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Cat Breathing Fast - Is It A Cause For Concern?

Like us, your cat's breathing rate is affected by all kinds of things such as exercise, whether they feel anxious, or even the temperature, but unexplained fast breathing could be a sign of a health problem. Our Morton vets explain.

What is normal breathing for cats?

Healthy adult cats will typically take between 10 - 30 breaths every minute. Each breath travels to the lungs where it oxygenates the blood. Oxygenated blood then circulates throughout your cat's entire body allowing your feline friend's vital organs to perform a range of essential jobs. Rapid breathing in cats, also called tachypnea, is often irregular and shallow and can be a sign that insufficient oxygen is making its way into the lungs. 

If you watch your cat breathe, normal breaths should create a small rise and fall of the chest. If your cat is struggling to breathe you will notice a more exaggerated rise and fall of the chest and perhaps other clinical signs. 

Do I need to take my cat to the emergency vet?

Rapid breathing can be a sign of a serious underlying condition. Since proper oxygenation of the blood is essential to your cat's health, rapid breathing at rest is a symptom that should never be ignored.

If your cat’s sides are moving in and out dramatically, or if are panting noisily with an open mouth, coughing frequently, whistling when breathing, gasping, or extending their body to breathe, it's time to call your nearest after-hours animal emergency hospital.

Are there other symptoms I should look for?

Fast breathing at rest is generally a sign of an underlying illness and will often occur along with other symptoms. Depending on the cause of your cat's fast breathing your kitty may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Sides, chest and stomach moving in and out rapidly
  • Open mouth breathing or panting
  • Lowered head with extension of neck and body forward
  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Noisy breathing such as whistling, wheezing, or groans with each breath.
  • Lack of energy, lethargy
  • Blue color to the gums
  • Reluctance to move, jump or play
  • Extended periods of sleep
  • Loss of appetite

Breathing difficulties are a very serious health concern and should never be ignored. Contact your vet right away if your cat is showing any of the symptoms listed above.

Why is my cat breathing so fast?

Our Morton vets often hear from concerned pet parents wondering, "why is my cat breathing heavy?". Below are just a few of the reasons why your cat may be panting or breathing heavily.


  • Common signs of asthma in cats include heavy breathing with mouth open, panting, wheezing, and 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 breathing difficulties. Treatment for heartworm includes supportive care with corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and oxygen therapy in more serious cases. Heartworm disease is extremely serious and can be fatal, which is why our vets recommend keeping your cat on a monthly heartworm preventative medication.

Hydrothorax & Congestive Heart Failure

  • Hydrothorax is is a condition characterized by the accumulation of fluid in and around the lungs which can cause deep, rapid breathing, coughing, and panting. Treatment may include draining the fluid, as well as medications to dilate blood vessels, get rid of excess fluid, and make the heart contract more forcefully.

Respiratory Infections

  • If your feline friend has developed a respiratory infection it may be difficult for them to breathe normally. Respiratory infections can lead to heavy breathing or panting in cats. These infections typically begin as viral infections, but often develop into secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics may be required to treat your cat's condition so that they can breathe easier. Humidifiers and steam can help loosen mucus and make nasal breathing easier as your cat recovers.

Other Conditions That Can Lead To Fast Breathing In Cats

As well as the conditions listed above there are other conditions that can cause cats to experience breathing difficulties, such as:

  • Trauma or injury
  • Tumors in chest, lungs or throat
  • Anemia
  • Pulmonary edema (lungs filling with fluid)
  • Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
  • Pneumonia
  • Allergies
  • Airway obstruction (something stuck in throat)
  • Pain, stress or shock

How can the vet help my cat's breathing?

In order to provide your cat with effective treatment is will be necessary for your vet to determine the underlying cause of your kitty's fast breathing. This may require a number of tests such as bloodwork, urinalysis and/or diagnostic imaging.

Your cat's treatment will be focused on the underlying cause of the breathing issues. Depending on the cause of your kitty's rapid breathing treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Oxygen
  • Antihistamines
  • Steroids
  • Surgery to remove turmors
  • Procedures to drain fluid from chest
  • Acupuncture

If you are concerned about your cat's breathing for any reason veterinary care is essential. After all, when it comes to your cat's health it's always better to err on the side of caution. 

Treatment is typically most effective when a condition is diagnosed early, before more severe symptoms develop. Do not wait until your kitty's symptoms become more serious. Early treatment could save you money in the long run, and may help to protect your cat's health.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you concerned about your cat's breathing? Contact Stoney Creek Veterinary Hospital today to book an urgent appointment for your feline family member.

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Stoney Creek Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of companion animals in Morton and surrounding areas. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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