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Heavy Breathing or Panting in Cats

Heavy Breathing or Panting in Cats

While you will commonly see dogs pant to cool themselves down, in cats heavy breathing is much less commonplace and can be an indicator of a developing health issue in your feline friend. Here, our Avon vets share some of the reasons your cat may be breathing heavily (or panting) and when to seek veterinary care for your kitty.

Why Is My Cat Breathing Heavily?

While heavy breathing may be seen in cats that are perfectly healthy, more often than not noticeable heavy breathing in your cat signifies an underlying health issue that requires prompt veterinary care. If you notice that your cat is breathing heavily with their mouth hanging open or if they seem to be having some amount of difficulty breathing, take some time to assess the situation based on the below criteria.  

Normal Heavy Breathing in Cats

In some rare occasions, heavy breathing can be a perfectly normal behavior for cats. If your feline friend is struggling to catch their breath, take some time to consider what it was that they were doing or experiencing before you noticed their panting or heavy breathing.

Cats can breathe heavily when they are anxious, overheated or have just undertaken strenuous exercise. If your cat is breathing heavily for any of those reasons, their behavior should resolve itself once they have had an opportunity to recover from the immediate cause of their abnormal breathing. 

That said, it's important for pet parents to note that this sort of panting or heavy breathing is much rarer in cats than it is in dogs. So if you aren't sure why your cat is breathing heavily, it’s worth a trip to the vet.

Dyspnea - Abnormal Breathing in Cats

If your cat isn't stressed, hot, tired or anything else immediately obvious, but they have labored breathing, this is likely a sign of a serious underlying medical issue. If you suspect that your pet is suffering from any of the below conditions, a trip to the vet may very well be required. 

Respiratory Infections

  • Respiratory infections can make it difficult for your cat to breathe normally, leading to labored or heavy breathing. In cats,. these kinds of infections will often begin as viral illnesses and develop into secondary bacterial infection. Your cat's infection may require antibiotic treatment to help them breathe easier.


  • Panting, coughing, wheezing and heavy breathing are all common symptoms of asthma in cats. The treatment available for asthma in cats may not be totally curative but can help you top manage your pet's condition with corticosteroids or bronchodilators.


  • Difficulties with breathing, shown through heavy breathing, may be a sign of heartworm in some cats. The treatment for heartworm includes supportive care with corticosteroids in order to reduce inflammation in your cat's lungs alongside oxygen therapy in more severe cases. Since heartworm disease can be fatal, it's important that you keep your cat on a monthly heartworm preventive medication if advised to do so by your vet.

Hydrothorax & Congestive Heart Failure

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

Other Conditions Which Can Lead To Heavy Breathing in Cats

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

If your cat is breathing heavily, or otherwise abnormally, visit Animal General today to receive care for your pet as soon as possible. Our vets are experienced in treating any of the wide range of conditions which may be behind your feline friend's labored breathing.

Quality Veterinary Care You Can Rely On

Our experienced vets are passionate about improving the health of pets from across Farmington Valley. Get in touch today to request an appointment. 

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