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Why Is My Cat Breathing Heavy & What Can I Do?

Why Is My Cat Breathing Heavy & What Can I Do?

It's normal for cats to breathe fast if they are anxious, overheated, or exerting themselves playing, but if your cat is breathing rapidly while resting it could be a sign of an underlying health condition. In today's post, our Milledgeville vets share some causes of heavy breathing in cats, and when you should be concerned.

Normal Breathing in Cats

If your cat is healthy it will typically take between 10 - 30 breaths every minute. Each breath travels to the lungs where it oxygenates the blood. Oxygenated blood then circulates through your cat's body allowing your kitty's vital organs to do a range of essential jobs.

Rapid breathing - tachypnea - in cats is often irregular and shallow and can be an indication that insufficient oxygen is making its way into the lungs. Normal breaths should create a small rise and fall of the chest.

When to Take Your Cat to the Emergency Vet

Rapid breathing can be a sign of a serious underlying condition. Since proper oxygenation of the blood is essential to your cat's health, rapid breathing at rest is a symptom that should never be ignored.

If your cat’s sides are moving in and out dramatically, or if breathing is accompanied by a whistling sound or gasps contact your vet right away or call your nearest emergency animal hospital.

Symptoms of Heavy Breathing

Fast breathing at rest is generally a sign of an underlying illness and will often occur along with other symptoms. Depending on the cause of your cat's fast breathing you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Open mouth breathing or panting
  • Whistling, wheezing, or groaning while breathing
  • Sides, chest, and stomach moving in and out rapidly
  • Lack of energy, lethargy
  • Blue color to the gums
  • Reluctance to move, jump or play
  • Extended periods of sleep
  • Loss of appetite

Breathing difficulties are a very serious health concern. Contact your vet right away if your cat is showing any of the symptoms and seek urgent veterinary care for your kitty.

Why Your Cat May Be Breathing Heavily

Our Milledgeville vets often hear from concerned pet parents wondering, "why is my cat breathing heavily?". Below are just a few of the reasons why your cat may be panting or breathing heavily.


  • Common signs of asthma in cats include heavy breathing with mouth open, panting, wheezing, and coughing, and increased respiratory rate. While asthma in cats may not be cured, it can be successfully managed with 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. Heartworm disease is extremely serious and can be fatal, which is why our vets recommend keeping your cat on a monthly heartworm preventative medication.

Hydrothorax & Congestive Heart Failure

  • Hydrothorax is a condition characterized by the accumulation of fluid in and around the lungs which can cause deep, rapid breathing, coughing, and panting. Treatment may 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 Infections

  • If your feline friend has developed a respiratory infection it may be difficult for them to breathe normally. Respiratory infections can lead to heavy breathing or panting in cats. These infections typically begin as viral infections, but often develop into secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics may be required to treat your cat's condition so that it can breathe easier. Humidifiers and steam can help loosen mucus and make nasal breathing easier as your cat recovers.

Other Conditions That Can Cause Your Cat to Breathe Fast

As well as the conditions listed above there are other conditions that can cause cats to breathe rapidly, including

  • Anemia
  • Tumors in the chest, lungs, or throat
  • Pulmonary edema (lungs filling with fluid)
  • Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
  • Pneumonia
  • Allergies
  • Airway obstruction (something stuck in the throat)
  • Pain, stress, or shock

How the Vet Will Treat Your Cat's Breathing Issues

To provide your cat with effective treatment it will be necessary for your vet to determine the underlying cause of your kitty's fast breathing. This may require several diagnostic tests such as bloodwork, urinalysis, and/or diagnostic imaging.

Your cat's treatment will be focused on the underlying cause of the breathing issues. Depending on the cause of your kitty's rapid breathing treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Oxygen
  • Antihistamines
  • Steroids
  • Surgery to remove tumors
  • Procedures to drain fluid from the chest

If you are concerned about your cat's breathing for any reason veterinary care is essential. After all, when it comes to your cat's health it's always better to err on the side of caution.

Treatment is typically most effective when a condition is diagnosed early, before developing into a more severe health concern. Do not wait until your kitty's symptoms become severe. Early treatment could save you money in the long run, and may help to protect your cat's health.

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.

Is your cat experiencing breathing difficulties? Contact our Milledgeville vets right away to book an urgent exam.

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