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Why is My Cat Breathing Heavy?

Is your cat breathing heavy and/or panting? Panting is definitely much less common in cats than in dogs, but that doesn't mean cats never pant. However, heavy breathing in cats can sometimes be a symptom of a health concern. It's important to understand when there is little concern, and when your cat breathing heavy warrants a visit to your Carlsbad veterinary clinic.

Heavy Breathing & Panting In Cats

While panting can sometimes be seen in healthy cats, more often than not, heavy breathing in cats is likely an indication of an underlying health problem that may require veterinary care. If you notice that your feline friend is panting or breathing heavily, take a moment to assess the situation based on the following criteria.

Normal Panting in Cats

On rare occasions, panting can be somewhat normal behavior for cats. If your cat is struggling to catch their breath, try to imagine what your cat was doing just before you noticed the heavy breathing.

Cats may begin to pant when they are overheated or anxious or if they've just done strenuous exercise. If your cat is panting for any of those reasons, it should resolve itself once the cat has had an opportunity to relax and rest.

That said, cat owners need to be aware that this sort of panting is much rarer in cats than it is in dogs. So if you aren't sure why your cat is panting, it’s worth a trip to the vet.

Abnormal Breathing in Cats (Dyspnea)

If your cat isn't hot, stressed, or tired from exercise, but their breathing is still constricted, it could be a sign of a medical issue. If you think that your pet may be suffering from any of the conditions below, a trip to an emergency veterinary hospital may be needed.

Respiratory Infections

A respiratory infection can make it difficult for your cat to breathe normally, which can result in heavy breathing or panting. In cats, these infections will often start as viral infections and then develop into secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics may be necessary to treat the infection so that your cat can breathe more easily.


Anemia is a medical term that refers to a decrease in the production levels of red blood cells, hemoglobin, or both. Rather than being a disease, anemia is a symptom of an underlying health issue or disease. A key symptom of anemia is shortness of breath which would lead to your cat breathing heavily and/or panting.


Panting, wheezing, coughing, and increased respiratory rate are all common symptoms of asthma in cats. While the treatment for asthma in cats may not be curative, you can help your cat successfully manage their asthma with corticosteroids or bronchodilators.


In some cats, heavy breathing could be a sign of heartworm. Treatment for heartworm includes supportive care with corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. In more serious cases, your cat may also require oxygen therapy. Because the disease can be fatal, it is important to keep your cat on a monthly heartworm preventive medication.

Hydrothorax & Congestive Heart Failure

Hydrothorax is a serious health concern in cats. It's characterized by a build-up of fluid in and around the lungs. Symptoms of hydrothorax can include rapid breathing, panting, and coughing. Treatment for this condition includes draining the fluid as well as medications to dilate blood vessels, get rid of excess fluid and make heart contractions stronger.

Other Conditions That Can Lead to Panting in Cats

  • Neurologic disorders
  • Trauma
  • Abdominal enlargement and pain

Don't Wait to Visit Your Carlsbad Vet

If your cat is breathing heavily and showing signs of any of the issues mentioned, do not wait for them to get better on their own. Contact a vet and if necessary schedule an examination to make sure you and your kitty don't have any cause for alarm.

If your cat is panting or showing other symptoms of breathing difficulties, it's a good idea to get them checked out. Get in touch with Carlsbad Animal Hospital to book an appointment for your furry friend.

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Carlsbad Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced veterinary team would love to get to know you and your pet. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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