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What are Breathing Difficulties?

Dyspnea is often referred to as respiratory distress. Your cat may struggle with inhaling, exhaling or both. You may also notice your cat panting noisily or keeping its mouth open. Coughing is another symptom that often accompanies dyspnea. Whatever the systemic cause for labored breathing, your cat needs an immediate medical evaluation since this condition cannot be treated at home and can be deadly.

It is very disturbing to see your cat struggling to take a breath. Dyspnea, or difficulty breathing, is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying condition that could be caused by hundreds of diseases or medical conditions. For example, your cat may have a foreign object up its nose, or it may be experiencing allergy-induced asthma. Heart failure is another prime reason cats show signs of breathing difficulties, and this condition requires immediate veterinary evaluation.

Breathing Difficulties Average Cost

From 329 quotes ranging from $500 - $4,000

Average Cost

$1,000

Symptoms of Breathing Difficulties in Cats

When a cat is breathing rapidly with its mouth open, it’s obvious it’s having trouble breathing. Other symptoms of respiratory distress are more subtle but obvious to the eye and the ear. Since breathing difficulties in cats are dangerous and may rapidly become life threatening, seek immediate veterinary care if your cat is showing any of these symptoms:

  • Labored breathing
  • Panting
  • Exaggerated abdomen and chest movements
  • Crouching low to the ground with elbows out
  • Flared nostrils
  • Rapid breathing
  • Breathing with mouth agape
  • Head low to the ground
  • Noisy, raspy breathing
  • Coughing
  • Retching
  • Lethargy
  • Shaking
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Causes of Breathing Difficulties in Cats

There are so many possible reasons a cat is showing respiratory distress, only a veterinarian can make the proper diagnosis. Some of the many varied reasons for breathing difficulties are:

  • Asthma
  • Airway obstruction
  • Anxiety 
  • Stress 
  • Obesity
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Shock
  • Heat stroke
  • Lung disease
  • Heart disease
  • Infections
  • Blood disorders
  • Pain
  • Poison ingestion
  • Pneumonia
  • Cancer
  • Hyperthyroidism
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Diagnosis of Breathing Difficulties in Cats

Most likely, the first thing your veterinarian will do is ask you questions about when the breathing issues started, the symptoms you witnessed and what preceded the respiratory distress. If your cat is having serious difficulties breathing, your veterinarian will administer oxygen before testing begins. Your veterinarian may perform some or all of the following tests:

Physical Examination:

Your cat’s general health will be determined by taking vital signs and examining its ears, eyes, nose and gums. Your cat’s lungs and chest will be listened to with a stethoscope to determine if there is fluid in the lungs or an abnormal heartbeat. The veterinarian may palpate the abdominal area also.

Blood Tests:

Blood may be drawn to test the oxygen and carbon dioxide level in your cat’s blood and to check for heartworm disease. Other blood tests will show inflammation and or infections present.

Urine Sample:

A urine test will aid in diagnosing the cause of the dyspnea.

X-rays and Ultrasound:

These diagnostic tests help the veterinarian to virtually see inside your cat’s body to check for tumors, obstructions or fluid buildup.

Fluid aspiration:

A sample of chest, lung and abdominal fluid may be drawn for evaluation and testing.

ECG:

An ECG (electrocardiogram) test may be required if your veterinarian suspects a heart problem.

Endoscopy:

If the breathing problem is caused by a blocked nasal cavity or airway, this test will help determine the next step in treatment, and it may aid in collecting tissue samples for testing.

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Treatment of Breathing Difficulties in Cats

Depending on the reason for your cat’s dyspnea, treatment may be as simple as prescribing an antibiotic to more serious actions such as surgery or hospitalization with oxygen and IV therapy. 

Respiratory infection:

Antibiotics are usually prescribed to fight the infection and aid in breathing.

Foreign object:

If tests show a foreign object is obstructing the nasal passage, it may be removed in the office with surgical tweezers. 

Asthma:

Steroids and bronchodilators are two of the medicines that may be prescribed to help your cat breathe easier.

Heat stroke:

Your veterinarian will lower your cat’s body temperature and, if necessary, provide oxygen.

Dehydration:

Your cat will be given an IV to increase fluids to a normal level.

Fluid in lungs, chest or abdomen:

Fluid may be aspirated to relieve your cat’s distress.

Tumors and cancer:

Surgery may be required to remove the growth along with oral or injectable medicines.

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Recovery of Breathing Difficulties in Cats

In many cases, medicines and rest will aid in the recovery of your cat’s breathing problems. If veterinary care is administered quickly, heatstroke and dehydration are normally easy to treat and recovery is often rapid. If stress and anxiety are causing your cat to exhibit breathing difficulties, it’s imperative you find the cause of this distress and eliminate it if possible. If allergies are at the root of your cat’s dyspnea, your veterinarian will make suggestions on the best diet or bedding, and those changes will aid in your cat’s recovery.

If your cat has a serious diagnosis like cancer, surgery may require a prolonged hospital stay before it can be released from care. Other medical treatments like chemotherapy may be needed over an extended time. Be sure to keep all follow-up appointments with your veterinarian to ensure a speedy and total recovery and to avoid a recurrence of your cat’s medical emergency.

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Breathing Difficulties Average Cost

From 329 quotes ranging from $500 - $4,000

Average Cost

$1,000

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Breathing Difficulties Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Calico cat

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Noisy Breathing

we have had some renovations in our home. Our cat has been displaced. She is not being social, her fur is course and standing and she is breathing weird. She has sneezed a couple times

Aug. 2, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello I'm sorry to see that your cat is not feeling well. She may have a respiratory infection. I recommend that you take her to a veterinarian for an exam. They doctor may want to perform some diagnostics to see what exactly is going on. Good luck.

Aug. 2, 2020

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Buco

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long hair

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Breathing Fast

My cat called Buco is 1 year old and is a bit overweight, since I found him he breathes faster while being pet and purrs quite loud ..MI dont know if I should be worried...he is really lazy and likes to sleep a lot...not that active like my other cats I have I dont know, if he is really happy or there is a problem...he eats normally and everything else is okay

Sept. 10, 2018

Buco's Owner

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Lucky

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Long hair house cat

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4 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Heavy Breathing

My cat is 4 years old. He was the runt of the litter and about half the size of his siblings when we got him. We nursed him back to health but we always noticed hes had a little difficulty breathing and tired quickly when playing. 4 days ago we began to notice his breathing is getting more labored and simple activities like jumping on the couch makes him need to breath through his mouth. When he was 6 mo we took him in to get neutered and they said he checked out perfectly healthy but there has always been something different... im wondering how expensive running tests are? He seems fine otherwise. Eating and drinking good. Cold wet nose.

Sept. 6, 2018

Lucky's Owner

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Ariel

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American Shorthair

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13 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

My cat is 13 and has labored breathing. You can see from looking at her abdomen. She occasionally breathes rapidly, but mainly when she is purring. She also has a drippy nose. When I look at symptoms for lung diseases, the only symptoms she shows is labored breathing. She eats normally, grooms normally, and even plays a good amount for an elderly cat. Her blood tests came back fine as well. Could this be anything serious? Am I missing something?

Sept. 5, 2018

Ariel's Owner

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Ariel

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American short

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13 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Hi, my cat is 13 yrs old. She occasionally has labored breathing where you can see her breathing from her abdomen. Most of the time, it’s not rapid. It’s fairly average. But when she is purring it is rapid and doesn’t look right. She eats fine, plays quite a bit for an old cat, and keeps up on grooming herself. When I look up symptoms for lung diseases in cats, she doesn’t have a lot of symptoms. The only symptom is labored breathing, and she has a drippy nose. She’s had her blood tested, and it came back great. I’m not sure what is wrong?

Sept. 5, 2018

Ariel's Owner


I have a similar issue, my cat has enlarged lungs but all tests are coming back ok. X-ray shows a couple of broken ribs, have no idea how he got these, but they have started to heal. My vet is suggesting I say bye bye to my puss if his breathing doesn’t react to steroids but he’s fine apart from the deep breaths. He’s eating, going to the toilet, running up and down stairs etc.

Sept. 9, 2018

Sheila B.

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Fluffy

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domestic short hair

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2 Years

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Coughing & Sneezing

Fluffy was a stray and we found her in the drain when she a few days old.She was sneezing and sometimes coughing since she was small. It might be fur balls but I don't really spot them around.

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Watson

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mixed

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6 Years

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Weakness
Heavy Breathing
Rapid Breathing

My 6 year old cat has suddendly started breathing heavily and rapidly. He seems weak and has difficulty standing on his back legs. He drinks a lot of water but either puke it or pee it. He also seems to have a wider stomach, even though theres not much fat anywhere else. Could it be dehydration?

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Bumble

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Singapura

dog-age-icon

2 Months

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Critical severity

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0 found helpful

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Coughing
Not Eating
Dry Nose
Wheezing
Has Mouth Open
Laying Down With Tummy On Floor

My cat Bumble was 2 months and 5 days old, he died this morning. Just yesterday he was not his normal self, he refused to eat chicken in the morning but took milk and water during the day. Later on he had a temperature, just laid on the bed awake still meowing when we talked to him. He had his mouth open and had a wheezing sound when breathing then coughed twice. He couldn't walk this morning and as we were preparing to take him to the vet this morning he cried out very loud then just died a few minutes later. There was some pink fluid that came out of his mouth when he died and bubbles out of the nose. We still don't know what was wrong and now he's gone just when we were taking him to the vet....

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Kiki

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Flame point siamese

dog-age-icon

8 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Rapid Breathing

So it's been a few months, and my cat is 8-9 years old. She's recently had this rapid breathing through her nose after she hisses. we don't mean to disturb the cat, but mistakes happen and she ends up hissing at me. anyway, the rapid breathing scares me.

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Penelope

dog-breed-icon

Tortoiseshell

dog-age-icon

13 Years

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Critical severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Very Hard Time Breathing

Not sure we are making the right decision:( Our beautiful Penelope is scheduled to cross the bridge tomorrow morning. We don’t know what happen. 3 weeks ago she was fine today she is struggling to stay alive. She is 13 It started as a slight what I would say cold. Raspy breathing. I took her to our vet where she got a steroid injection and round of antibiotics 2 weeks ago. They also took xrays found nothing, no enlarged heart and lungs fine. Then 4 days ago she got much worse. Hubby found her hiding under the bed. He brought her to our bed where she peed the bed and just laid down. I am out of town so hubby brought her back in on emergency where they gave her another steroid to hopefully keep her alive so my son can come home from the Air Force for Thanksgiving and spend quality time with her before bring her in tomorrow morning. Today something just wasn’t setting well with me so I had him take her to another vet for a 2nd opinion. This time they drew blood. Nothing! No signs of infection. Blood work great so why is she struggling to breath? Why is she dying? We are so sad over this? We have no answers and 2 vets now have no answers other than it’s just her time. Her Momma passed at 24 Daddy at 19 so she does come from a good long living gene pool but I know this doesn’t mean much :( Just confusing as she is an indoor cat completely healthy 3 weeks ago and has never had any health issues

Breathing Difficulties Average Cost

From 329 quotes ranging from $500 - $4,000

Average Cost

$1,000

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