What is Panting?
Serious issues that can lead to a cat panting include major problems with the central nervous system, the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system or the circulatory system. Often, if a severe health problem exists, other symptoms will start to be exhibited in addition to panting. A veterinarian should assess any cat who has been excessively panting to identify any primary issues that may be causing the strange breathing.
When a cat breathes rapidly for a period of time with its mouth open, it is said to be panting. Much like a dog, cats need to pant to regulate their temperature after excessive play or if out in the heat. This is called “thermoregulation”. However, cats pant far less than dogs, and often a panting cat is showing that there may be an internal problem present. Sometimes panting may show up coincidentally after the cat has exerted itself when in fact an underlying issue is the cause.
Symptoms of Panting in Cats
If other signs begin to accompany panting, or if it lasts for an unusual amount of time, a medical emergency may be at hand. Symptoms to watch for are include:
- Bright red coloration of tongue
- Cyanosis (pale blue lips and gums)
- Difficulty getting up
- Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
- Polydipsia (increased thirst)
- Weight loss
- Extending of the neck
- Elbows pointed out from body
Causes of Panting in Cats
Panting itself ranges from harmless to a life-threatening sign and the underlying causes are across the spectrum as well. Determining if the panting is serious or not should be left to a professional so as to not overlook a potentially fatal issue. All known causes are listed below.
- Hyperthermia (heat stroke)
- Fever (often due to a bacterial infection)
- Pain from trauma
- Shock (may be from blood loss)
- Pyothorax (infection of the chest cavity)
- Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
- Benign or malignant tumor of the lungs or brain
- Hypocalcemia (low levels of calcium in the bloodstream)
- Urinary tract obstruction
- Diabetes ketoacidosis
- Cardiovascular disease
- Poisoning from chemical or organic matter ingestion or inhalation
Diagnosis of Panting in Cats
While panting itself is a symptom and not a diagnosis, identifying the underlying cause is a task that your veterinarian should be able to accomplish. You will need to provide the vet with your cat’s full medical history. Your cat will then undergo a complete examination to note all symptoms that may be showing. Matching the signs your cat is exhibiting with possible health problems may narrow down the search for the cause.
Full blood work will need to be run including a complete blood count, which can help reveal anemia, diabetes or cancer in the cat. A biochemical panel will also be needed to look for any abnormalities. Urinalysis can point to urinary tract obstruction along with other health issues. Heartworm should be tested for from the blood samples taken. Ultrasounds may be needed of the abdomen, brain or lungs to confirm the presence of tumors, abnormalities, foreign bodies or obstructions. An echocardiogram may be used to identify heart problems in the cat. The cat’s thyroid T4 levels may be measured, especially if the cat is older than six years of age. Thoracentesis may be performed to remove any gas or fluid in the chest cavity for testing.
Treatment of Panting in Cats
If breathing is hindered by excessive panting, the symptom will be treated to stabilize the cat. The course of treatment will vary greatly depending on what underlying cause has been diagnosed in the cat.
Both the symptom of panting and many of its more severe causes can be alleviated with supportive care. This often involves hospitalization, oxygen supplementation and intravenous fluid administration (especially is the cat is dehydrated).
If a bacterial infection has been found, a corresponding antibiotic may be given to the cat to remove the bacteria from the body. This will help relieve any fever that has resulted from infection. Prescriptions of antibiotics often last from one to four weeks.
If heartworm, or any other parasite has been identified as causing your cat to pant, the cat may need a course of antiparasitic medication to eradicate any worms or organisms living inside it.
Other medications may be prescribed for a number of underlying health issues such as asthma or seizures that occur as a result of poisoning.
If your cat has been poisoned, it may be necessary to pump the stomach to remove all harmful materials.
If the cat is severely anemic, blood transfusions may be recommended to improve the quality of blood and the levels of iron in the blood.
If tumors, obstructions or foreign bodies exist in the cat, surgery may be needed to remove them. The risks associated with surgery will vary depending on the location of the procedure and the issue being rectified. General anesthesia is required for all surgical removals.
Recovery of Panting in Cats
Proper care for recovery will depend on the treatment that the cat has had. If surgery has been performed, all at-home care guidelines should be closely followed. Monitor the incision site to ensure an infection does not develop. Administer all medications and antibiotics as prescribed by your veterinarian. Your cat may require follow-up appointments with the vet every one to three months to reassess its condition.
Keep your cat properly hydrated by providing fresh water more than once a day. Ensure that your cat has a sheltered and cool area to be in if it goes outside. Do not leave a cat in the car, especially if it is warm outside. Keep all possible poisonous materials shut away beyond the cat’s reach. Eliminate all stress-inducing factors in your cat’s environment. Supplements may be helpful in managing certain health issues. If your cat has been panting for a normal reason, but you are concerned due to the duration of the panting, remove all stimulants causing fear or anxiety to your cat.
Panting Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat has been panting it happened one time a few weeks ago when I think something scared him but not sure he just ran into the room with his hair up and then started panting but today it happened twice for what seemed like no reason at all, he was fine one minute then would jump up and then start panting. When it happens he just lays down and isn’t interested in any food or treats (which is odd for my treat loving cat) or water. I’m not sure if something is actually wrong or he is getting scared by something imaginary.
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Lately, my cat has been vomiting a lot. She also starts panting right afterward for a short period of time. She's quite obese, so that might tie into the problem.
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