When Your Cat Pants

Most of the reasons why a cat would pant are very serious and warrant immediate veterinary attention. Here's why.

Your cat bounds up the stairs as usual. But when she gets to the top, she sits and pants – certainly not the usual. Should you worry, wait and see if she does it again or call your veterinarian immediately? In general, cats dont pant as dogs do. Dogs pant to cool themselves off, and its normal. While some cats pant from stress, pain or excitement, panting isnt usually normal for a cat, and you should probably consider taking action if it happens.

Cat Panting

Bev Caldwell


What exactly is panting? Panting differs from regular breathing. Normal inhalation is an easy movement of the chest outward, with exhalation pulling the chest gently inward. Exhalation usually lasts three times longer than inhalation. The result is that entering air goes deep inside the lungs, where there is an exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide via the blood vessels.

With panting, however, the breathing is much more shallow and rapid. Air is moved back and forth in the larger airways, but very little air is exchanged deep inside the lungs.

Cats will normally pant when theyre frightened or in pain. “The main reason for panting in cats is stress,” says Steve Dullard, DVM, a past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and director of the Ancare Veterinary Clinic in Mendota, Illinois. “And the greatest stress is usually the trip to the veterinarian’s office. Some cats just become unglued.”

Mother cats may pant after giving birth because of the heat and stress associated with the exertion from labor. If very hot from a lot of exertion, cats will pant to cool off, because they only sweat from the pads of their paws.

Panting as a Symptom

If your pet is panting even when he is cool and relaxed, theres probably something wrong, says Dr. Dullard. There could be any number of causes:

  • A fever often causes panting. When a cats body temperature rises, he pants to rid himself of the excess heat.

  • A bad cold can cause panting. “If cats cant breathe through their noses, they will breathe through their mouths, and may pant,” says Dr. Dullard.

  • Polyps that obstruct the nasal passages can contribute to mouth-breathing and panting. Polyps are relatively easy to remove surgically.

  • Anemia, a condition in which there arent enough red blood cells to deliver adequate oxygen to the body, can cause pets to pant.

  • Hyperthyroidism can lead to secondary heart disease, which can cause panting.

  • Panting can also be a symptom of poisoning. Ingesting a Tylenol tablet, for example, “reduces the oxygen-carrying ability of the blood,” says Dr.Dullard. “This is very dangerous.”

  • Hemobartonellosis – a disease caused by a parasite transmitted by fleas – may produce fever and red blood cell problems leading to anemia and then to panting.

Respiratory Conditions

Any fluid between the lungs and thoracic wall will cause pressure and panting,” says Dr. Dullard. “This can be symptomatic of a number of diseases or conditions that affect the heart, including high blood pressure.”

Heartworms are a cause of panting that most people are unaware of. “Heartworms in cats cause more of a respiratory disease than a heart condition – just the opposite of what occurs in dogs,” says Dr. Dullard. In cats, heartworms do harm at the larval stage, before they enter the heart. “The larvae cause inflammation in the pulmonary arteries,” says Dr. Dullard; “the condition is often mistaken for asthma.”


Heatstroke can kill within minutes, so its essential to get an overheated cat to a veterinarian immediately. First aid for heatstroke includes wrapping the cat in towels soaked in cool water or running the garden hose over your cat for several minutes.

“Fortunately,” says Dr. Dullard, “cats dont often go into heatstroke unless theyre left in a hot car, something you should never do for just that reason.” In warm climates, do watch out for Persians, which sometimes have trouble breathing because of their flat noses.

Your cat should not be panting unless shes extremely stressed. If your cat is panting and theres no obvious reason, contact your veterinarian immediately and get your cat examined.