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Why is my cat breathing heavy?

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

Heavy Breathing in Cats

Although it is normal for a cat to pant or breathe heavily in certain situations, it is important to be aware that this could also indicate a serious health issue that requires immediate veterinary attention.

When you observe your cat breathing heavily, the first step is to evaluate the situation and consider if any of the following circumstances could be a potential cause. If your cat is experiencing unusual or prolonged heavy breathing, it is important to seek veterinary treatment for your feline companion.

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. 


Cats may pant, wheeze, and cough due to asthma, which can also cause an increase in their respiratory rate. Cats with asthma can be treated effectively using medications like corticosteroids or bronchodilators.


Cats can experience breathing difficulties due to heartworm. Supportive care with corticosteroids is used to reduce inflammation, while oxygen therapy is administered in more serious cases of heartworm treatment. Keeping your kitty on monthly heartworm preventatives is crucial because heartworm disease can be fatal for cats.

Congestive Heart Failure

Fluid accumulation in and around the lungs may lead to symptoms such as deep, rapid breathing, coughing, and panting. Treatment may involve draining the fluid and administering medications to dilate blood vessels, eliminate excess fluid, and enhance the forceful contraction of the heart.

Respiratory Infection

Cats may experience difficulty breathing and exhibit heavy breathing when they have respiratory infections. Most respiratory infections are caused by viruses, but in some cases, a bacterial infection can develop, requiring the use of antibiotics for treatment. Using humidifiers and steam can assist in loosening mucus and improving nasal breathing as your cat recovers.

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 your cat is breathing heavily, contact our Boulder County vets at Lafayette Companion Animal Hospital immediately during our regular business hours, or a 24-hour emergency animal hospital after hours.

New Patients Welcome

Lafayette Companion Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Boulder County companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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Contact (720) 214-0270