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Cat Panting - Causes of Panting in Cats

Panting is the open-mouthed, rapid breathing, it is much more commonly seen in dogs than cats. Some cats are more prone to panting than others. We had one cat who would pant fairly often when it was a warm day or after exercise. Panting after exercise can be normal, it is a means by which a cat lowers it's body temperature, this is known as thermoregulation.

However, panting is often a sign that your cat is sick, and requires urgent veterinary attention.

What are the causes of panting in cats?

There are many causes of panting in cats, some of which include:

  • Anxiety and stress (such as going to the vet).
  • Asthma - An inflammatory disease of the airways which causes them to restrict, leading to breathing difficulty.
  • Blood disorders (anemia).
  • Fever (caused by pyometra, eclampsia/milk fever and other types of infections).
  • Heart disorders (heartworm, cardiovascular disease, heart murmur, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy).
  • Heat stroke (hyperthermia) is a life-threatening condition where the organs of the body begin to shut down as a result of exposure to high temperatures (such as on an extremely hot day, or when locked in a car).
  • Hyperthyroidism - A benign tumour of the thyroid gland.
  • Hypocalcemia - Low blood calcium levels.
  • Hypoparathyroidism - Decreased function of the parathyroid glands which leads to hypocalcemia.
  • Pain - It is not unusual for a cat in pain to pant, this may include when they are giving birth or have been injured in an accident.
  • Pleural effusion (excess fluid that accumulates between the two pleural layers, the fluid-filled space that surrounds the lungs).
  • Poisoning - There are many possible causes of poisoning in cats.
  • Shock - A medical emergency where there is a lack of blood flow, resulting in damage to the internal organs. Shock is more a symptom than a disease in itself and may be caused by a number of reasons such as poisoning, blood infection, dehydration and blood loss, to name a few.

Other symptoms to look out for:

  • Breathing with the elbows sticking out from the body.
  • Bright red tongue (possible heat stroke).
  • Coughing.
  • Head and neck extended out in front of the body.
  • Pale mucous membranes.
  • Difficulty standing.
  • Lethargy.
  • Restlessness.

What will your vet do?

Your vet will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and look for other symptoms (such as those listed above). He may wish to perform some diagnostic tests including:

Complete blood count - To check for infection, anemia, diabetes.

Heartworm testing - A blood test to check for the presence of antigens or antibodies in the blood.

Abdominal ultrasound - To check for fluid around the heart or lungs, heartworm, and tumors.

ECG (electrocardiogram) - This is an ultrasound reading of the heart to check for possible heartworms or other heart abnormalities.

Ultrasound (abdominal, heart) - To check for heartworm, fluid build-up in the abdomen or around the heart.

What is the treatment for panting in cats?

Treatment depends on what has caused panting. See articles listed above for further details on treating specific cause and may include: 

  • Antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection such as pyometra and milk fever.
  • Cooling down the cat (in the case of heat stroke).
  • Medications to treat asthma.
  • Treating heartworm.
  • Treatment of anemia may include blood transfusions in severe cases and supportive care.
  • Treatment for poisoning may include having the stomach pumped, administration of activated charcoal to absorb any remaining poison, fluid therapy to control acidosis, anti-seizure medication (if necessary) and supportive care.
  • Supportive care such as cage rest and fluid therapy.

Also see:

Cat Breathing   Cat Meowing   Cat Hiding