What is Noisy Breathing?
Although noisy breathing itself is not life-threatening, the underlying condition might be. If airway obstruction is to blame, total blockage of the airway can happen quickly and without notice, resulting in complete respiratory failure. The blockage, narrowing, or other issues that result in noisy breathing can occur almost anywhere in the respiratory system, including the nose, mouth, throat, larynx, bronchi, or smaller airways within the lungs. Cats that are experiencing noisy breathing should be seen by a veterinarian to diagnose or rule out potentially serious medical conditions.
The term noisy breathing is used to describe any condition in which breathing is abnormally loud. This includes breathing than can clearly be heard without the use of veterinary equipment. Noisy breathing may sound like wheezing, snoring, or squeaking.
Symptoms of Noisy Breathing in Cats
The primary symptom of noisy breathing in cats is breathing that is audible. The noise can range from a lower-pitched snoring sound to a higher whistling or squeaking noise. It may be accompanied by breathing changes or difficulty breathing. The noisy breathing may be associated with numerous other symptoms depending on the underlying cause of the condition. Associated symptoms can become very severe and may even be fatal.
- Loud breathing sounds
- Trouble breathing
- Open-mouth breathing
- Panting or rapid breathing
- Movement of belly and chest while breathing
- Flared nostrils
- Coughing or sneezing
- Breathing with neck extended or elbows sticking out
- Squeaking sounds during breaths
- Snoring sounds even when awake
- Voice changes
- Inability to vocalize or meow
- Exercise intolerance
- A cough producing mucus
- Nasal discharge
- Pain and related vocalizations
- Pale mucous membranes
- Behavior changes
Severe symptoms include:
- Inability to breathe
- Collapse or fainting
- Sudden death
There are two primary types of noisy breathing. The type is determined by where the breathing disruption is, and can often be identified by the sound the cat is making while breathing. The types of noisy breathing are:
- Stridor: Noisy breathing with a high-pitched sound, which is usually caused by a blockage or issue in the larynx or windpipe
- Stertor: Noisy breathing with a low-pitched sound that often occurs when inhaling, and is usually caused by an issue in the nose or throat
Causes of Noisy Breathing in Cats
A large number of conditions can cause noisy breathing in cats, ranging from congenital abnormalities to infections, foreign objects, and a variety of diseases and disorders. Stridor or stertor noisy breathing may help in identifying the types of issues causing the issue because they affect different parts of the nose, throat, and airways. Certain underlying causes can result in both types of noisy breathing, however. Common causes of noisy breathing in cats can include:
- Airway obstruction
- Upper respiratory infections
- Buildup of fluid in the chest or abdominal cavities
- Lung disease
- Blood disorders
- Congenital heart failure
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Heart disease
- Thyroid issues
- Brachycephalic airway syndrome, which occurs in flat-faced animals
- Poisoning or toxicity
- Narrowed nostrils, nose, or throat
- Lesions in the nose, throat, or respiratory passages
- Larynx collapse
- Laryngeal paralysis
- Trauma injury or damage
- Side effects of anesthesia or sedation
- Inflammation of the throat caused by vomiting or toxins
- Strong emotional responses like anxiety or fear
Diagnosis of Noisy Breathing in Cats
With the large number of potential causes of noisy breathing, diagnosis of the underlying condition can require a variety of diagnostic methods. Much of the process will involve confirming or ruling out likely causes using a process of elimination. Be prepared to discuss your cat’s full medical history and describe any symptoms you have observed. Your veterinarian will conduct a full physical examination and collect samples of urine and blood for analysis. Your pet’s blood oxygen level will be measured using either blood gas analysis or pulse oximetry. If the noisy breathing is accompanied by difficulty breathing or if blood oxygen levels are low, oxygen therapy may be provided to stabilize the cat while other diagnostic measures are used to identify the underlying cause of the condition.
With the animal stabilized, diagnostic analysis can begin. Urinalysis and common laboratory blood tests will be conducted on your pet’s samples. This will include blood and urine cultures, complete blood count, and biochemistry and electrolyte profiles. Your veterinarian will listen to the airways with a stethoscope to determine the location of the noise in the nose, throat, or windpipe. Diagnostic imaging, including x-rays or ultrasounds, may also be used to look at the respiratory system and sinuses for indications of a foreign object, tumor or growth, or other issues. A scope may also be used to examine the nose, throat, and airways. In some cases, fluid, mucus, or tissue samples may also be taken to aid in diagnosis.
Treatment of Noisy Breathing in Cats
The treatment for cats with noisy breathing will focus primarily on treating the underlying cause. For example, if a tumor is found to be the cause of the cat’s noisy breathing, surgical removal or other cancer therapies may be used. Noisy breathing, especially with an indeterminate cause, that does not impact the function on the respiratory system may not require any treatment. Some of the possible treatments for noisy breathing in cats include:
Providing oxygen can aid in respiratory function and help maintain healthy blood oxygen levels. Oxygen may be provided using tubes, a mask, or an oxygen cage. This is a relatively low-risk therapy but is administered on an inpatient basis under supervision to monitor for potential issues.
Intravenous (IV) fluids may be used to treat pets with noisy breathing, particularly if dehydration or mucus are factors. Administered fluids can help thin out mucus and make coughing more productive. This therapy is considered a low-risk treatment and is usually only provided on an inpatient basis.
This category of drug is commonly used to treat allergies and allergic reactions. It can aid in breathing, even when allergies are not the only cause. Proper dosing is essential to reduce the risk of side effects.
This category of drug is also commonly used for breathing difficulties, including asthma. Steroids carry a moderate risk of side effects and will generally not be prescribed to cats that have poor immune function.
Respiratory and other bodily infections are often contributing factors in noisy breathing. Antibiotic medications help to remove the infection and aid the immune system in overcoming illness. Proper dosing is essential for reducing the risk of side effects.
In the event a tumor, injury, or foreign object are obstructing an airway and causing noisy breathing, surgery may be necessary. Surgery carries a moderate risk of side effects. If surgical intervention is required, your cat will likely be hospitalized to reduce the risk of complications.
Recovery of Noisy Breathing in Cats
Your pet’s prognosis will depend on the underlying cause of noisy breathing. If treatment is possible, the prognosis is higher. Some animals will be able to lead a normal life, even if noisy breathing is never cured. While your cat is recovering, avoid sudden dietary changes, environmental changes, and stressors. If dietary changes are recommended to aid in your cat’s recovery, make changes gradually to avoid increasing stress and anxiety. Ensure their living space is protected from cold, dampness, drafts, and dust to maintain good air quality. Monitor your pet for symptoms and seek veterinary assistance of they return or worsen. Be sure to follow all of your veterinarian’s instructions regarding care, medications, and follow-up appointments.
Noisy Breathing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hello. I took my kitten to get spayed. The first vet thought she was 10 to 12 weeks a month ago but the vet that spayed said she was about 12 weeks. He a gave her 2nd distemper shot and rabies. Since surgery 3 days ago I notice kitty sounds congested. It's scary. Acting ok but you can here congestion. Last night seemed like trouble swallowing a minute or two
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My cat is 13 yrs and i notice a couple of months ago he looked sick. Vet gave urine and blood test. Said there was protein in urine and there was 5lb weight lost in 8 months since last vet Visit suggested ultra sound because Of Noisy breathing. Prescribed antibiotic and told vet because of cost wasn't going to Pursue further treatment, it's been a month since that last vist. I'm concerned beacuse he seems to have trouble breathing. He is still eating but he doesn't use litter box and hasn't for years. Unsure if he is suffering enough to Euthanise.
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Cali started dry heaving about 3 days ago, but nothing comes up. She seemed fine I just figured she had a stubborn hairball. Now, she is making a hmmmm sound when breathing. She is eating, and drinking fine. She is also still playful. Suggustions?
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My cat has been breathing raspy for two days. Other than her breathing, I see no other changes in her behavior. She is seven yrs old and not fixed. She is not any special breed. She is just grey and brown striped tabby. My question is...Is there a chance the breathing issue will fix itself as she doesn't seem to be in any pain?
Noisy breathing may be caused by various different conditions including allergies, irritation (any new cleaning products recently?), laryngeal problems, foreign bodies, polyps etc… If Clara isn’t in distress, keep an eye on her but for a diagnosis you would need to visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
I have rescued a kitten who was being used as a chew toy for dogs I've had her for about a week and noticed she is having problems breathing through her nose and sounds like she is wheezing. She also sleeps ....ALOT. I don't know how old she is but either at 6 weeks or slightly under is what I assume. Is there anything I can do for her?
Please take her to a vet!!!
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