Why Is My Cat Breathing Heavy?

While dogs frequently pant to cool down, cats rarely do so. Find out why your cat is panting or breathing heavily and when you should take your cat to the vet.

Heavy Breathing or Panting in Cats

Heavy breathing (panting) in cats is common, but it can also indicate a serious problem that necessitates immediate veterinary attention.

Start by evaluating the situation using the criteria listed below if you notice your cat is having trouble breathing.

If your cat's heavy breathing seems out of the ordinary, or if it lasts for an extended period, it's a good idea to take you cat to the vet.

Normal Panting in Cats

In some cases, cat panting is normal. Consider what your cat was doing or experiencing immediately before you noticed the panting.

Cats pant when they are overheated, stressed or anxious, or after strenuous exercise, just like dogs. When the cat has had a chance to calm down, cool down or rest, this type of panting should stop.

That being said, this sort of panting in cats is much rarer than it is in dogs. So if you're not entirely sure why your cat is panting, it’s worth a visit to your veterinarian.

Abnormal Panting in Cats

If your cat isn’t stressed, too warm, or tired from exercise, heavy or labored breathing may be a sign of a serious medical problem. In this case, emergency veterinary care may be required.


Asthma causes panting, wheezing and coughing in cats, as well as an increased respiratory rate. Asthma in cats can be managed with medications such as corticosteroids or bronchodilators.


In cats, heartworm can cause breathing problems. Supportive care with corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, as well as oxygen therapy in more serious cases, are options for heartworm treatment. Because heartworm disease can be fatal, it's critical to administer monthly heartworm prevention products to your cat.

Congestive Heart Failure

When fluid accumulates in and around the lungs, it 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 Infection

Respiratory infections can make it difficult for cats to breathe, resulting in heavy breathing. Respiratory infections are usually viral, but antibiotics may be required in cases where a secondary bacterial infection develops. Humidifiers and steam can help loosen mucus and make nasal breathing easier as your cat recovers.

Other Conditions

Trauma, anemia, neurologic disorders, abdominal enlargement, and pain can also cause cats to pant or exhibit heavy breathing.

If your cat has heavy or labored breathing, contact us right away.