Do Cats Pant?

Cat open mouth breathing


Cats do pant but not as often or as dramatically as dogs do.

Rapid breathing in felines can be due to an underlying health condition, so it’s important to pay attention to any clues or cues as to why they’re suddenly panting.

  • Overexertion
  • Anxiety
  • Overheating

Why Do Cats Pant?

Overexertion isn’t anything to be too concerned about if the panting follows a burst of intense activity like chasing a toy or a serious case of the zoomies.

Cats can pant if they’re anxious about something so if you’ve just put them in a carrier or an unfamiliar environment then heavy breathing is likely to be a response to stress.

Cats sometimes pant when they’re overheating, too.  Put them in a cool place with some cold drinking water and they should quickly resume a regular breathing pattern.

But panting can also be a sign of illness.  If it comes out of nowhere or becomes a regular issue, then you should make an appointment with a veterinarian who’ll be able to check for signs of illness.

We’ll go into a little more detail below.

Is it OK for my cat to pant after playing?

Generally speaking, yes.

Cats love to play and it’s important to stimulate them both physically and mentally with exercise.

If your cat is open mouth breathing after play, then it’s just her body pulling in oxygen. In the same way that we get out of breath during a workout or strenuous activity, so does she.

Give her a minute to catch her breath before continuing or put the toy away for a bit.  If her breathing returns to normal within minutes, then there’s probably nothing there’s to worry about.  Cats are sprinters by nature so they exert energy in quick, speedy bursts rather than steadily over time.  Playing with a feather on the end of a stick is the kitty equivalent of a HIT workout.

But if you are concerned then always ask for professional advice.  Just because it only happens during exercise doesn’t mean there isn’t an underlying issue.

Do Cats Pant When They’re Scared or Stressed?

Cats can get anxious, upset or frightened in some situations.

You may have experienced panting when putting your cat in a car (strange smells and motion sickness) or pushing her into a carrier (if she associates the box with bad memories or feelings) or a trip to the veterinarian’s office (strange noises, smells and a person sticking her with needles).

You may find that moving house or having a visit from loud children can prompt a reaction like this. When the cat is removed from that difficult situation the panting should stop. Anxiety can manifest itself in felines in a number of ways.

If the problem stems from the carrier or from the car, then there are things you can do beforehand to reduce the likelihood of panting as a response such as introducing the cat to the carrier before starting a journey or using a synthetic pheromone spray like Feliway or Comfort Zone before traveling or moving.

If the panting is happening regularly and isn’t connected to any obvious stress, ask your vet for advice.

How Do Cats Cool Down?

We’re used to seeing dogs cool down by panting but how do cats regulate their temperature? 

Cats lick themselves in the warm weather so the process of saliva evaporating off their fur keeps them cool.

Cats have also learned that lying against objects cooler than they are helps keep them chilled, too.

Our cat lies on the linoleum on our kitchen floor on a hot day or against the shaded stone steps in the garden.  She’s pretty good at knowing where the hot spots are in the house and how to avoid them when it gets too warm.

Hills Pet Care recommends freezing a plastic bottle of water, wrapping it in a towel and then leaving it wherever your cat likes sitting. This should help keep them nice and chilled.  They advise against buying commercial ice packs as they can leak chemicals if damaged.

If your cat is panting during the hot weather, then it’s important to get them out of the heat to somewhere cool. Put a fan nearby if you can, place a bowl of cool water (or give her access to running water) to help.  The panting should subside quickly but if it doesn’t then you should contact a professional.

Cats sweat through their paws, so keep an eye on any wet paw-prints on the floor.  If you see them, then your cat may need to drink additional water.

In the hot weather, you should also be mindful of the symptoms of heatstroke in cats. It’s every bit as dangerous to our felines as it is to us. Panting can be a sign of heatstroke and so too is vomiting, lethargy, disorientation, drooling, high temperature and a bright red mouth. The Preventative Vet website has some good advice on what to do if your cat has heatstroke (steps to take just before you take her to your vet).

What Does Cat Panting Look Like?

According to PetMD, a panting cat looks similar to a panting dog. “Often, the cat will stand or crouch with his elbows bent away from his chest and with the head and neck stretched out.”

It can be an unnerving thing for an owner to watch.

When is Panting a Sign of something more serious?

Panting isn’t always something to be concerned about but if it’s happening regularly or if there’s no real reason as to why you cat is having difficulty breathing, then it’s time to speak to a veterinarian.

There are other health conditions which can make shortness of breath a cause of concern.

Heavy panting in a cat could mean your pet suffers from asthma, anaemia, bronchitis, hyperthyroidism, heart disease, heart worm or respiratory infections; it could also indicate that they’re in pain or shock.

Cat panting isn’t all that uncommon but it can be cause for concern. Given that felines are so good at hiding illness, this could be your first sign that something isn’t right.

Any shortness of breath immediately after exercise that disappears within minutes is probably nothing to worry about. If you know why your cat is stressed, then you can probably chalk panting up to anxiety. In hot weather, keep your cat in the cool and if they start panting keep an eye on them. 

If your cat’s panting is sudden, seems unexplained or occurs for extended periods of time, then you should make a veterinary appointment as soon as possible.

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