Heavy Breathing Cat – The 3 Types of Heavy Breathing and What They Mean

heavy breathing cat

Breathing difficulties are both a symptom of and cause for distress, both in the respiratory system and throughout your cat’s body.

As a life-giving system affecting the entire organism, changes in your cat’s breath may stem from issues in almost any part of your cat’s body.

Air enters your cat’s body through their nose and moves into their lungs, transferring oxygen into your cat’s blood and nourishing the organs. As oxygen enters your cat’s body through the nostrils, carbon dioxide moves out and into the atmosphere.

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vet If your cat is exhibiting labored, rapid, or noisy breathing, you’ll need an expert to help you identify what’s going on and how to fix it. If you can’t bring your cat to a veterinarian right now you may want to contact a vet on JustAnswer. For between $10 and $100, this service allows you to connect one-on-one with a real veterinarian in real time. It’s one of the best ways to get personalized expert advice at a fraction of the cost of a vet visit.

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The movement of breath is controlled by the respiratory center in your cat’s brain and a network of nerves in their chest. When their body is in balance, your cat’s breath is smooth and moderate without halting, wheezing, or excessive stomach movement.

Changes in your cat’s breathing pattern have a world of root causes. They might involve direct trauma or disorder in the respiratory system or could develop as a way to restore homeostasis in the body.

What is the normal respiration rate for a cat?

If you’ve ever tried to synchronize your breath with your cat’s and gotten lightheaded in the attempt, you know that cats naturally breathe more rapidly than do humans. While an adult’s resting respiration rate ranges from 12-16 breaths per minute, a cat might take between 20 and 30 breaths every minute.

To measure your cat’s resting respiration rate, count the number of breaths your cat takes while sleeping. Each breath is defined as one inhalation and one exhalation. Count the breaths for 30 seconds, then multiply by two to get the number of breaths your cat takes each minute.

This video shows you how to calculate your cat’s resting respiration rate. It also shows examples of cats exhibiting both a healthy and an unhealthy respiratory rate.

Some healthy cats take fewer than 20 breaths per minute while resting, but a number higher than 30 is reason for concern.

Heavy breathing isn’t always rapid, however. Heavy breathing manifests in several forms.

The Three Types of Heavy Breathing in Cats

Your cat’s heavy breathing can be broken down into three classifications – dyspnea, tachypnea, and panting. Let’s learn more about each type of heavy breathing.

1. Dyspnea – Labored Breathing

This is when your cat finds it hard to breathe. Cats with dyspnea exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Their belly and chest moves while breathing.
  • Cats with dyspnea sometimes open their mouths while breathing.
  • Their breathing may be noisy.
  • Their nostrils might flare open with each breath.
  • Cats with dyspnea are often restless and unable to sleep.
  • Because it’s difficult to breathe, cats with dyspnea might extend their head and neck while breathing.

The following is a video of a cat exhibiting dyspnea:

What causes dyspnea in cats?

  • Disorders of the trachea, including foreign objects stuck in the throat, tumors, or an elongated soft palate
  • Nasal disorders, including undersized nostrils, infections, tumors, or bleeding.
  • Diseases of the lungs and lower windpipe, such as infections, fluid in the lungs, heartworms, or tumors.
  • Disorders in the chest wall, including physical trauma and chest paralysis due to poisoning.
  • Disorders associated with the belly, such as an enlarged liver, bloating, or fluid buildup.

What should you do if your cat has labored breathing?

Because it is uncomfortable by definition, this is the most troubling type of heavy breathing in cats. If your cat’s breath appears labored, they should take a trip to the veterinarian’s office as soon as possible.

2. Tachypnea – Rapid and Shallow Breathing

Note that while dyspnea feels uncomfortable, your cat might be oblivious to their own rapid breathing.

Rapid breathing is often accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • A bluish tint to the gums and mucous membranes is a sign of inadequate oxygenation. This is also known as cyanosis.
  • Fatigue is a common result of tachypnea. If your cat has trouble breathing, they’ll also be reluctant to exercise or move.
  • Unlike panting cats, cats with tachypnea usually don’t breathe through their mouth.

The cat in the following video exhibits tachypnea:

What causes tachypnea in cats?

  • Reduced oxygen due to anemia, pneumonia, metabolic acidosis, hypoglycemia, heart failure, blood loss, heartworms, or a heart murmur.
  • Anemia can lead to tachypnea.  
  • Fever can cause tachypnea as your cat breathes rapidly in an attempt to cool down their body.
  • Cats may breathe rapidly when nervous. You might notice your cat exhibiting tachypnea in stressful situations, like going to the veterinarian or encountering a dog outdoors.

What should you do if your cat is breathing rapidly?

A resting respiration rate of over 30 is considered unusual. If your cat’s sleeping respiration rate exceeds 40 breaths per minute for a prolonged period, a trip to the emergency vet is in order.

If your cat is breathing rapidly while out for a walk on a busy city sidewalk, you’re probably looking at a temporary stress response. Monitor your cat closely, keeping them as cool and calm as possible. If the rapid breathing doesn’t subside after you’ve removed obvious stressors, you may need to take your cat to the vet.

3. Panting – Rapid Breathing with the Mouth Open

Panting is, essentially, tachypnea with the mouth open. Just like dogs, cats pant when they’ve overexerted themselves or have been exposed to excessive heat.

Panting may also point to serious underlying conditions, including heart and lung disease.

The following video shows a cat panting:

What causes panting in cats?

  • Cats pant when they’re too hot. Just like dogs, cats use panting as a thermoregulation mechanism. This open-mouthed rapid breathing helps them to manage their body temperature in hot weather.
  • Cats may pant when they’re excited or exerting themselves. You may notice your cat panting after playtime or while on a walk. This may happen because your cat is overweight, or it could be a normal response to continued exertion, especially if the weather is warm.
  • Stress is a common trigger. Cats often pant when they’re in the car or while at the veterinarian.
  • Heart problems, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, could cause panting.
  • In addition to coughing, hacking, and wheezing, some asthmatic cats pant.

What should you do if your cat is panting?

If your cat is panting after playtime, while on a walk, or en route to a vet visit, they’re probably not showing symptoms of a serious condition. Cats breathe rapidly and sometimes pant when overexcited, stressed, or playing in hot weather. This is a normal response and is seldom a medical emergency.

Cool down the workout and cool down your cat. Water and air conditioning are likely the only medications your cat needs to bring their breathing back to normal.

If your cat is panting after a day of lounging, or if your cat’s heavy breathing is accompanied by other unusual behaviors, their breathing is probably indicative of deeper issues. In this case, it’s time to schedule a vet visit.

What should you do if you notice that your cat is breathing heavily?

In most cases, heavy breathing is a symptom of underlying problems. Particularly if it’s prolonged and accompanied by other symptoms of distress, heavy breathing is a sign that you should bring your cat to the veterinarian.

There are certain cases of heavy breathing in which a vet visit isn’t necessary. It’s normal for cats to temporarily breathe heavily during exercise or a stressful event. This type of heavy breathing won’t appear labored or painful and should subside within a few minutes.

Ask a Vet

vet If your cat is exhibiting labored, rapid, or noisy breathing, you’ll need an expert to help you identify what’s going on and how to fix it. If you can’t bring your cat to a veterinarian right now you may want to contact a vet on JustAnswer. For between $10 and $100, this service allows you to connect one-on-one with a real veterinarian in real time. It’s one of the best ways to get personalized expert advice at a fraction of the cost of a vet visit.

Ask A Question

About the author


Mallory Crusta is a writer and adventurecat enthusiast on a mission to make cats’ lives extraordinary. She’s one of the founders of Wildernesscat – a site for happy, healthy, and adventurous cats who are fueled by nature. Visit Wildernesscat for radically natural cat nutrition, home remedies, and lifestyle inspiration.

19 thoughts on “Heavy Breathing Cat – The 3 Types of Heavy Breathing and What They Mean

  1. Avatarchandan

    mam my cat had stomatatis and had been taken to vet they gave him some injections and syrups after 3 to 4 days its been noticed that it had loose motion for one week and had not been eating any food for the past 2 days so we decided to take her to the vet again he gave her some injections and syrup after visiting the vet loose stool stopped but its not been eating anything and has been observed that his abdomen move moderately while breathing (moderate fast breathing) so we decided to force feed the cat with curd with small amount of rice morning and evening from past 2 days and giving coconut water to prevent dehydration but its still breathing moderately fast when I called the vet and asked he told to go to cuppa and make diagnosis of the cat but we can’t afford that much cost so does it necessary to get test please help.

    Reply
    1. AvatarMallory Crusta

      Chandan,

      I’m sorry you and your cat are going through this. It sounds like your cat’s refusal to eat may be connected to his stomatitis, but the heavy breathing and loose stool don’t seem to fit that diagnosis. You didn’t specify the types of injections and syrups your cat was given. They may have contributed to your cat’s new issues, but that’s impossible to confirm that through the web and without the appropriate knowledge and training. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what’s wrong or give you a solution.

      You said that you can’t afford to have your cat tested, but that appears to be your best option. Blood testing will help the vet to evaluate your cat’s organ function and possibly identify what’s wrong. Have you looked into local organizations that may be able to provide financial aid or vets who will provide services at a reduced cost?

      If you can’t find anyone locally, you might look into veterinarians who offer consultations online. They can’t perform tests, but they may be able to give you valuable advice at an affordable price. PetCoach.co is one platform you might want to try.

      For now, you might want to consider puréed meat or meat-based baby food along with or as a replacement for the curd and rice. Encouraging him to eat meat will help him to maintain his strength.

      Wishing you and your cat all the best,

      Mallory

      Reply
  2. AvatarBrooke

    My cat is pregnant and breaths heavy through her nose sometimes. I’ve never noticed it before and I also don’t notice it all the time but it does seem to happen more often the bigger she gets. Is this from the pregnancy and normal or should I been concerned?

    Reply
    1. AvatarMallory Crusta

      Hi Brooke,

      Hope your kitty is doing well! Cats sometimes breathe heavily when they’re going into labor, but otherwise, heavy breathing is not a typical occurrence during pregnancy. If you haven’t already, now is a good time to schedule a talk with a veterinarian.

      – Mallory

      Reply
  3. AvatarRobert Foggoa

    Hi my cat is brearimg hard is mouth stays open this stumit keeps going up can down
    He does this when he sleepimg. Right noe
    He at the vet. They took xrays . can took
    Fuled off is lungs 150 mm .
    He had is befor i took my cat to 2 vets
    They look at him gave me meds for it
    Cent me home.
    Now it back agine they are treating mittens in there hospital i am concen can worry.
    I have a bad feeling about this .can you please tell me anything that might comfore me .i want to bring my friend home .

    Thank you

    Robert Foggoa

    Reply
    1. AvatarMallory Crusta

      Hi Robert,

      So sorry for not responding sooner! I’ve been in a similar position before and I felt helpless and sick with worry, so I think I can understand what you were going through when you wrote this comment. There’s nothing I can say to comfort your past self nor can I tell you what was wrong, but I wish you and Mittens all the best.

      Take care,

      Mallory

      Reply
  4. AvatarDiane

    Our 17 yo cat who has hyperthyroidism has been breathing harder for the past several hours. Her resting respiration is 40. Her nostrils flared briefly. Being a Saturday night do I call our vet? Thank you.

    Reply
    1. AvatarMallory Crusta

      Hi Diane,

      If you haven’t already made the call, you’ll want to get in touch with your vet as soon as you can. It appears that hyperthyroidism can sometimes cause rapid breathing, but a sustained resting respiration rate over 40 isn’t normal and demands a vet visit.

      Hope you and your kitty are doing well.

      All the best,

      Mallory

      Reply
  5. AvatarMissie Munfield

    My cat is almost 14 and about a month ago he started breathing different and I know he has bad teeth because his breath stinks like poop . He has a wheezing thing and kinda makes a gurgling sound with most breaths. He is still eating but a little less. And is eliminating. He’s lost some weight. I cannot afford any vet bill over 50. So I’m wondering when I should consider putting him down.

    Reply
    1. AvatarMallory Crusta

      Hi Missie,

      Questions like yours are incredibly hard for anyone to answer. My first thought is that a cat who’s still eating and eliminating is probably still enjoying life. If your cat stops eating, drinking, grooming, playing, and using the litter box, then you’ll know that his quality of life has seriously declined and perhaps it will be time to consider the option of euthanasia.

      For now, your cat is still relatively young and exhibiting a variety of symptoms that may or may not be connected to a single disease. I think you’d be a lot better off if you took your cat to the vet for a checkup just to give you an idea of what’s going on. It is possible to get valuable information and assistance from a vet without spending a lot of money.

      Here’s a guide from the Humane Society that may help you find affordable veterinary care: https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/having-trouble-affording-veterinary-care

      Hope this helps in some way.

      Take care,

      Mallory

      Reply
  6. AvatarMadhusree Roy

    Ma’am , a week ago we noticed our cat having yellow jaw yellow paw and the other bare parts being yellow and his urine was also orangish yellow which made us think he had jaundice, but within 3-4days of that,he was turning to his normal colour slowly and he started eating normal, but was licking the bathroom floor sometimes, now from yesterday evening he stopped eating and started taking continuous breaths by making slow continuous sounds from inside,then we took him to the vet today, he prescribed fever and liver treatment medicine as my cat had 103.4 fever, but now after dosage of both the fever and liver medicine, he is still acting the same with fast breathing and little sound from inside, please tell me what is his problem? Is there any serious problem?

    Reply
  7. AvatarMallory Crusta

    Madhusree,

    Did your veterinarian give you a diagnosis? Based on his jaundice, fever, and breathing issues, it sounds like your cat may have a wet form of FIP (feline infectious peritonitis) and it’s affecting his liver. This form of FIP is called “wet” because it causes fluid to build up in the chest or abdominal cavity. That fluid buildup could explain your cat’s abnormal breathing.

    You can learn more about FIP here: https://pets.webmd.com/cats/cat-fip-feline-infectious-peritonitis#1

    Of course, I’m not a vet and this isn’t a substitute for veterinary advice or diagnosis. That said, the symptoms you described are consistent with FIP, so I’d recommend that you do some more research and discuss it with a veterinarian.

    Take care,

    Mallory

    Reply
  8. AvatarSyed Khalid Ali

    Ma’am
    Since last month i have been noticing my cat taking rapid breathing about 110 to 120 breaths per minute and these breaths are not deep but quite shallow. At start this behavior was rarely noticed but now it has become permanent . Further, there is no other symptoms of any disease like lack of appetite, weight loss, hair loss, etc and neither does she open her mouth while breathing. Kindly guide me about this matter, is it a disease?

    Reply
    1. AvatarMallory Crusta

      Though your cat isn’t exhibiting any other symptoms of illness, rapid breathing alone is enough to warrant a trip to the veterinarian. This type of rapid breathing could point to many different diseases and conditions, including allergies, infections, tumors, and more. A veterinarian can identify what’s wrong and provide expert guidance.

      Wishing you and your cat all the best,

      Mallory

      Reply
  9. AvatarVictoria Doiron

    My cat is havibg a hard time breathing not sure why but it sound like a stuffy nose and it also sounds like something is stuck in her throat but i checked and dont see anything what else could it be ??

    Reply
    1. AvatarMallory Crusta

      Hi Victoria,

      Any cat who’s having trouble breathing should see a vet as soon as possible. Noisy, labored breathing is a serious symptom that’s associated with many underlying causes. We’re not veterinarians and without the ability to see your cat, it’s impossible to tell you what’s wrong.

      Hope you get some good news soon.

      Take care,

      Mallory

      Reply
  10. AvatarAri

    My cat was recently diagnosed with constipation. They kept him overnight because he had a fever and wasn’t eating. They then advised us to give him a dropper of clavulax every morning and night. After two days I noticed that though he started releasing some poop he started sitting on his belly with his leg bones visible on top, like cats do when they are about to attack. He then stared breathing heavily with him breathing rather visibly as his back could be seen moving continuously up and down. If you go close to him, he makes some kind of noise from his nose while breathing and his pupils are dilated as if he is in pain.

    Reply
    1. All About CatsAll About Cats Post author

      Hi Ari,

      It sounds like your cat is experiencing some sort of pain or discomfort.

      I would have him checked out again at your local Vet as soon as possible.

      For you need additional medical advice you may want to try the Ask A Vet widget we have on the page. It will open a chat box with a vet on JustAnswer (It costs between $10 and $100 to connect one-on-one with a real veterinarian in real time)

      Best,

      Pedro

      Reply
  11. AvatarStefan Bradley

    I had no idea that your cat might be panting if they have some sort of heart problem like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Ever since I returned home from my vacation, I have noticed that my cat is constantly breathing heavily, even when she is asleep. It may be a good idea to visit a vet now that I know she could have a heart problem.

    Reply

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