Cat Panting: Why It Happens and What Should I Do?
Unlike canines, panting is not a regular trait you will find in your pet cat. Dogs pant for a physical reason that is totally normal, and it is actually an important way for them to cool down. But felines are not such natural panters, and while it isn’t necessarily a sign that there is something wrong, it is a behavior in your kit that you should take note of.
We explore why some cats pant, what it may mean, when it could be linked to something more serious and when you need to seek veterinary advice.
When Cat Panting Is Ok
Cats don’t generally pant as much as pooches and certainly not in the same way. With dogs, it tends to be rather loud and obvious, and is often accompanied by slobbery drool. In a cat their panting will be much more discreet, less ‘messy’ and will also be shallower.
Panting in your cat can sometimes be normal and not necessarily an immediate cause for concern, especially if you know about the activity or situation your furry friend has just been engaged in. For example, if they have just been playing vigorously, the weather is hot or they have been out in the car for a vet visit or another stressful situation, they may well pant for a short while to help them cool and calm down. Certain long-haired breeds such as Himalayans, Persians and the Maine Coon are also more susceptible to panting for ‘thermo-regulation’ than others.
The key to assessing such a situation is to monitor how long your cat pants for. Once they have calmed or cooled down, the panting behavior should cease, and your cat will behave normally. However, if they are panting for an excessive period of time, then there could be something else going on.
Signs Of Abnormal Panting In Cats
If your cat has not been affected by heat or brisk exercise but is panting or has been panting for a prolonged period without any signs of stopping, then this is abnormal and could well be a sign that something is wrong. If his panting does not have some explanatory reason or if it is accompanied by other behaviors that are out of the ordinary such as labored or erratic breathing or a protruding tongue, then this could well be a warning sign. Before we go on to explore the medical reasons that could be behind your feline’s unusual behavior, we take a quick look at some of the environmental or situational factors that could be causing your cat to pant.
Potential Causes Of Abnormal Panting
- He’s stressed out
Stress and anxiety can cause your cat to pant, as their heart rate rises in response to the cause of their distress. Once the source of stress has been resolved, the panting should subside as your feline calms down and starts to relax. If you suspect anxiety is causing your cat to suddenly start panting, remove him from the stressor or situation. Alternatively, move him to a quiet, familiar space, in his own bedding and stay with him until he has calmed and is breathing normally.
- The heat is on
As already briefly discussed, rising body temperature can cause your feline pet to pant, especially if he is a young or old kit. Extremely hot weather or frantic periods of exercise can cause your cat to overheat so if you suspect this is the cause of his panting, help him to cool down by turning up the air con or giving him a cool, damp towel to chill out on.
Trauma or injury can also cause your cat to pant for a short while, in response to any pain he may be experiencing. If you suspect this may be the cause, look for other symptoms such as wide eyes with dilated pupils, a poor appetite or unwillingness to drink as well as behavior changes such as agitation or lethargy. They may also flinch if you try to touch or pick them up. If this is the case and you suspect an injury or any other reason he may be feeling pain, take him to the vet for a full check-up.
Medical Causes Of Panting
Aside from physical or environmental reasons that may explain your cat’s sudden panting, there are also be some underlying health conditions which may causing this odd behavior, some of which can be serious. If you suspect any of the below is causing your pet to pant, then seek veterinary advice.
Feline asthma can affect all cats of any age and is a recurring constriction of the airway to the lungs. It also produces excessive mucus in the airways, causing inflammation. Cats with asthma can struggle to draw a deep breath and may resort to shallow panting to get the oxygen their lungs need. This panting can also be accompanied by wheezing and coughing, similar to a dry hacking cough in a human and they may well have no desire to move or exercise. Cat breeds which have a shortened nose and pushed in face are also vulnerable to similar, asthma-like attacks. An acute asthma attack can prove life-threatening, so if you suspect this condition or it is already diagnosed and your pet is showing the above symptoms, seek professional help as soon as you can.
While more commonly seen in canines, cats can also get heartworm, which is caused by the parasitic worm, Dirofilaria immitis. Left untreated, heartworm can be fatal, which is why your cat’s regular worming program is so important. Heartworm can cause lung disease, heart failure and organ damage but can be treated if caught in time with corticosteroids and oxygen therapy. Symptoms of heartworm include breathing difficulties, which could cause your cat to pant uncharacteristically.
- Congenital heart failure
Heart conditions, including congenital heart failure can cause your precious feline to breathe deeply and rapidly as if panting. This is caused by fluid building up around the lungs because the heart is not able to pump properly making it difficult for your cat to take a deep breath. Unlike dogs or people, cats don’t necessarily cough if they have heart issues, but resort to breathing through an open mouth and panting. If your cat is showing this behavior and is also having difficulty walking any distance without resting, you should get the vet to check him out.
- Respiratory infection
Just as in humans, infections of the respiratory tract can make it hard for your cat to breathe, which may well be causing his panting. Both viral and bacterial infections can affect the upper and lower respiratory tract, causing your cat to pant in order to get more oxygen. Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics and humidifiers or treatments to loosen mucus should also bring your panting cat some welcome relief.
- Neurological disorders
Other medical conditions can also cause your cat to pant or shallow breathe, for example some neurological disorders or diseases of the nervous system can affect your cat’s respiratory center. Anemia and carbon monoxide poisoning can also cause your cat to exhibit prolonged panting behavior.
What You Can Do
If there are no additional obvious symptoms other than his panting, take time to observe your cat and if you think his rapid breathing is to do with exercise or stress, then do what you can to help him cool down and get calm. This may be making his bed readily available so he can chill out and relax, provide other ways he can cool down if the weather is hot or remove the cause of his stress. Also check him for any other symptoms or behaviors that could be the cause of his panting. Even if his panting is clearly a result of excessive exercise or a stressor, and he still doesn’t calm down and stop panting well after the source of his panting response has been stopped or removed, then there is no harm in getting your feline fluffball checked out.
When To Go To The Vet
When observing your panting cat and they continue to pant without any signs of stopping or they appear lethargic or distressed, look out for other signs that may indicate wider issues or deteriorating health. Coughing, obvious difficulties with breathing, excess fatigue, weight loss, excessive drinking, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding from the nose, heavy drooling or a reluctance to eat are all red flags that really do need further investigation. And if they are panting after minimal exercise, then add this to the vet check-up list too.
Chances are, panting in your cat is nothing serious but it is always worth getting prolonged or totally uncharacteristic panting checked out. Your vet can take chest x-rays, listen to their heart and run a range of tests to get to the root of your feline’s panting problem.