Dogs pant. Cats don’t.
If your cat is breathing heavily, erratically, or with great effort, it’s worth exploring further. What might cause your cat to breathe heavily, and how concerned should you be?
The Definition of “Breathing Heavily”
When your cat breathes heavily, it’s actually called dyspnea.
In general, you shouldn’t really notice your cat breathing. Labored breathing in cats looks a lot like panting in dogs. You should be concerned if your cat appears to be frightened by the change in her breathing, drooling or coughing while breathing, or struggling to get her breath. Let’s dive deeper into what labored breathing in felines actually looks like.
What Heavy Breathing in Cats Looks Like
There are a number of signs to look for that your cat is in respiratory distress. A few of the most common include:
- Standing or crouching with elbows splayed and the head and neck stretched away from the body
- Shallow breaths, short breaths, noisy breaths, or particularly raspy or rattling breaths
- Blue or purple gums (which might indicate your cat can’t get enough oxygen)
- Accompanying behavioral changes like hiding, a loss of appetite, or general lethargy
If your cat is showing any of these signs, get her to a veterinarian as quickly as possible for a thorough evaluation.
The Causes of Heavy Breathing
Many things can cause your cat’s breathing to change, some serious, some not so much. Some cats have asthma (just like humans!) and others can suffer breathing effects as a result of heartworm disease. Allergic reactions, particularly anaphylactic ones, are also to blame for some breathing problems.
Some breathing problems in cats are caused by a singular event, such as a fall or blunt force trauma. Uncommonly, panting can simply be induced by pain, stress, or shock accompanying some kind of traumatic event.
In the most serious cases, breathing issues can be brought on by diseases such as pneumonia, by tumors, by an enlarged heart, or by respiratory infections. In order to rule out any immediate and pressing dangers to your cat’s wellbeing, any breathing problems should be assessed by a vet as soon as possible.
Treating and Preventing Heavy Breathing in Cats
Treating problematic feline breathing depends entirely on the cause. Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), for example, can cause fluid to accumulate in the chest, resulting in troubled breathing; viral infections should be monitored by a vet in case dehydration or other side effects set in. Likewise, identification of a foreign body in your cat’s airway or of a tumor in your cat’s chest will necessitate entirely different treatment plans.
Prevention of heavy breathing depends on managing your cat’s health comprehensively. Be sure to have her evaluated by a veterinarian regularly, at least once a year, and to keep her heartworm, flea, and tick prescriptions current. Knowing your cat’s normal behavior is the first step in identifying when something is out-of-whack. Remember you’re always your cat’s first line of defense.