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Heavy Breathing in Cats

Heavy breathing in cats is not a commonly seen occurrence and may be the result of a serious health concern. Today, our Vienna vets share some of the reasons why your cat may experience heavy breathing and when to seek emergency care.

Heavy Breathing in Cats

If you notice your cat breathing heavily, it may indicate a serious issue that requires prompt veterinary care. 

If your cat begins panting or is breathing heavily, start by taking control of the situation by following the criteria explained below. 

While there are some instances where panting in cats isn't a cause for concern, if you are worried at all about your cat's heavy breathing, you should 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 but it is not the same as your cat breathing heavily. Take a moment to consider what your cat was doing or experiencing immediately before you noticed the panting.

As with dogs, some cats may begin panting as a means of regulating their temperature when they are overheated or have just exercised. Others may pant when they feel anxious. If your cat's heavy breathing is caused by any of these reasons, they should resolve themselves relatively quickly when they have a chance to cool down or calm down. 

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


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


  • Heartworm in cats can cause heavy breathing. 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 a condition that is characterized by a buildup of fluids in and around the lungs of your cat. This condition may cause deep and heavy breathing, panting, and coughing. Treatments may include draining the fluid from your cat's abdomen and the prescription of medications to dilate your cat's blood vessels, encourage more forceful heart contractions and eliminate excess fluid.

Respiratory Infections

  • If your cat has contracted a respiratory infection, it may be quite challenging for them to breathe normally. In cats, respiratory infections in cats may lead to labored breathing or panting. In cats, these infections generally begin as viral and then develop into secondary bacterial infections. Your cat's condition may require antibiotics to help with treatment so that they can breathe easier. Humidifiers and steam can also help to loosen mucus and clear up your kitty's nasal passage. 

Other Conditions

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

What You Should Do

If your cat is having problems breathing or is breathing heavily, take them to your veterinarian immediately. While your pet is being transported, you’ll want to minimize stress as much as possible. Use a box or carrier to keep your cat safe while on the way to the clinic, so your cat's breathing is not compromised by being held.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If your kitty is experiencing respiratory distress and heavy breathing, she’ll be put on oxygen right away while the veterinarian waits for your cat to calm down. Your vet will perform a thorough physical exam, paying especially close attention to how the lungs and heart sound. Chest x-rays will often be taken.

If your vet discovers evidence of fluid buildup in the chest, your vet will focus on treating the condition by removing the fluid with a needle, then keeping it from accumulating again. While most cats will tolerate the needle well, preventing the fluid’s return may prove difficult depending on the underlying cause of your cat’s breathing problems.

Your vet’s goal will be to treat your cat so she will be well enough to eat and drink on her own. This may need to be hospitalized for a few days while receiving intravenous fluids and medication. Oxygen therapy may be necessary, long-term, or indefinitely.

Has your cat recently started breathing heavily? Contact our Vienna vets right away to have your feline friend cared for.

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Hope Advanced Veterinary Center is always accepting new patients! Our board-certified vets and specialists are passionate about restoring good health to Vienna's pets.

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