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Yes, cats pant, but not as often or dramatically as dogs.
There can be several reasons why a cat is breathing heavily with its mouth open, including overexertion, anxiety, overheating, and ill health.
It’s worth mentioning that rapid breathing can be due to an underlying health condition, so it’s essential to pay attention to any clues or cues as to why your cat may be panting. There’s a big difference between panting because a cat has been racing around chasing a fishing rod toy versus when they’ve been lying in their cat bed all afternoon.
It’s also quite normal for a cat to start breathing with its mouth open both during and after giving birth to a litter of kittens. Our cat did this when she had her babies a few years ago, and it’s both self-soothing and part of the healing process (although post-birthing panting isn’t always normal, so consult a veterinarian if you’re concerned).
Why Do Cats Pant?
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.
Why is My Cat Panting While Playing?
Cats like playing and sometimes go a little wild, so it’s not unusual to see a cat breathing heavily after jumping, pouncing, sprinting and climbing. This is especially common in kittens. They can seem to have an almost limitless amount of energy. Ordinarily, the cat should start breathing normally within a few minutes. It would be best to let your cat calm down and recover before continuing to play.
Is it OK for My Cat to Pant After Playing?
Generally speaking, yes. Cats love playing, and it’s important to stimulate them mentally and physically with exercise, indulging their inner predator in a way that doesn’t mean decimating local bird populations (or furniture if you have an indoor cat!). If your cat is open-mouthed breathing after play, it’s just her body pulling in oxygen, similar to how you or I would after strenuous exercise.
Again, as we mentioned above, give your cat a few minutes to recover its breath. It should return to normal relatively quickly.
Do Cats Pant When Stressed?
Cats will start panting when they’re stressed or anxious. Cat panting in the car can be common, as many cats find traveling in a vehicle disorientating and frightening. Cats may also start breathing with their mouth open in situations that make them feel nervous or scared. We’ve mentioned before that cats use scent to understand their territory, and when they’re in a place that doesn’t smell like them, they may become nervous.
We’ve found that something as simple as putting them inside a cat carrier for a veterinarian or grooming trip can trigger heavy open-mouth breathing, especially if a cat has had a previous bad experience within that carrier or vehicle. It could also occur following a house move or if loud or unpredictable visitors arrive (often young children).
Calming or removing the cat from the stressful situation will usually help them calm down. We’ve written an article about how to calm your cat down in their car if you’re worried about taking your pet on the road, which may help if your cat is open-mouthed when stressed.
You can train your cat to feel more comfortable in the carrier or inside the car, but this process could take several days or weeks. Some cat owners have found success using synthetic pheromone sprays like Feliway or Comfort Zone when traveling with cats, taking them to the veterinarian, moving house or introducing new cats to each other. We’ll link these items on Amazon below if you’re interested. There’s no guarantee (some cats seem to respond very well, and others, only marginal or no change). We’re a member of the Amazon Affiliate Programme and may receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you purchase something using our link.
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Do Cats Pant When It’s Hot?
We’re used to seeing dogs cool down by panting, but how do cats regulate their temperature? Cats lick themselves in warm weather. Their saliva evaporates off their fur and keeps them cool. Cats have also learned that lying against or on objects that are cool or cold helps keep them chilled too. Our cat lies on our kitchen’s linoleum floor when it’s hot outside. Our neighbour’s cats like lying on shaded stone steps in the garden.
Cats will pant when they’re too hot. They should return to a regular breathing pattern once they’re in a cool place with access to cold drinking water. If it doesn’t settle down quickly, then your cat may be suffering from heatstroke. Heatstroke happens when the cat isn’t able to control its body temperature, and panting is one of the first signs. Other symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, disorientation, drooling, high temperature and a bright red mouth. This can be fatal if not treated quickly.
Obviously, cat panting in the summer is likely to be a reflection of the weather. After all, cats love lying in the sunshine, so during periods of hot weather, it’s worth creating cool spaces within your home for your pet to relax safely and comfortably. Hills Pet Care recommends freezing a plastic water bottle of water, wrapping it in a towel and then leaving it whenever your cat likes sitting. They advise against buying commercial ice packs as they can leak chemicals if damaged.
Do Cats Pant When They’re Sick?
Panting can also be a sign of illness or an underlying health issue. Cat panting isn’t necessarily a sign of illness, but cats are very good at hiding pain and illness, so this could be the first sign of something that they’ve been experiencing for a little while. It could be a respiratory illness, cancer, an abdominal issue or a heart-related problem. It could also be asthma, anaemia, bronchitis, hyperthyroidism, and heart worm. It could also be a sign that they’re in pain. Of course, you shouldn’t assume the worst if you’re cat is breathing heavily, but it is important to take your pet to the veterinarian, who’ll be able to explore the symptoms.
Ultimately, it’s normal for cats to pant in certain situations. Most notably if they’ve been physically active during play. But it’s important that if you notice your cat breathing heavily in other circumstances, you assess the possible causes and act accordingly, and this may mean calling a veterinary professional for advice.