If you’re a cat person, you know it’s unusual to see a cat panting. So when it happens, it’s cause for concern. If there’s one thing every pet owner knows, it’s that we consider our pets to be part of the family.

And just like with any member of the family, we try to make sure our pets stay happy and healthy.

We keep potentially harmful things away from them, we read the labels on their food, and spend a little extra to ensure they’re getting the best we can give them. When something isn’t quite right with our furbabies — we notice.

There are numerous reasons why your feline friend is exhibiting behavior more commonly found in dogs. Some reasons are normal, but others are not. It’s important to determine the cause of the behavior and whether or not a trip to the vet is in order.

When Is Cat Panting Normal?

If your cat has been running and playing hard, there’s most likely nothing to worry about. Strenuous activity and the resulting overheating can be a cause of your cat panting. A few minutes of rest should be all that’s needed to restore your kitty to his normal, happy self.

Stress can also be a factor. Sometimes a visit to the vet or a groomer will give your cat a bad case of nerves. Just being loaded into the cat carrier for a trip can bring on a bout of anxiety. Even loud, unexpected noises like thunder or machinery can cause your cat to become agitated.

If you notice your cat panting after any of those activities or events, keep an eye on him. Soothing words and loving strokes can help to calm an upset cat, but if the panting continues, call the vet.

Abnormal Cat Panting

Dr. Daniel Grimmett, DVM, a veterinarian at the Sunset Veterinary Clinic in Oklahoma, explains that panting in felines is the equivalent of shortness of breath in humans.

He notes that chronic respiratory diseases can cause a cat to pant and recommends that if the behavior is observed, owners should consult with their veterinarians. He also warns that panting, even in young kittens, can be a sign of a serious condition.

Dr. Elizabeth Cottrell, DVM, a veterinarian at the Cat Hospital in Towson, Maryland, cites a number of health problems that can cause cat panting.

Difficulty breathing

When a cat breathes in particles, it can cause an allergic reaction, the result can be panting, wheezing, coughing, and increased respiratory rate. Cats can be treated for asthma with medications similar to humans.


Although more commonly associated with canines, felines can also be afflicted with this potentially fatal condition.

Dr. Cottrell advises a monthly heartworm preventative. Supportive care for the condition includes medications to reduce inflammation and even oxygen therapy for more severe cases.

Congestive heart failure

Dr. Cottrell explains that deep, rapid breaths, coughing, and panting can be the result of fluid build-up in and around the lungs. Treatment might include medication to dilate blood vessels or draining the excess fluid to help the heart work better.

Respiratory infection

Just like in humans, a respiratory infection can make breathing difficult for your cat. Dr. Cottrell notes that the cause is generally from a virus, but says antibiotics are called for if a secondary bacterial infection develops.

She recommends the use of humidifiers and steam, which can aid in loosening mucus and help your furry friend breathe.

Other conditions

Other conditions that can cause cat panting include anemia, trauma, bronchitis, fever, heart disorders, hyperthyroidism, heatstroke, shock, neurologic disorders, abdominal enlargement, and extreme pain. All of these conditions call for an immediate visit to the vet.

What to Do When You See Your Cat Panting

Your cat hasn’t been engaging in strenuous play, you’re nowhere near the vet’s office, there haven’t been any loud, disturbing noises, but you notice your cat panting.

Has your furry friend been outside on a hot day? We hear frequent warnings about the dangers of heat stress in human beings. Animals can suffer from heat stress, as well. If your cat is suffering from heat stress, take these steps:

  • Move him to a cool spot, preferably in air conditioning, or at least with fans blowing on him to aid in evaporative cooling
  • If you are outside, move to a shaded spot
  • Wrap him in cool, damp towels to slowly bring his temperature down
  • Spray him with cool water
  • Apply an ice pack or a package of frozen veggies to the head and between the legs to bring down his temperature
  • Rubbing alcohol on the paws helps to bring the body temperature down
  • Make sure there’s plenty of cool, fresh drinking water

Heat stress can lead to heatstroke (hyperthermia). This potentially fatal condition causes the body’s internal organs to begin shutting down. It’s particularly dangerous for cats with heart conditions, kittens, elderly cats, sick cats, and brachycephalic breeds like Persians and Exotics.

If you see your cat panting and he has any of the following symptoms, pick up the phone and call the vet immediately.

  • Bright red tongue
  • Heavy drooling
  • Weakness/lethargy
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Bleeding from the nose

Diagnosing the Problem

There are a number of tests your veterinarian can utilize to diagnose the cause of your cat panting. A biochemical profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis are baseline tests that provide information on the overall health of your cat.

They can reveal conditions like diabetes, kidney and liver dysfunction, infection, and inflammation.

Heartworm testing will reveal if antigens or antibodies are present in the blood. T3 and T4 blood tests check for hyperthyroidism. An electrocardiogram (ECG) checks for heartworms and other abnormalities of the heart.

Also, an abdominal or heart ultrasound checks for tumors, heartworm, and fluid build-up around the heart.

The Best Preventative Medicine Is You!

If you can’t figure out the reason for your cat panting, keep a close eye on him. If it doesn’t stop within a few minutes, or the panting is spontaneous with no apparent reason, call your vet. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Have you witnessed your cat panting? If so, what were the circumstances and what advice do you have for your fellow cat parents?

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