What to do when you have a heavy breathing cat? Read on to learn the major causes and how to diagnose and treat this condition. Remember, awareness can go a long way, and it can practically save your pet's life.
Difficulty in breathing can be easily noticed as long as you’re familiar with the normal respiration of your feline pet.
Breathing abnormalities can be a result of respiratory distress, or it could be a symptom of an existing chronic health problem.
Your cat's respiratory center in its brain, together with a network of nerves in its chest, is responsible for controlling the movement of breath. Smooth and moderate breathing is an indication that your pet's body is in excellent condition.
Respiration with wheezing accompanied with excessive stomach movement is a clear indication that there's something wrong with your pet's breathing.
Common Symptoms of Respiratory Distress in Felines
A cat breathing heavy should be taken to the vet right away for accurate diagnosis and immediate treatment.
Usually, cats breathe with moderate movement of its chest. In case of increased abdominal changes with your kitty's respiration, consider this a sign of respiratory distress.
Furthermore, if your furball holds its mouth part way open when breathing, it may be because its nose or sinuses are congested.
A healthy cat's breathing should be smooth and doesn't make any unnecessary noise or whistling sounds.
It would help if you also considered the physical activity of your kitty. Felines tend to breathe more rapidly after exercising, which is just average.
However, if your kitty continuously pants even without physical activity, that’s not normal at all.Many pet owners are concerned about the sudden change in their pet's breathing pattern. However, how can we determine which respiration is healthy and which is not?
Normal Respiration Rate in Cats
Naturally, felines breathe more rapidly than humans. So, a cat breathing fast may appear normal at first.
An adult kitty at rest might take around 20 to 25 breaths per minute.
To count the respiration rate of your feline pet, count each breath as one inhalation and one exhalation.
We recommend that you do this while your pet is resting or sleeping to get a more accurate result.
Count the number of breaths your pet takes for one minute. If your sleeping kitty makes less than 20 puffs in a minute, it shouldn't be a cause for concern.
Cat Breathing Heavy: What are the Causes?
There must be a reason why your kitty suddenly breaths heavily. Here are some of the most common causes of respiration issues in felines:
1. Lower Airway Diseases
These diseases include:
Lower airway diseases generally describe a condition in which the airways in the lung tissue become inflamed.
Respiratory infections are common in felines, and these conditions impair their ability to get oxygen into their bloodstream.
This forces your kitty to breathe rapidly in its effort to compensate for the lack of oxygen intake.
Pulmonary edema occurs when there's a fluid build-up within the lungs and is often associated with pneumonia.
However, it can also be caused by other factors such as choking, near-drowning, cancer, heart failure, or other systematic illnesses.
2. Pleural Effusion
Aside from pulmonary edema, felines can also develop fluid build-up within the pleural cavity that is localized outside of the lungs.
The pleural sac serves as a membrane that covers the lungs that usually contains a small number of fluids.
This fluid is to keep the surface of the lungs slippery and prevents them from adhering to the chest wall.
However, when there’s too much fluid, the excess fluid flows into the pleural cavity and accumulates this space.
As a result, the lungs are unable to inflate as much as they should. Pleural effusion can make a cat breathing heavy because the fluid compresses the lungs so that they can’t fully expand.
3. Upper Airway Problems
Bacteria and viruses are the most common causes of upper airways problems in felines.
At some point in their lives, most kitties will develop upper respiratory infections that are commonly associated with symptoms including:
Due to the obstruction of their upper respiratory tract, they are unable to breathe through their nostrils. To catch up, they usually hold their mouths partway open to breathe.
Unlike the more severe lower respiratory tract diseases, upper airway problems can be treated with home care remedies.
The first thing to do is to clear away the congestion by cleaning any discharge off of your pet’s nose. Nasal discharges can harden in time and may obstruct the airway even more.
Dip a cotton ball in warm water and use this to wipe your pet’s nose to make sure that all lingering discharges are removed.
Then move your kitty in a humid environment to clear away any obstruction in the nostrils. Use a humidifier or place your kitty in the bathroom while the hot water is running.
If these home treatments fail to reduce the congestion and symptoms persist, you may need to consult a vet for further advice.
The possibility of a physical obstruction in the airway such as a tumor or nasopharyngeal polyp should also be considered.
For heavy breathing cats, it is important to trace back their history of any sustained trauma that may have caused it.
A traumatic physical injury caused by an external force can cause bleeding or puncture in the lungs.
Heavy breathing in cats can be classified into three types: dyspnea, tachypnea, and panting.
What causes dyspnea in cats?
What to do if your cat has dyspnea?
This is one of the severe conditions wherein you shouldn't risk your pet's life by applying your home remedy treatments.
Labored breathing can be associated with lower respiratory tract problems and more chronic conditions such as FIP and cardiomyopathy.
Early diagnosis of these life-threatening health conditions can help treat the issue before it can progress.
If you suspect your kitty of having dyspnea, you need to take it to the vet as soon as possible.
What causes tachypnea in cats?
This respiratory condition is characterized by rapid and shallow breathing.
Symptoms of tachypnea are not as distressing as the symptoms of dyspnea. Some kitties with tachypnea are not even aware of their rapid breathing.
Therefore, you'll need to be more observant to recognize the symptoms of tachypnea. The symptoms may include:
What to do if your cat has tachypnea?
Typically, our furry companions exhibit an increased respiratory rate after physical activity such as running, climbing or jumping.
Also, you'll notice rapid respiration in them if they're exposed to stressful events.
When you’re sure that your pet has calmed down, measure its respiration rate for one minute.
If the respiration rate goes beyond 40 breaths per minute, an immediate trip to the vet is highly advisable.
What causes panting in cats?
When you see your kitty panting excessively, it means that there's something wrong with its breathing.
Panting is normal even in felines only when they’re exposed to excessive heat or after they’ve done some rigorous exercise.
Their breathing should return to normal after they've cooled and calmed down.
What should you do if your cat is panting?
Cats typically breathe rapidly with their mouths open while on a walk or after playtime.
Furthermore, they usually pant in hot weather to help cool down their body temperature under the scorching heat.
In these cases, the only thing you need to do is to help them calm and chill down.
However, a cat breathing heavily while resting may indicate serious health issues.
While it's true that obesity may be the reason for panting, it's still risky to force your pet to workout. If your obese kitty has some underlying lung or heart diseases, overexertion could lead to a more severe problem.
How Are These Problems Diagnosed?
A heavy breathing cat may require a medical emergency if the condition persists for more than 3 minutes.
Remember, a kitty may die after 3 minutes without breathing.
Rush your heavy breathing cat to the vet as soon as possible. Your vet will be able to diagnose the problem by conducting a thorough physical exam on your pet.
What Treatment Is Available for My Cat?
Treatment for heavy breathing cat will entirely depend on the underlying cause of the problem.
After the initial treatment, a thorough diagnosis is carried out utilizing physical exams and necessary laboratory tests.
For feline asthma, a steroid medication may be administered. Additionally, a special cat inhaler may be prescribed alongside some critical advice on how to train your pet to tolerate these inhalers.
If a cat breathing heavy has an upper respiratory tract infection, some antibiotics may be prescribed.
In less severe cases, your pet may not be even required to be hospitalized.
Pleural effusion is treated by draining the fluid to re-inflate lungs. For pulmonary edema, diuretic medication is often used to drain out excess liquid.
It is crucial to focus on the preventive measures rather than the cure.
You can prevent your pet from getting colds or other upper respiratory tract infection by restricting its contact with outside sources.
More importantly, make sure that your kitty is well-hydrated all the time. Always provide a clean water source in a place where it can easily access.
For finicky kitties, we recommend a water fountain to entice them into drinking.
Heart diseases in felines are mostly due to taurine deficiency. Taurine supplements can be prescribed to prevent these diseases from occurring.
A heavy breathing cat is not a good sign, and it may be indicative of underlying problems.
It is therefore essential to pay attention to your pet's respiration pattern.
Monitoring your pet's respiration rate can help you recognize the symptoms as early as possible.
It is also important to point out that breathing difficulty is one of the significant causes of death in domestic felines.
So, you should take this diagnosis seriously and treat as an emergency.