Why is my Cat Breathing Heavy & What Can I Do

Day after day your cat goes about their business, nothing unusual to note until one day, they walk by panting. This can be concerning and lead you to wonder 'Why is my cat breathing heavy?'. Our East Setauket vets offer some insight into cats breathing heavy and what you should do when it happens.

Heavy Breathing Cats

The occasional heavy, open-mouthed breathing is not normally a cause for concern, however, it may still indicate an issue, especially 

If you notice that your cat is panting or exhibiting labored breathing, start by assessing the situation based on the criteria below.

If your kitty's breathing seems out of the ordinary, or if your cat's heavy breathing continues for a long period of time, it's time to seek veterinary care.

What is normal when it comes to cats panting?

There are some times when panting is normal behavior for cats. Think about what your cat might have been doing or experiencing right before they started panting.

Similar to dogs, cats may feel the need to pant when they are anxious, overheated, or after heavy exercise. Panting for any of these reasons should resolve itself once your cat has had a chance to calm down, cool down, or rest.

However, it's important to note that this sort of panting is rarer in our feline friends than it is in dogs, so if you notice regular panting from your cat it is worth a visit to your veterinarian. 

Abnormal Breathing: Dyspnea in Cats

If your cat is breathing heavily but isn’t too hot, stressed, or tired from exercise, their labored breathing could be a sign of a serious medical issue. That's when emergency veterinary care may be required. Some common causes of abnormal breathing in cats are: 


  • Some of the most common symptoms of asthma in cats include panting, coughing, wheezing, and increased respiratory rate.  While you can't cure asthma in cats, it can be well managed with corticosteroids or bronchodilators.


  • 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 monthly heartworm preventive medications.

Hydrothorax and Congestive Heart Failure

  • Hydrothorax is a condition characterized by the build-up of fluid in and around the lungs, it can cause deep, rapid breathing, panting, and coughing. Treatment may include draining the fluid, as well as medications to dilate blood vessels and get rid of excess fluid, which can allow the heart to 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 That Can Cause Heavy Breathing in Cats

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

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your cat is showing any signs of heavy breathing or other concerning symptoms, contact our East Setauket vets right away.