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Why is my Cat Breathing Heavy & What Can I Do?

Why is my Cat Breathing Heavy & What Can I Do?

While heavy breathing and panting is often associated with dogs as they do this to cool down, this behavior isn't typical for cats. Our Richmond vets discuss reasons why your cat may be breathing heavily or panting and when to call your vet. 

Heavy Breathing in Cats

While there are situations where it's normal for a cat to pant or breathe heavily, there are times when this may be a sign of a serious health concern that needs immediate veterinary attention. 

If you notice your cat breathing heavily, start by assessing the situation to see if one of the circumstances below may be a contributing factor. If your cat's heavy breathing is out of the ordinary or if it's been happening for a long time, bring your feline friend in for veterinary treatment. 

Normal Panting in Cats

Sometimes it's normal for a cat to be panting. Think about what your cat was doing or experiencing right before you noticed their change in breathing. 

Similar to dogs, cats may pant when they are anxious, stressed, overheated or after exercising. This type of panting should stop once your kitty calms down, rests or cools down. 

That said, this kind of panting is still significantly more rare for cats than it is for dogs. So, if you aren't 100% sure why your cat is panting, it's time to see your vet. 

Abnormal Panting in Cats 

If your cat isn't too warm, stressed and they haven't been exercised, heavy or labored breathing can point to a serious medical issue.

Umbrella medical terms for breathing problems include respiratory distress or dyspnea. While it's not a disease in itself, it's a common clinical sign of many different diseases. Emergency veterinary care may be required 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.

If your cat is breathing heavily, contact our Richmond vets at Broad Street Veterinary Hospital immediately during our regular business hours, or a 24-hour emergency animal hospital after hours. 

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