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Why is My Cat Breathing Heavy and What Can I Do?

Though dogs often pant and breathe heavily to cool down, this behavior is not typical for cats. Our Central Illinois vets share reasons why your cat may be panting or breathing heavily and when to call your vet. 

Heavy Breathing in Cats

While it's normal for a cat to pant or breathe heavily in some circumstances, there are times when this may indicate a serious health concern that requires a vet's immediate attention. 

If you notice your cat breathing heavily, assess the situation to determine if one of the circumstances below may be contributing to your kitty being out of breath. If your cat's heavy breathing is out of the ordinary or if it's been happening for a long time, bring your feline companion to your veterinarian for treatment. 

Normal Panting in Cats

Sometimes your cat may pant due to temporary circumstances. Think about what your cat was doing or experiencing right before you noticed the change in breathing. 

Like dogs, cats may pant if they become stressed, anxious, or overheated, or if they've been exercising. This type of panting should stop once your kitty cools down, rests, or calms down. 

However, this kind of panting is still much more rare for cats than it is for dogs. So, if you aren't 100% sure why your cat is panting, take your kitty to see your vet. 

Abnormal Panting in Cats

Your cat may be suffering from a serious medical problem if they have been experiencing heavy or labored breathing without having been too warm, stressed, and they haven't been exercising. 

Dyspnea and respiratory distress are both medical terms for breathing problems. While it's not a disease in itself, it is a common clinical symptom of many different diseases. Emergency veterinary care may be needed in circumstances involving dyspnea in cats. 


Asthma can also be a reason for cats panting, wheezing, and coughing, it can also increase their respiratory rate.  Asthma is treatable in cats and often requires medications called 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. Since heartworm disease can be fatal for cats, it's essential to keep your kitty on monthly heartworm preventatives.

Congestive Heart Failure

When fluid builds up in and around the lungs, it can cause deep, rapid breathing, coughing, and panting. Treatment might 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 Infection

Respiratory infections can make it very hard for cats to breathe, causing heavy breathing. Respiratory infections are usually viral, but when a secondary bacterial infection develops, antibiotics might be needed for treatment. Humidifiers and steam may help loosen mucus and make nasal breathing easier as your cat gets better.

Other Conditions

Trauma, anemia, neurologic disorders, abdominal enlargement, and pain can also cause cats 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 you have an emergency health situation, please contact our vets at Pekin Veterinary Clinic for advice.

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