Breathing Heavily in Cats

Why is my cat breathing heavily?

What is Breathing Heavily?

Heavy breathing in cats, or dyspnea, is a symptom rather than a specific illness. Dyspnea can occur as a result of several different factors, just as in humans. A cat should always have normal breathing, unless they have been through an episode of running or rough play; labored or heavy breathing often, especially if the cat is at rest, may be a cause for concern. When cats have heavy breathing, they may not look like they are “panting”, but may stand in an awkward position with their neck stretched out, as if trying to open up their trachea in their own way, or as if trying to cough something up. They will also be breathing quickly and abnormally. You should contact your veterinarian if your cat is breathing heavily.

There are several possible causes for dyspnea, other than rough play or overexertion. Dyspnea can be a symptom for a mild to moderate condition, or may also be a symptom of a more severe condition, such as heart failure or lung tumor. These reasons can include:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Pulmonary disorders
  • Chest injuries
  • Foreign bodies
  • Overabundance of stomach fluids

Why Breathing Heavily Occurs in Cats

Heavy breathing in cats may suddenly occur, develop over a few hours, or increasingly develop over a few weeks or even months. This condition may be the result of a variety of underlying illnesses, such as:

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure is a condition where not enough blood is being delivered to various body organs and systems. When this occurs, blood can back up into the lungs of the cat, thus causing heavy and difficult breathing.

Pulmonary Disorders

If your cat has a pulmonary disorder, he may have trouble breathing. He may have heavy breathing and also sound “wheezy”. A cat who wheezes may have asthma or lungworm, just two of the many conditions that can cause lung issues and respiratory distress.

Chest Injuries

If your cat has suffered a chest injury from a sort of trauma to the chest, he may have difficulty breathing. Any time a feline suffers a traumatic injury, immediate veterinarian care is needed. Internal chest injuries may not always be apparent until significant symptoms arise.

Foreign Bodies

When cats breathe heavy, they stick their head and neck out a bit. Sometimes, it can look as if they are choking on something. If your cat is breathing with a struggle all of a sudden, check to see if he could have something lodged in his trachea.

Overabundance of Stomach Fluids

Excessive stomach fluids can cause a cat to have difficulty breathing. Known as ascites, this condition puts pressure on the abdomen and can affect the breathing ability of cats. This condition can quickly become serious.

What to do if your Cat is Breathing Heavily

If your cat is breathing heavily, contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may want you to come right in or make an appointment, depending on his other symptoms. Once you arrive at your veterinarian’s office, he will take a look at his symptoms and listen very closely to his breathing using a stethoscope. He will also want to know more information about his heavy breathing, such as when it began, how long it lasted, what events could have possibly led up to his dyspnea, if your cat is suffering any other symptoms, his environment, his diet, and any other factors in which he feels will help him to find the underlying cause.

Your veterinarian will then do a variety of tests on your cat, such as blood work, urinalysis, and biochemistry profile. He may listen again to your cat’s lungs and his breathing rhythm, as well as his heart rate and will determine whether or not he hears any murmurs or other abnormalities. After the initial tests, your veterinarian will then decide what other tests should be given to your cat in order to come to a conclusion of his underlying illness. These tests may include radiographs or other imaging, blood panels, CT scan, breathing tests, oxygen level testing, and more. 

After reviewing tests and laboratory results, your veterinarian will come to a conclusion as to why your cat is breathing heavily. You may have to wait a few days before you get the results, and then your veterinarian will notify you of his specific diagnosis. He will then communicate with you any treatment options that are available to help your cat recover.

If your cat has a serious condition, such as congestive heart failure or a pulmonary disorder, he will explain to you all of the treatment options that are available. There are many medications on the market that can be prescribed for your cat. Dietary changes recommended by your veterinarian may also be beneficial. If your cat is suffering from foreign bodies within his nasal areas, your veterinarian may need to perform surgery in order to remove them.

Prevention of Breathing Heavily

Unfortunately, there are diseases that cannot be prevented. There are ways, however, to possibly decrease the risk of serious illness. Giving your cat a healthy environment to live in and taking him to the veterinarian for regular check-ups in order to remain proactive in your cat’s health will help tremendously. If your cat has asthma, you can prevent heavy breathing by keeping him away from dust, mold, and other triggers. It is also important to keep your cat on a healthy diet, and one that does not trigger any food allergies which may, in turn, trigger an asthmatic situation.

If you have an aging cat that has heavy breathing, he may have pulmonary distress due to congestive heart failure because of other aging factors. It is important to always monitor your cat and look for any symptoms before the heavy breathing gets out of control.

Another way to prevent serious health conditions is to know your cat very well, and know his behaviors. If you see any signs of odd behaviors or symptoms, be sure to contact your veterinarian and he will do a complete physical examination. He may be able to find beginning signs of a serious condition that can be controlled before your cat has a life-threatening health condition.

Cost of Breathing Heavily

Several conditions can cause cats to breathe heavily. For a tracheal obstruction, the cost can begin at $1100. Initial testing as to why your cat is panting can begin at $200 and  the narrowing of nasal passages diagnostic process can begin at $300.

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Breathing Heavily Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals






2 Years


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0 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Heavy Breathing
My cat is only almost two years old, and I noticed he sometimes sounds like he wheezes often. I figured most cats do it, but today it has gotten worse, where he makes noise as he's trying to breathe. He makes the same noise while he purrs,and it sounds like he's in pain. I'm not sure what it could be, as this is the first cat I've ever owned. He has nothing coming from his eyes or nose either. What could be wrong with him? His breathing is so heavy, just watching it breaks my heart. His breathing also seems to be a bit quickened. Thanks in advance.

Aug. 5, 2018

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

0 Recommendations

Cats can be affected by asthma or infections, and Hobi might need treatment for that breathing if he is having trouble with his lungs. It would be best to have him examined by a veterinarian, as they can listen to his heart and lungs, evaluate him, and see if he needs any treatment.

Aug. 5, 2018

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