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Help! Why is my cat breathing heavily?

While dogs often pant to cool down, this is a much less common behavior in cats and can be a symptom of an underlying health issue. Our Tracy vets share some of the reasons your cat might be panting or breathing heavily, and when to seek emergency care for your pet.

Heavy Breathing in Cats

If your cat is experiencing heavy breathing, it could indicate a serious health problem that requires prompt veterinary care. 

If you notice that your cat is panting or exhibiting labored breathing, start by assessing the situation based on the criteria below. If you are at all concerned with your cat breathing heavily or they are displaying any other symptoms, it's best to err on the side of caution and bring them in for emergency veterinary care right away. 

Normal Panting in Cats

In some cases, panting is normal behavior for cats. Take a moment to consider what your cat was doing or experiencing immediately before you noticed the panting.

As with dogs, cats may pant when they are overheated, anxious, or following strenuous exercise. Panting for these reasons should resolve itself once the cat has had an opportunity to calm down, cool down or rest.

However, it's important to note that this sort of panting is much rarer in our feline friends than it is in dogs. So if you're not entirely sure why your cat is panting, it’s worth a visit to your veterinarian.

Causes of Heavy Breathing in Cats:

Asthma

  • Some of the most common symptoms of asthma in cats include panting, wheezing, and coughing, and increased respiratory rate.  While asthma in cats may not be cured, it can be successfully managed with corticosteroids or bronchodilators.

Heartworm

  • Heartworm in cats can cause breathing difficulties. Treatment for heartworm includes supportive care with corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and oxygen therapy in more serious cases. Because heartworm disease can be fatal, it is important to keep your cat on a monthly heartworm preventative medication.

Hydrothorax & Congestive Heart Failure

  • Hydrothorax is is a condition characterized by the accumulation of fluid in and around the lungs, it can cause deep, rapid breathing, coughing, and panting. Treatment may include draining the fluid, as well as medications to dilate blood vessels, get rid of excess fluid, and make the heart contract more forcefully.

Respiratory Infections

  • If your kitty has developed a respiratory infection it can be challenging for them to breathe normally. Respiratory infections in cats can lead to labored breathing or panting. In cats, these infections typically begin as viral infections, but often develop into secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics may be required to treat your cat's condition so that they can breathe easier. Humidifiers and steam can help loosen mucus and make nasal breathing easier as your cat recovers.

Other Conditions

  • Anemia, neurologic disorders, trauma, abdominal enlargement, and pain can also cause cats to pant or exhibit heavy breathing.

If you are concerned about your cat's heavy breathing, contact our Tracy vets right away or bring your kitty in for emergency care to the nearest emergency clinic.

Looking for quality veterinary care for your pet in Tracy?

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