Heavy Breathing in Cats: Causes & Treatment

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Have you noticed your cat seems to be breathing heavily? Concerned about potential breathing difficulties that your cat may be experiencing? If so, this article is for you as we take a look at heavy breathing in cats including causes and possible treatments. Most of the time, heavy breathing in felines is no area for concern, but with pets, it’s always best to be safe than sorry.

Cats like humans have the ability to increase their breathing rate when required. You may notice that your cats breathe heavier during exercise, however, if your cat is breathing heavily for no apparent reason, read on! By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of what causes a cat to breathe heavily and what your next steps are. From asthma to allergies, there can be many different reasons that your cat is breathing fast or heavier than usual.

ALWAYS have heavy breathing checked and verified by your cat’s veterinarian where you are concerned.

What Is The Normal Respiration Rate For A Cat?

When felines are resting or asleep, their breathing rate should be normal. In felines, this is less than 30 breaths a minute and if your cat breathes more than 40 times a minute, an emergency veterinarian trip will be needed.

Cat breathing problems can be attributed to a number of causes from health issues to allergies. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get to know the basics of cat anatomy and the normal respiration rate for a cat. Vets use different terminology to diagnose a cat with a medical problem, when looking at breathing in felines they will compare the lower respiratory tract and upper respiratory tract.

The upper respiratory tract causes very loud breathing that can sometimes sound snotty or wet. This is because phlegm, tumours, and foreign bodies can all be present in the area which can cause breathing difficulties in your pet. If your pet is breathing louder than usual, this could be the reason why and it’s important to bring your cat for medical treatment as soon as possible.

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Breaths that are taken in this area of the respiratory tract usually don’t indicate an emergency unless in the very rare case of a serious health issue such as a tumour. You can generally tell a cat has a blockage in this area as their breaths will sound very much like humans when we have a snotty nose or cold.

Lower respiratory breathing on the other hand can be a much more serious type of ‘heavy breathing’ and will warrant a vet visit indefinitely. Both shallow and fast, cats will usually sit with their front legs positioned further away from the body to aid with breathing. Their head and necks will also likely be stretched in order to prevent restriction in the airflow when they are suffering. Rapid breathing of this sort can also be identified by the abdomen which will be moving more than usual.

When cats are heavy breathing in this way, they will seem more lethargic and even not willing to move. They may demonstrate some aggressive behaviour whereby they try to attack you if you get too close out of fear. If you notice blue lips or blue pad paws alongside rapid breathing in felines, this indicates a serious problem that requires an immediate veterinary check.

3 Main Types of Heavy Breathing in Cats

There are three main types of heavy breathing that as a pet owner you should know about. This will help you to determine what sort of actions you should take in order to help your cat. It’ll also help you to realise when you’re in an emergency situation which requires immediate attention from a vet. Most of the time heavy breathing in felines isn’t a cause for concern, however, we always recommend having a vet confirm this as soon as possible just in case.

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1. Dyspnea

Dyspnea is the term used officially for laboured breathing in cats. You can identify these types of breathing difficulties in cats through a number of symptoms including:

  • Belly and chest movement while your cat is breathing
  • An open mouth when breathing at times
  • Noisy breathing
  • Nostrils may flare open during breathing
  • Your cat might extend their neck and back while breathing
  • When a feline has dyspnea is it often restless or cannot sleep

Dyspnea in cats is usually caused by a number of different things. Here are the most common causes of this type of heavy breathing in felines:

  • Trachea disorders including objects being stuck in the cat’s throat
  • Types of nasal disorders such as small nostrils, tumours, bleeding, and infections
  • Lung diseases and the lower windpipe which may include infections, lung fluid, heartworms, and tumours
  • Chest wall disorders including cases of physical trauma and paralysis due to toxins
  • Abdomen disorders like that of an enlarged liver, fluid buildup, and bloating
  • Congestive heart failure

If your cat is suffering from Dyspnea (laboured breathing) it is important that you rule out any serious medical issues. Bring your cat to the vets as soon as possible to have a checkup to ensure it is not an emergency.

2. Tachypnea

Tachypnea, also known as rapid and shallow breathing, can be uncomfortable for your cat. This type of heavy breathing is usually paired with a few other symptoms too including:

  • A blue coloured tint on the gums which indicates a lack of oxygen
  • Fatigue and reluctance to move or exercise as usual
  • Not breathing through the mouth

This condition in cats can be caused by a number of things. We’ve listed the most common causes below:

  • Hypoxemia caused by low oxygen levels in your cat’s blood
  • A large tumour (emergency)
  • Anaemia caused by decreased red blood cell count
  • Heartworms
  • Heart failure
  • Fever
  • Stress (for example when encountering a dog or experiencing trauma)

If your cat is taking rapid breaths or you suspect that they have Tachypnea, you need to bring your pet to an emergency vet. When your cat takes more than 40 breaths a minute this is definitely to be considered alarming.

Be sure to monitor your cat closely to get an idea of what is causing the issues. If you have a new pet into the house that your cat considers a threat this could be causing stress and consequently rapid breathing.

3. Panting

Panting is the same as Tachypnea bit your cat will have their mouth open when breathing. Cats can pant for a number of reasons which include after heavy exercise, or if they have been in a very warm environment.

If your cat is panting and you’re looking for clues at to why there are many reasons that they may be panting:

  • Cats pant when they’re too hot. As with dogs, you may find your cat pants when they have finished playtime
  • Stress can cause panting in cats from time to time. You may notice your cat breathing this way when they are being transported or during a vet trip for example
  • Asthma can cause heavy cat breathing in cats in addition to other symptoms such as wheezing and coughing
  • Heart problems can result in a cat panting due to issues such as thickened heart muscles

When your cat pants, it is important to find out why the breathing issues are present. As mentioned, sometimes this type of breathing can be nothing to worry about. Be sure to cool down your cat if they appear overheated as this could be the cause.

Should your cat breathing be paired with an open mouth when they are resting, this can indicate that there is an issue with your cat’s health. Take your cat straight to the vets when heavy breathing is accompanied by other out of character behaviours.

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What are the Causes of Panting In Cats?

As seen above, there are a number of factors why a cat breathing may be heavier than usual. From foreign objects being stuck in your cat’s throat to you’re cat simply feeling hotter than normal due to their environment, the problem can be a number of things.

It is important to address your cat’s rapid breathing as soon as you can with a veterinary trip. When a cat breathes heavily, there are ways in which you can assess their behaviour in order to know the next steps.

Most commonly, panting in cats is simply caused by exercise or overexertion. If you have been playing with your cat, it is natural for their breathing rate to increase. This means that you will see it surpass the regular 30 breaths a minute rate. However, if the cat breathing rate does not return to normal, this could be a sign of something more serious.

Here is a complete list of what can cause heavy breathing in felines:

  • Airway obstruction
  • Asthma
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • A buildup of fluid in the feline’s chest or abdominal cavities
  • Blood disorders
  • Congenital heart failure
  • Lung disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Thyroid issues
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Dehydration
  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome, which commonly occurs in flat-faced breeds
  • Pneumonia
  • Poisoning
  • Narrowed nostrils, nose, or throat
  • Lesions that are present in the nose, throat, or respiratory passages
  • Laryngitis
  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Larynx collapse
  • Acromegaly
  • A trauma injury
  • Side effects of anaesthesia
  • Inflammation of the throat caused by vomiting or present toxins
  • Shock
  • Fever
  • Anxiety and fear

My Cat is Panting – what should I do?

If you notice your cat struggling to breathe, your first point of contact should be the vet. It is of crucial importance to ensure that your cat is seen to by a professional as soon as you can. In the case of this type of breathing, your pet may have an underlying health issue such as asthma that may require treatment.

Cats that have trouble breathing can be attributed to a number of different things including stress, heartworms, or even heart disease. While most felines will not experience health issues until later on in life, your vet may discover serious signs early on that indicate treatment is needed.

It is always essential to have any sort of abnormal behaviour checked. Depending on the symptoms, cat breathing problems can end up being life-threatening. Seek expert advice as soon as you can in order to ensure that your cat’s life is not in danger.

Mild symptoms such as noisy breathing or an open mouth need to be addressed too. As you’ve come to learn, cat respiratory problems can show in a number of ways. If you notice that your cat is having trouble with taking breaths, absolutely take them to a vet as sometimes breathing problems can indicate something very serious.

There are signs you should look out for when you notice problems in your cat, other symptoms can go hand in hand:

  • Wheezing and coughing may be a sign that your cat has fluid in the lungs or asthma
  • Laboured breathing may indicate a heart problem such as heartworms
  • Your cat might have blueish coloured gums as a result of Tachpynea
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Does my cat need to go to the vets?

You should always bring your cat to a veterinarian should they show any unusual behaviour including heavy breathing. Cats can be very sensitive creatures and can react in serious ways even to minor environmental changes. If your cat breathing is concerning you, be sure to have their respiratory system checked by a vet when in doubt.

Any sort of cat problem needs to be seen by a registered veterinarian who will be able to diagnose if your pet has a serious health issue. When you bring your cat to the vets they check various parts of the breathing system to find the source of the respiratory problems. They will also check red blood cell count and for other issues such as fluid in the lungs too.

Sometimes, when you take your cat to the vet they will use an x ray to check for signs of something more serious such as a tumour. In rare cases, your cat may be diagnosed with a serious health condition, a which point your veterinarian will offer advice and appropriate medication.

Your cat may be breathing fast due to feline asthma which is thankfully treatable. Much like treatment in humans, your cat will have to use an inhaler which you administer over their nose. They will take a breath to settle their usual breath rate and prevent an asthma attack from occurring.

A vet visit is of the utmost importance when it comes to finding out about breathing problems. Should your cat be taking more than 30 breaths a minute, take them to a vet where they will be properly diagnosed.

Diagnosing Labored Breathing In Felines

As you’ve come to learn, there are many reasons as to why your pet may be breathing heavily. Therefore, when a vet comes to diagnose the issue, a range of methods may be used in the process. The process centres on ruling out any serious or emergency conditions using an elimination method. This means that the vet will need to know about your pet’s full medical history, symptoms that you have seen, and they will also need to carry out a physical examination too.

When a physical examination is carried out for a pet, the standard procedure involves getting a urine and blood sample to assess. These samples will then be analysed and tested for things such as the oxygen levels present for example. Gas analysis or pulse oximetry are the general ways to measure blood oxygen in felines.

Should noisy breathing in your cat be paired with low blood oxygen levels, therapy is often provided to help keep your pet stabilised. When your cat is stabilised, diagnostic analysis will begin. Both blood and urine proteins will be tested, a blood count will be taken, and so biochemistry and electrolyte profiles will be obtained.

Your vet will listen to your cat’s airways to determine where the noisy breathing is coming from. As mentioned in this article, your cat has an upper and lower respiratory system. The noise could be located in the nose, throat, or windpipe.

X-rays, ultrasounds, and other forms of diagnostic scanning may be used to locate suspected foreign objects. At this point, tumour and growths are detected. A scope could also be used in order to examine your cat’s throat, nose, or windpipe. In some specific cases, your vet may take a sample of mucus to carry out further testing.

What Are Common Airway Diseases In Cats?

Cats can develop a number of different airway diseases as they age, though some younger felines can develop serious diseases too. Various diseases that are responsible for breathing problems in cats are due to a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream.

When your feline suffers from a lack of oxygen in their blood this can cause heavy breathing to occur. Serious airway diseases include pneumonia, asthma, and pulmonary edema. Pulmonary edema is a type of disease caused by a build-up of fluid in the cat’s lungs.

Usually, pulmonary edema is not completely treatable as it is considered one of the signs of more serious health issues including cancer and heart failure.

Pleural effusions can cause both laboured breathing and rapid breathing to occur. If you suspect that your cat’s breathing problems are due to a lack of oxygen, it is important to immediately take your cat to the vets as a medical emergency.

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Treatment For Heavy Breathing In Cats

Today, there are many different forms of medication and treatment available for our pets. The treatment that your cat will be given to help their breathing problem will focus on targeting the underlying cause.

If your veterinarian has discovered a tumour, for example, surgical removal will be offered which will require you to make future appointments. For heavy breathing that does not directly affect the respiratory rate or respiratory system, treatment is often not needed and the problem will resolve itself.

Here’s a list of some of the treatments that your feline may be offered for their laboured breathing problem:

Oxygen therapy

Oxygen therapy is the name given to a type of treatment which focuses on providing your pet with extra oxygen. This can help to keep your cat’s oxygen levels at a normal and healthy rate. Oxygen can be given in a number of ways including via tubes, a mask, or even an oxygen cage. This low-risk therapy is administered to help your cat’s breathing issues in both the long-term and short-term.

Fluid therapy

IV (intravenous) fluids may be used in order to treat your cat’s noisy breathing especially if it has been caused by mucus build-up or dehydration. These fluids help to thin out any mucus that is present and affecting your cat’s health. This is another low-risk treatment that is usually only administered to an in-patient.

Antihistamine administration

Just like humans, cats can suffer from allergies which leave them struggling to breathe. A veterinarian will confirm the dosage for your pet and give you advice on how often you should give the treatment.

Steroid treatments

Steroids are used primarily to strengthen the immune system. They are commonly administered for heavy breathing and health problems that affect breathing such as asthma.

Antibiotics

Your pet may be put on antibiotics if they have a respiratory infection that is causing their issue. These types of medication help to eliminate the infection and will aid in strengthening the immune system for fast recovery.

Surgery

Surgery is only required for more serious health issues or an emergency. When a tumour or foreign object are found to be causing heavy breathing, surgery will be needed. Just as with surgery for people, these types of procedures can carry moderate risks which you will be informed of. Your cat will need to be hospitalised in order to monitor their recovery after the surgery has been carried out.

Recovering From Heavy Breathing

As your cat is recovering from their breathing issues, it is essential to ensure that they are made to be comfortable and can rest without interruption. Your cat will likely be a lot more tired than usual and may not be back to their usual selves for a few days. If your cat demonstrates any further worrying behaviours, you should be sure to inform your vet as soon as you can.

Avoid any dietary changes for your pet and ensure that they are kept warm and dry at all times. You will need to monitor your pet for any symptoms that may redevelop in order to ensure they are recovering well.

Follow up with all of the instructions that were given to you by the vet and be sure to administer medication as provided.

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