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What To Do If Your Cat Is Breathing Heavily

While dogs often pant in order to cool down, this behavior is not common in cats. Learn about the reasons your cat might be panting or breathing heavily, and when to seek emergency care for your pet.

Heavy Breathing (Panting) In Cats

Some panting in cats is normal, while in other cases, it can indicate a serious problem that requires prompt veterinary care.

If you notice that your is cat is exhibiting heavy breathing, start by assessing the situation based on the criteria below.

Bring your cat to the vet if the heavy breathing seems out of the ordinary, or if it continues for a long period of time.

Heavy Breathing in Cats, Memphis Emergency 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.

 Like dogs, cats may pant when they are overheated, stressed and anxious, or after strenuous exercise. This sort of panting should resolve once the cat has had an opportunity to calm down, cool down or rest.

That being said, this sort of panting in cats is much more rare 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 can cause cats to pant, wheeze, and cough, and can also cause increased respiratory rate.  Asthma is treatable in cats and often involves 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. Because heartworm disease can be fatal, it is important to keep your cat on a monthly heartworm preventative.

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 in cases where a secondary bacterial infection develops, antibiotics may be required for treatment. 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 our emergency veterinary clinic right away

Animal Emergency Center in Memphis

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