30 Second Summary:
- Cat panting can have many underlying causes and is a sign of some type of distress.
- Panting can be a normal behavior in dogs, since they have to control internal body temperature. Unlike dogs, cat's panting and exhibition of symptoms like shallow breathing and systemic disturbances such as cough, lethargy, intolerance etc is never a normal condition. This represents a serious underlying condition, related to the respiratory, cardiovascular, hematological (blood) or nervous system. A spectrum of conditions related to these physiological systems may leave a cat with respiratory distress, panting and shallow breathing.
- Difficulty breathing is the most common symptom noticed when cats pant. Other symptoms such as cough, lethargy, intolerance, respiratory stress and other systemic signs are clinical representations of the involvement of a specific system of the body.
- Diagnosis is made through taking a history, clinical examination and detailed laboratory tests such as blood biochemical profiling, chest X-Rays, urinalysis and electrocardiogram.
- In some cases normal panting may occur if your cat was engaged in a strenuous activity or exercise, is anxious, involved in a stressful situation, or is over heated, particularly in young cats.(2)
- Panting causes in order of likelihood: (2)
- Normal outcome from the causes listed in the point above
- Cat is experiencing pain
- Behavioral (anxiety, stress)
- Cat respiratory issue (bronchitis, laryngeal paralysis)
- Heart disease (congestive heart failure)
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Medication side effects (glucocorticoids, opioids, etc.)
- Endocrine issues (pheochromocytoma, hypertyyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism)
- Acidosis (too much acid in body fluids) caused by renal failure, salicyclate toxicity, ethylene glycol toxicity, diabetic ketoacidosis
- Central Nervous System diseases
- Treatment is always done specifically; any underlying cause should be treated properly and quickly, otherwise cat panting can turn fatal. We suggest erring on the side of caution and immediately contact your veterinarian.
Causes of Cat Panting
Cats usually do not pant, except in cases of excessive exercises, but that too is rare. In most of the cases, feline panting is considered to be abnormal and treated as a medical emergency because of a possibly fatal underlying systemic reason.
Feline panting is most commonly caused by anxiety, fear, respiratory infection, or a hot temperature, however, cat panting from these causes are usually not accompanied by other serious signs such as cough and shallow breathing.
Serious signs of panting in cats is a representation of a cat that is suffering from respiratory, hematological (blood related), cardiovascular or nervous system disorders. Similarly, anemic and poisoned (Carbon monoxide) cats also show symptoms such as panting.
Some of the systemic reasons for panting in cats include:
- Respiratory Health Problems or Infection: The feline respiratory system has two parts, the upper and lower respiratory system, where in the upper respiratory tract, nasal blockage and unusual growths such as tumors etc can leave a cat with breathing difficulty. Similarly, in the lower respiratory tract, an abnormal exchange of gases, edema and specific problems such as asthma may leave a cat with shallow breathing and panting. Other factors like pressure over chest and diaphragmatic hernia may leave a cat with lesser respiratory space, thus to inhale more air, a cat may pant heavily.
Cats can suffer asthma where they do not get enough oxygen. To compensate they may keep their mouth open to try and take in more air.
- Hematological Health Problems: Health problems related to blood, like severe anemia, reduced ferrous or Iron levels in the blood and poisoning with Carbon Monoxide may also cause respiratory stress in cats, which means that an anemic and/or poisoned cat needs more effort and oxygen to fulfill the needs of the body. Thus, the cat pants heavily to inhale excessive air rapidly.
- Cardiovascular Health Problems: Diseases of the heart, vessels and whole vascular system may cause lethargy and intolerance in cats. Similarly, parasitic diseases such as a heartworm infestation may also disturb the cardiovascular – pulmonary mechanism, thus such cats may pant heavily and may die with the most minor symptoms being panting. Some Cat breeds and older cats are prone to heart disease or congestive heart failure.
- Neurological Health Problems: The respiratory mechanism of a cat is fully controlled by a specified “Respiratory Center” in the hind brain. If this respiratory center is in stress, or is damaged for any reason, like head trauma, pressure, tumors etc, this may induce a false respiratory impulse, which leaves a cat with shallow breathing and panting.
- Environmental and Miscellaneous Factors: Environmental factors such as atmospheric pressure at high altitudes and hot weather can cause severe cat panting. Similarly, pressure on the diaphragm due to pregnancy, abdominal ascites (fluid accumulation), or any other abdominal pressure can leave a cat with heavy breathing.
Symptomatic Representation of Cat Panting
Cats may pant as the result of anxiety, fever, hot weather or excessive exercise, but that is rare. In such cases, a cat usually returns to normal after some time and does not require any medical attention. But, if cat panting is accompanied by unusual symptoms, such as cough, shallow breathing, persistent fever, lethargy, intolerance and progressive loss of body condition, this represents a serious underlying respiratory, cardiovascular or neurological health disorder. Such cats should immediately be referred to a veterinarian for detailed examination. Most of these underlying conditions cannot be confirmed with clinical examination only; detailed laboratory tests should be conducted for confirmation and elimination of clinical possibilities.
If. you believe your cat is suffering from rapid breathing or difficult breathing due to heatstroke, take your cat to a vet immediately.
Clinical examination and taking a detailed history is an initial step toward diagnosis. A veterinarian may suggest detailed laboratory testing after making an initial hypothesis about any underlying disease. Blood count, biochemical profiling, urinalysis, detection of anemia, Carbon monoxide poisoning, chest X-Rays, ultrasound and an electrocardiogram may be needed for confirmation of any underlying condition.
Not all, but some of these tests are performed, depending upon the initial clinical observations. In idiopathic (having an unknown cause) or more complicated cases of cat panting, a veterinarian may suggest more specific tests, i.e. heartworm disease test, endocrinal examination and detection/elimination of fluid from the chest and/or abdomen.
Your veterinarian will also differentiate between a cat breathing heavily due to a condition such as cat asthma or if the cat is panting.
Panting is a symptom itself; symptomatic therapies may reduce its severity, but complete elimination requires specific treatment of any confirmed medical issue or underlying disease. Symptoms such as cat panting, cough, lethargy, intolerance or progressive loss of condition (weight loss, fever, loss of appetite etc) are treated even before the confirmed diagnosis is made.
Dehydrated cats (with symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea) are administered electrolytes, and anemic cats are treated with a blood transfusion.
Specific drugs such as anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics or anti-parasitic drugs are only prescribed after reaching a confirmed diagnosis. These drugs treat underlying causes and thus over time, the symptoms of panting and other signs are resolved.
Cats confirmed with some serious underlying disease should be treated specifically; regular monitoring, follow up examination and evaluation of any condition is required, usually every 1 – 3 months.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do cat's pant with their mouth open?
Cats pant with their mouths open when they are experiencing respiratory distress or overheating. Panting is a way for a cat to cool down their body temperature by releasing heat through their mouth. Panting can also be a sign of pain or discomfort, such as if a cat has a respiratory infection or asthma. In some cases, panting can also be a sign of anxiety or stress. If you notice your cat panting with their mouth open, it is important to observe their behavior and consult with a veterinarian to determine the cause and provide appropriate treatment.
How do you calm a panting cat?
If you notice that your cat is panting, it is important to try to determine the cause. Panting in cats is uncommon and may be a sign of discomfort or distress. Some possible causes of panting in cats include heatstroke, pain, anxiety, or respiratory issues. If you suspect that your cat is panting due to heatstroke, move them to a cooler area and offer them water to drink. If you think the panting may be due to anxiety, try to remove the source of stress if possible. If the panting persists or you are unsure of the cause, it is important to consult with a veterinarian. In the meantime, try to keep your cat calm and comfortable. Offer them a quiet, cool place to rest and speak to them in a soothing voice.
When should you worry about cat panting?
Cats pant for a variety of reasons, such as to regulate their body temperature or to alleviate stress or anxiety. However, panting can also be a sign of underlying health issues, particularly if it occurs frequently or in combination with other symptoms, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or difficulty breathing. If you are concerned about your cat's panting, it is important to consult with your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Some potential causes of panting in cats include heatstroke, heart disease, respiratory disorders, and neurological conditions. It is always best to err on the side of caution and seek medical attention if you have any concerns about your cat's health.
How do you calm a stressed panting cat?
To calm a stressed panting cat, it is important to remove the source of stress if possible. This could involve moving the cat to a quieter room or removing any other animals or stimuli that may be causing anxiety. It can also be helpful to offer the cat a safe space, such as a cozy hiding spot or a covered litter box, where it can retreat and feel more secure. Providing the cat with some physical comfort, such as petting or rubbing its head, can also be soothing. It is important to remain calm and quiet around the cat and to speak softly to it in a reassuring manner. Additionally, it can be helpful to provide the cat with some calming scents, such as by diffusing essential oils or offering treats that contain calming herbs.