, but they frequently progress to secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics may be necessary to treat your cat's condition and allow them to breathe easier. As your cat recovers, humidifiers and steam can help loosen mucus and make nasal breathing easier.

Other Conditions Which Can Lead To Cats Breathing Heavy

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

Caring For Your Cat's Long-Term Health

If you are concerned about your cat's breathing veterinary care is important. After all, when it comes to your cat's health it's always better to err on the side of caution. 

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.

Contact our Poway vets at Best Friends Veterinary Hospital right away if you are concerned about your cat's heavy breathing.

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Best Friends Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Poway companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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