Breathing Fast in Cats

Why is my cat breathing fast?

What is Breathing Fast?

The typical breathing rate for house cats is around twenty to thirty breaths per minute; however, this rate may be increased in certain situations. Some of the more common circumstances that can cause increased respiration or panting in cats can include: 

  • Allergies
  • Anemia
  • Emotional distress
  • Exertion
  • Heart disease
  • Heat
  • Pain
  • Pleural effusion
  • Respiratory infections
  • Sinus infections

Why Breathing Fast Occurs in Cats

Cats may start breathing fast or even panting for a number of reasons, including excessive exertion and overheating. Panting is fairly rare with felines, even under these circumstances. Rapid breathing is more common in elderly, obese, and brachycephalic animals. 


Allergies to environmental components such as pollen or dust may result in nasal discharge, sneezing, and rapid, shallow breathing. Allergies that affect the respiratory system in cats are frequently accompanied by an allergy induced skin rash as well. 


Whether caused by loss of blood, the destruction of blood cells or suppressed production of red blood cells, anemia is the reduction in the number of red blood cells that are circulating in the blood. Red blood cells contain the hemoglobin that carries the oxygen throughout the feline body, and when their numbers are reduced the body becomes starved for oxygen, and the cat breathes more rapidly as they attempt to compensate. Toxicity from certain substances, such as acetaminophen, may cause anemia as they cause the red blood cells to become compromised. 

Emotional Distress

Stress triggers many of the same physiological responses for felines as it does for humans, including increases in heart rate and respiration. Chronic stress in felines may lead to delayed wound healing, depression, and even upper respiratory infections. Other signs of stress in cats can include clingy behavior, hiding, and overgrooming. 


Although it is not as common in cats as it is in dogs, vigorous play can occasionally lead to panting. If panting occurs after mild or moderate play, lasts longer than a few minutes, or begins occurring on a more frequent basis, a veterinary professional should evaluate your pet’s health. 

Heart Disease

Mild and moderate heart attacks and ongoing heart disease often present with difficulties breathing due to the reduced oxygen circulation. Along with rapid or ragged breathing , the cat may also experience weakness and lethargy, start coughing, and in some cases suffer sudden paralysis of the hind legs.  


Panting can be seen in response to excessive heat, and may be a preliminary sign of heat stroke, particularly if accompanied by restlessness behavior, thick, sticky saliva, or weakness. Brachycephalic cats, obese cats, and the very young and very old are more susceptible to heat stroke than other cats. 


Cats are particularly good at hiding pain, and as such, it may be difficult to spot. One of the signs that your cat may be in pain is an increased rate of breathing, frequently accompanied by agitated behavior, changes in pupil dilation, and an increase in the heart rate. Many cats also purr when they are in distress. 

Pleural Effusion

An accumulation of fluid in the pleural sac surrounding the lungs is known as pleural effusion. This condition compresses the lungs and inhibiting the ability to fill with air, causing shortness of breath and rapid breathing, a bluish tinge to the skin and mucous membranes, and lethargy. 

Respiratory Disease

Disorders that affect the respiratory system, such as asthma, viral infections, or pneumonia, are frequently characterized by shallow, rapid breathing and panting. Respiratory disease in cats may be accompanied by sniffling, sneezing, and vocal changes. 

Sinus Infections

The inflammation of the nasal passages that occurs when your cat develops a sinus infection can cause them to breathe more quickly than is typical. This type of infection would also include the symptoms of sneezing, nasal discharge, bad breath, and sometimes a cough.

What to do if your Cat is Breathing Fast

Most cats will only breathe heavily or rapidly after exercise for a short time and only when the exercise is strenuous. If your pet is panting for an extended time after vigorous play or if they are panting at all after mild to moderate play, it may be a cause for concern and a call or visit to a veterinary professional would be recommended to rule out cardiac or respiratory disorders. If your cat is panting due to heat, get them out of the heat as quickly as possible and ensure that they have water available to them. If you suspect that heat stroke is occurring, you will want to contact your veterinarian right away for further instructions. While you are waiting for communication, you can wet the overheated cat completely with cool or lukewarm water and allow air to circulate and cool the skin. Cold water should never be used to cool an overheated animal as this can cause the patient’s temperature to drop too rapidly, and hypothermia may develop. 

If the breathing is excessively rapid or if it is occurring in the absence of heat or exertion, further evaluation of the situation will be required, and any additional symptoms will guide both the diagnosis and treatment. If your cat does require a visit to the veterinarian, the cat will typically undergo a full physical examination once you have arrived at the clinic, including standard diagnostic tests, including a complete blood count, urinalysis, and biochemical profile. The results of the tests, as well as the general examination, will help guide your veterinarian in making a treatment plan for your specific situation.

Prevention of Breathing Fast

It is rare for cats to breathe rapidly or pant under regular circumstances, although it can happen when they excessively exert themselves or when their environment or body temperature is exceptionally high. Cats that suffer from obesity tend to become fatigued earlier than more fit felines, making them much more likely to develop the type of cardiovascular and respiratory troubles that can trigger shallow, rapid breathing, so being attentive to your animal’s feeding and exercise schedule provides the proper amount of activity in relation to the diet for your pet. It is important to ensure that your pet has adequate ventilation and hydration on warmer days to prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke and taking your companion in for check-ups on a regular basis to keep them up-to-date on their vaccines and to have them assessed for any early signs of cardiovascular or respiratory disease will help to prevent more serious complications.

Cost of Breathing Fast

While getting your cat into cooler conditions or allowing it to rest may work for simple overheating or exertion, many of the conditions leading to rapid breathing require medical care and the cost for conditions that trigger an increased rate of breathing can vary considerably, depending on the final diagnosis. Where increased rate of breathing due to obesity in felines generally averages around $500 to treat, more serious conditions can be considerably more expensive, averaging around $850 to treat serious respiratory allergies, $2000 for treatment of a feline heart attack, and $2500 for heat stroke.

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Breathing Fast Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals






12 Weeks


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My pet has the following symptoms:
Fast Breathing
Hi my 12 week old kitten has started to rapidly and shallowly breath through her nose and her heart is racing too. She's eating and drinking just fine and as far as I know has not been injured in any way

Aug. 24, 2018

0 Recommendations

There are various causes for fast breathing which may include pain, respiratory infection, heart disease, anaemia among other issues; without examining Mouse I cannot say specifically what is causing these symptoms but if the rapid breathing doesn’t stop or it seems that Mouse is struggling to breathe, visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 24, 2018

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7 Years


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My pet has the following symptoms:
Fast Breathing
Hi, my cat came home this morning and has been sleeping ever since. He is 7 but still likes to go outside and will go in and out throughout the day, but he hasn’t been outside since he came in. As well, he’s not eating nor drinking and is breathing fast and shallow. I’m very concerned for him and don’t know what to do. Thanks.

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