Cat Panting – Everything you need to know

Why is my cat panting?

A cat’s natural breathing flow should be smooth, long and through their nose.

Small, shallow breaths, with an open mouth and a tongue that’s partially sticking out, is generally a sign that something isn’t right.

If they are struggling with their breathing, it could be because of one of the following reasons:

  • Overheating. If a cat’s body temperature begins to rise they may begin panting in an attempt to cool themselves down.
  • Stressed or anxious. An elevated heart rate brought on by stress (car journey, new pet, change in routine) can lead to panting.
  • Overexertion. Cats can end up in respiratory distress when they get over excited during playtime, or push themselves too far while exercising.
  • Pain or discomfort. A cat in pain may have a tendency to begin open-mouth panting as a way of coping with the discomfort. 
  • Underlying medical condition. Seemingly innocuous behaviours like panting can sometimes be symptomatic of a larger problem. Contact your vet if you think this may be the case.

How can I get my cat to stop panting?

  • Check for signs of overheating. Panting is one of the signs your cat may be struggling with a rising body temperature. Restlessness, dizziness and vomiting are also common symptoms you will need to look for. Check for dark gum and sweaty paws as well, along with whether or not they are suddenly producing less urine. Heatstroke is an extremely serious condition, and one that can be potentially life-threatening for cats if left untreated.
  • Assess the temperature. Naturally, direct sunlight is one of the main reasons a cat may end up feeling hot under the collar, so exercise caution particularly if your feline enjoys exploring outdoors. Moving indoors, any hot or humid environment with inadequate ventilation has the potential to leave our cats panting. Generally, if we’re comfortable temperature-wise then our cats should be. If you feel the house starting to warm up or have noticed your cat struggling with laboured breathing, turn off the heating and open the windows.
  • Cool them down with water. Cats should always have easy access to fresh, clean water; a fact that is even more essential on days when the temperature is soaring. Providing water throughout the day and night gives them the opportunity to rehydrate anytime they wish. If you notice your cat rapidly breathing in and out, take them to a cool part of the house, and encourage them to drink plenty of water.
  • Keep play sessions short. Playing with your cat is a fantastic way of keeping them fit, healthy and entertained. However, we need to make sure we don’t overdo it. We recommend restricting play sessions to between 10 and 20 minutes. Any longer and we run the risk of over excitement and extreme fatigue, both potential contributors to a bout of panting. Always avoid exercising your cat in hot weather, and be careful if you’re playing with them outside on a warm day.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety. Our felines can experience stress at any time of their life. Moving home tends to set nerves on edge as does the introduction of a new pet. Alongside panting, check for other indicators such as pacing up and down, loss of appetite, or aggressive behaviour. The signs can be subtle, but you need to be aware of them with anxiety in cats leading to serious illness in some cases. Once you work out what is causing them stress, adjust accordingly, and you should see them return to normal behaviour.
  • Take them to see a vet. Asthma, heartworm, congestive heart failure, respiratory infection. Any one of these could be causing your cat breathing difficulties. They may even be struggling with an undiagnosed injury, one that is causing them considerable pain. If you think this may be the case, take them to see a vet as soon as possible who will be able to advise you on the next best step. 

Do I need to worry about it?

Is it normal for cats to pant? It can be, especially if they have just been running or jumping around. This sort of panting should resolve itself naturally and shouldn’t  last longer than a few seconds.

A pet parent needs to start paying closer attention if these bouts of breathlessness become a lot more frequent, or are lasting longer than normal.

Whenever you see a cat struggling to regulate their breathing, monitor them closely until they are able to get it back under control. 

Check their abdomen. If their stomach muscles are pushing in and out at a rate of more than 40 breaths a minute, this is a sign that they are in distress. Assess the situation and do what you can to help calm or cool them down. 

If they are struggling to breathe, or their tongue has turned blue or purple, contact an emergency vet immediately. 

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