Cats don't usually experience heavy breathing, so if you notice it, it's crucial to take them to the vet. In this article, our vets in O’Fallon break down the causes, signs, and treatment of heavy breathing in cats.

Panting or Heavy Breathing in Cats

While it's normal for cats to pant occasionally, heavy panting can signal a serious issue requiring prompt veterinary attention. If you observe your cat breathing heavily with an open mouth, evaluate the situation using the criteria outlined below. If the unusual heavy breathing persists or lasts for an extended period, take your cat to the vet immediately.

Common Panting in Cats

In some cases, a cat's breathing may appear normal. What was your cat doing right before you noticed her panting?

Like dogs, cats may pant due to anxiety, stress, or overheating. Strenuous exercise could also trigger it. This panting should decrease once your cat has had a chance to rest, calm down, and cool off.

However, this type of panting is far less common in cats compared to dogs. If you're unsure why your cat is panting, it's best to take her to the veterinarian for a thorough examination.

Symptoms Associated With Heavy Breathing

Cat owners should be aware of some common symptoms of heavy breathing or panting. Here are a few we see most often:

  • Hiding
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing (in some cases)
  • Hiding
  • Raspy, rattling breaths
  • Purple or blue tint to gums
  • Rapid, noisy, or shallow breathing

Abnormal Panting in Cats

If your cat's activity and temperature have been checked, and she isn't tired from exercise, stressed, or too warm, her heavy or labored breathing might indicate a serious medical issue. In such cases, immediate veterinary care is necessary. Early intervention could potentially reduce recovery time or even save a life.

Respiratory Infection

Viral infections often hinder a cat's ability to breathe, causing heavy breathing. If a secondary bacterial infection arises, administer antibiotics to treat your cat.

Use steam and humidifiers to loosen mucus and facilitate nasal breathing during your cat's recovery.


This treatable condition can cause cats to cough, wheeze, and pant. It may also cause an increased respiratory rate. Medications such as bronchodilators or corticosteroids are often taken to treat asthma in cats.

Congestive Heart Failure

Fluid may accumulate in a cat's lungs, leading to coughing, deep breathing, and panting. Your vet may drain the fluid and prescribe medications to address this issue. These medications aim to eliminate excess fluid, dilate blood vessels, and enhance the forcefulness of heart contractions.


Heartworm can readily induce breathing problems in cats. To safeguard your cat from this potentially fatal disease, make sure to administer a monthly heartworm-preventive medication. Treat the condition by providing supportive care using corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. In severe cases, oxygen therapy may become necessary.

Other Conditions

Pain, neurologic disorders, enlargement of the abdomen, trauma, and anemia can also cause cats to display heavy breathing or panting.

What to Do Next

If your cat is having problems breathing or is breathing heavily, take her to your veterinarian immediately. While she's being transported, you'll want to minimize stress as much as possible. Use a box or carrier to keep your cat safe while on the way to the clinic so her breathing is not compromised by being held.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If your kitty is having trouble breathing, we'll promptly administer oxygen while the veterinarian awaits your cat's calmness. At Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital, we conduct a comprehensive physical exam focusing on assessing the sound of the lungs and heart. We typically perform Chest X-rays.

If your vet detects fluid buildup in the chest, the focus shifts to treating the condition by extracting the fluid using a needle and preventing its recurrence. While most cats handle the needle well, preventing fluid buildup can be challenging, depending on the underlying cause of your cat's breathing issues.

The vet's objective is to get your cat well enough to eat and drink independently, which may necessitate hospitalization for a few days, involving intravenous fluids and medication. Long-term or indefinite oxygen therapy might be required.

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.

Are you concerned about your cat's heavy breathing? Contact our O’Fallon vets to have them examined and cared for.