Heavy breathing cat, while rest, and more!

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.

If left untreated, it can adversely affect other life-sustaining systems which can put your pet’s life in grave danger.

Oxygen is an essential element to keep our vital organs functioning properly. 

Air enters the body through the nose and into the lungs, oxygen is transferred into the blood to nourish the organs.

As the body supplies oxygen, it also moves out carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle is what makes living creatures and plants breathe and live.

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.

Any obstruction in the passage of oxygen can have detrimental effects on the organism. A heavy breathing cat is indeed not a good sign, and it should be taken seriously.

Respiration with wheezing accompanied with excessive stomach movement is a clear indication that there's something wrong with your pet's breathing.

Always keep in mind that heavy breathing cat isn't healthy at all. Dogs usually pant all the time, but cats don't.

If your furry companion is breathing erratically, heavily or with difficulty, it may require immediate attention. 

It would help if you found out the reason for the heavy breathing cat and how to treat it.

Several possible roots causes might have changed your pet's respiration pattern. Finding the real reason can help you determine the proper treatment to restore your pet's regular respiration pattern.

A cat breathing heavily while resting is not healthy too.  Whether they're awake or sleeping, kitties are not supposed to pant or gasp heavily.

Respiratory distress in felines is an emergency. Insufficient intake of oxygen can be fatal if this condition is disregarded.

Therefore, it is crucial to recognize the signs right from the start.  

Here are some of the common symptoms of respiratory distress in felines:
  • Head and neck stretching away from the body and elbows splayed when crouching or standing
  • Shallow, noisy, short, rattling or raspy breathing
  • Purplish or bluish gums can indicate lack of oxygen
  • Excessive movement in the abdomen when breathing
  • Whistling sound in the chest
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • A sudden change in behavior (i.e., your usual social kitty goes into hiding all of a sudden)

If your feline pet is manifesting any of these symptoms, it’s highly likely that it is experiencing respiration difficulty.

Felines are independent by nature, and they would rather deal with their problems on their own. So, if they suddenly go into hiding, it's probably because they don't want to let you know that they're suffering.

A cat breathing heavy should be taken to the vet right away for accurate diagnosis and immediate treatment.

However, you can make the initial diagnosis by monitoring your pet’s breathing pattern.

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.

Of course, wheezing or rattling sound in the chest is one of the most apparent signs. 

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

cat breathing heavy

The respiration rate of felines is different from humans. So, it would help if you didn't attempt to synchronize your breathing with your furry pet in determining standard respiration rate.

Naturally, felines breathe more rapidly than us humans. So, a cat breathing fast may appear normal at first.

A human adult at rest has an average respiration rate of 12 to 16 breaths per minute. On the other hand, 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.

However, if the respiration rate is higher than 30 breaths per minute, then there’s a reason for concern.

Cat Breathing Heavy: What are the Causes?

cat breathing heavily while resting

A cat breathing faster than usual can be a result of several things ranging from mild irritations to serious health issues.

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

A cat breathing heavily while resting can be associated with lower respiratory tract diseases. These diseases include:

  • Feline asthma
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary edema

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

cat breathing fast

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.

Other medical conditions such as: can also cause fluid build-up in the pleural cavity

  • Cancer
  • Heart failure
  • Chylothorax – accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the pleural cavity
  • Pyothorax – the presence of pus within the chest cavity
  • Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) – a progressive disease caused by a feline coronavirus

3. Upper Airway Problems

Bacteria and viruses are the most common causes of upper airways problems in felines. Moreover, just like us, our feline friends can get colds too.

At some point in their lives, most kitties will develop upper respiratory infections that are commonly associated with symptoms including:
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Runny eyes
  • Coughing or gagging

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. This means that you can manage your pet without the aid of a vet.

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.

Physical examination and laboratory tests can help your vet derive an accurate diagnosis that may explain the root cause.

4. Trauma

heavy breathing cat

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. This can make the lungs to collapse and in the worse case, can also lead to chronic internal bleeding.

3 Major Types of Heavy Breathing in Cats

Heavy breathing in cats can be classified into three types: dyspnea, tachypnea, and panting. Let's try to differentiate these three major types and learn more about their symptoms.

This information can help us determine what particular type of respiration problem we’re dealing with. Additionally, we’ve included the causes of each type to help you discover the root cause a heavy breathing cat.

Of course, we’re here to teach you what to do if your kitty manifests any of these types.

What causes dyspnea in cats?

cat breathing heavy
  • Obstruction in the trachea caused by tumors, elongated soft palate, or foreign objects getting stuck in the throat
  • Nasal disorders such as bleeding nostrils, infections, tumors or undersized nostrils
  • Lung and lower windpipe diseases including fluid build-up, infections, tumors and heartworms
  • Chest wall disorders caused by physical trauma and paralysis due to poisoning
  • Enlargement of the liver associated with excessive fluid build-up and bloating
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is a viral disease characterized by the accumulation of fluid in the abdominal and chest cavities
  • Chylothorax, a condition wherein the lymphatic system collects excess fluid and fats from the intestines. The excess liquid returns to the central circulation through the thoracic duct which connects to one of the large veins near the heart. Excessive fluid build-up can rupture the tube which then leads to the spilling of the fluid into the chest.
  • Enlarged heart, or cardiomyopathy, results in inadequate pumping action of the heart which then leads in fluid build-up in the lungs or chest cavity

What to do if your cat has dyspnea?

cat breathing heavily while resting

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.

Our feline buddies are not fond of veterinarians. Moreover, transporting them to the vet clinic may bring them unnecessary stress that can worsen their respiration.

Reduce their stress as much as possible by transporting them in a carrier and making them comfortable throughout the trip.

The vet is likely to put your pet on oxygen the moment you arrive at the clinic. This can also help your kitty calm down.

Expect your pet to undergo a thorough physical exam focusing on the lung and heart sounds. Laboratory tests such as chest X-ray, blood test, electrocardiogram, and echocardiogram may be needed to pinpoint the root cause.

In the case of fluid accumulation, treatment will be focused on removing the fluid from the chest cavity. This is done by inserting a needle into the chest cavity to draw as much liquid as possible.

After this procedure, the vet will administer medications to prevent fluid from building up in the chest cavity again.

Your vet may need to monitor your pet’s condition after these treatments so hospitalization may be required.

Injectable medications and intravenous fluids may be administered until the normal respiration rate is restored.

1. Tachypnea 

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:

  • Cyanosis, or a purplish tint to the gums and mucous membrane as an indication of insufficient oxygen
  • A heavy breathing cat that always seems tired and fatigued
  • Cat breathing faster than normal
  • Because they tire out quickly, they would refuse to move or exercise
  • Unlike dyspnea and panting, kitties with tachypnea breaths very rapidly with their mouths closed

What causes tachypnea in cats?

heavy breathing cat
  • Low oxygen level in the blood due to hypoglycemia, anemia, blood loss, heartworms, metabolic acidosis or pneumonia
  • Fever can prompt your kitty to breathe rapidly in an attempt to cool down their body temperature.
  • Anxiety and tension can make your kitty breathe faster than normal

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. It could be a temporary stress response to a trip to the vet or the presence of a threat in the surrounding.

Try to minimize their stress by allowing them to calm down and keeping them cool as much as possible. When you’re sure that your pet has calmed down, measure its respiration rate for one minute.

A respiration rate that exceeds 30 breaths per minute isn't normal, but it doesn't necessarily require emergency treatment.

However, if the respiration rate goes beyond 40 breaths per minute, an immediate trip to the vet is highly advisable.

1. Panting

cat breathing fast

Rapid respiration with mouth open is a common sight in dogs but not in cats. So, 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. However, if your kitty is panting for no reason, it could be due to some severe underlying conditions.

What causes panting in cats?

  • Obesity can bring your kitty to carry too much fat. Overweight kitties that are out of shape may have difficulty in breathing and are likely to pant excessively during exertion 
  • They often breathe rapidly when they’re stressed. You usually see them pant when they’re at the vet or when they’re in the car. Panting is their response mechanism to ease their nerves during stressful situations.
  • Panting can be associated with chronic respiratory diseases such as bronchial disease and asthma
  • Cardiovascular disease such as congestive heart failure can cause a kitty to pant due to shortness of breath

What should you do if your cat is panting?

cat breathing heavily while resting

Cats typically breathe rapidly with their mouths open while on a walk or after playtime, and this is nothing but average.

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. Giving them enough water and placing them in an air-conditioned room should stop them from panting.

However, a cat breathing heavily while resting may indicate serious health issues that require medical attention.

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.

That is why it is essential to bring your pet to the vet for an accurate diagnosis. Your vet can help you point out the root cause to come up with an effective treatment.

How Are These Problems Diagnosed?

heavy breathing cat

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. This means that a heavy breathing cat is on the edge of disaster if the condition is ignored.

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.

A chest x-ray is likely to be required for a more precise diagnosis. This test can diagnose respiratory diseases such as feline asthma. In more severe cases, the vet may refer your pet to a specialist for bronchoscopy.

If the vet finds an obstruction in the airway, your pet may require to be sedated. After which, a more intensive physical exam focusing on the neck, skull, and ears will be conducted.

For heavy breathing cat with pleural effusion, the vet is likely to drain the fluid from the chest cavity to obtain a sample.

The sample can help the vet diagnose the problem. Plus, fluid drainage can significantly make your pet feel better.

In the case of congestive heart failure, the vet may advise that your pet have an echocardiogram. Compared to x-ray, an echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart that provides a more comprehensive structure of the heart.

What Treatment Is Available for My Cat?

cat breathing heavy

Treatment for heavy breathing cat will entirely depend on the underlying cause of the problem.

Typically, the vet will administer initial treatment upon your arrival to ease your pet’s respiration before a diagnosis can be conducted.

Immediately putting a heavy breathing cat into physical examination may aggravate its condition. The distressed kitty may be placed on oxygen to facilitate its respiration.

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.

For respiratory problems, you can rest assured that the treatments and medications carried out by the vet can solve it.

However, the same can't be said for FIP and cancer. Unfortunately, these chronic medical conditions are untreatable, and the only thing a vet could do is to ease the symptoms.

Both FIP and cancer that adversely affect the chest will need life-long care to regulate your pet's breathing. FIP, in particular, can shorten your pet's lifespan and is proven fatal in 1 to 2 months.

Frequent trips to the vet will be necessary during this span to prevent further complications or dehydration.

Therefore, it is crucial to focus on the preventive measures rather than the cure.


heavy breathing cat

It's almost impossible to stop a kitty from breathing rapidly after a workout because this response is just standard. However, cat breathing heavily while resting is not normal at all.

You can prevent your pet from getting colds or other upper respiratory tract infection by restricting its contact with outside sources that could potentially carry bacteria.

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.

Recognizing the symptoms early is one of the best ways to prevent some underlying issues before they get worse.

If symptoms persist, have your pet evaluated by a vet right away. A regular visit to the vet can help you monitor your pet's condition and manage its health comprehensively.

Heart diseases in felines are mostly due to taurine deficiency. Taurine supplements can be prescribed to prevent these diseases from occurring.

Ask your vet if he/she offers the vaccine for FIP. Although this particular vaccine is highly controversial, your vet should know if your kitty needs to have it or not.


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.

Prolonged rapid breathing accompanied by other symptoms is an indication that your pet already needs to be rushed to the vet.

Monitoring your pet's respiration rate can help you recognize the symptoms as early as possible. However, you should never measure respiration rate when your pet is stressed or right after an exercise.

Wait until your pet is resting or sleeping. A cat breathing heavily while relaxing, with indications of labored or painful breathing is an emergency.

Take your pet to the vet at the first sign of heavy breathing. Don’t wait until your pet runs outs of breath. Take note that 3 minutes without breathing can cause death.

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.

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