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Why Is My Cat Panting?

Though it’s less common in cats, panting isn’t strictly a dog behavior. If your kitty is breathing heavily, it’s a good idea to investigate the cause. Learn the most common explanations for unexpected feline breathing patterns and when they may be cause for alarm. 

cat panting tongue outCommon Causes of Panting in Cats

If your cat is recovering from the zoomies or on high alert around an unexpected house guest, panting is a normal behavior. 

Like us, stress and physical exertion can cause your kitty to breathe heavily. Normal panting should resolve quickly without any other troubling symptoms. However, if odd breathing is accompanied by any of the following, it’s time to seek out a vet:

  • Rasping
  • Coughing
  • Panting that stops and then resumes
  • Wheezing
  • Hiding or aggression
  • Shallow breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pale or bluish gums

Feline Asthma

Allergic reactions can cause your cat’s airways to swell and fill with mucus, making it difficult to get a full breath. A cat struggling with asthma may cough, wheeze, and assume a crouched posture as they work to breathe. 

As with humans, asthma attacks are medical emergencies. Fortunately, pet parents can work with their vet to address the underlying cause of feline asthma.  


Though they are more common in dogs, cats can and do contract heartworms. These small, spaghetti-like parasites are spread by mosquitoes. As they develop, they can invade your pet’s heart and lungs and cause respiratory failure. 

Heartworm-related breathing problems in cats are typically marked by labored breathing, lethargy, and loss of appetite. 

Unfortunately, treating heartworms in cats is far more difficult than in dogs—most treatments for dogs cannot be used on  cats. Because of the difficulty in managing heartworm disease in cats once they already have them and their immune system has not resolved the issue, the preferred method of treatment is to remove cat heartworms via surgery. Therefore, the best way to keep your kitty safe is to ask your vet to recommend a heartworm preventative. 

Respiratory Infectionscat panting yawning

“Cat flu” is an umbrella term for upper respiratory infections common in cats. If you notice panting, coughing, and wheezing, seek treatment. Your vet can provide a course of antiviral or antibiotic treatments that will help stop the infection before it settles into your kitty’s lungs and causes complications. 

Congestive Heart Failure

Feline congestive heart failure occurs when the heart doesn’t pump effectively, and fluids that should be circulated build up in the chest cavity. Over time, the excess fluid puts enough pressure on the lungs that they can’t properly expand. 

The symptoms of congestive heart failure are often subtle until the later stages. Panting or wheezing that is accompanied by signs of poor circulation, like pale or blue gums, should be treated like an emergency — seek help immediately. 

Pain or Injuries

Because cats are so stoic, it’s not always obvious when they are ill or injured. Panting can be a telltale sign that your kitty is coping with chronic discomfort.

Odd breathing coupled with hiding, aggression, or trouble with mobility may mean that your cat is struggling with arthritis or other joint problems. Schedule an exam to rule out these more subtle explanations for persistent panting.