While panting is usually a behavior associated with dogs, it can also be normal for a cat to pant. I say “can” be normal because in certain instances, such as when they’re hot, stressed, or anxious, a cat will pant.
However, panting in a cat can also indicate that something is wrong. In order to know when your kitty needs help and when they just need a little cooldown time, it’s essential to understand what causes panting. So let’s look at some of the reason why your cat might be panting.
What is Panting in Cats?
If you’ve ever been around dogs, you’re probably more than well aware of what panting is. It is that open-mouthed, tongue hanging out, faster-than-normal breathing that dogs use to cool down. They also may pant if nervous, stressed, or excited.
On the other hand, cats don’t use panting as a cooling mechanism as frequently as dogs, usually because they prefer not to get hot in the first place.
When a cat pants, they too will breathe open-mouthed with their tongue hanging out. Their breathing will be faster, and you will probably notice their belly and chest rising and falling with each breath. You will usually recognize the inciting cause: they are hot, they were just running, or they are going on a stressful car ride, etc.
What is not normal for panting in cats is if they appear distressed or are having trouble breathing. Any wheezing or loud noise associated with inhaling or exhaling air is a cause for concern. If you can’t determine a reason for their panting or if they have to forcibly move air in or out of their lungs, your cat needs to see a veterinarian.
Normal Reasons That a Cat May Pant
As we kind of hit on before, cats need more of a reason to pant than their canine counterparts do. They might simply need a little downtime to recuperate, or they could have a condition where a veterinary visit is imminent.
Cats lack sufficient sweat glands to cool their bodies, so they have to rely on the prevention of overheating or panting to cool off. Most cats will opt to take preventative measures, such as not being active when it’s hot by finding a shady, cool spot to hole up in until it’s cooler, rather than use panting to cool off.
However, there are times when cats, especially the active ones, will get themselves a little too warm and need to pant to cool off. If your kitty is panting due to heat, help them find a cool spot and let them relax until they’ve reached a more comfortable temperature.
For those wild, off-the-wall type cats, exertion can be a cause for panting. Also, outdoor hunters may work themselves to the point of panting. Again, helping them find a cool, calm spot to wind down will typically put an end to their panting.
If your kitty doesn’t enjoy the infrequent car ride or hates to share their space with visitors, panting can be in response to stress or anxiety. Along with panting, they may also be extra vocal, skittish and jumpy, or even growl and hiss when handled.
Giving your kitty a familiar spot, putting an end to the stressful activity, and letting them collect themselves should stop their panting.
When is Panting in Cats is a Concern?
Anytime a cat’s panting can be linked to other symptoms, such as a fever or difficulty breathing, is a reason for concern. You should also be worried if you can’t find an inciting cause, like the temperature or the fact that they just ran for 40 minutes straight. Certain health conditions can cause panting and should be looked at by a veterinarian.
1. Heart Disease
When a cat’s heart isn’t pumping blood efficiently, oxygen doesn’t get delivered to the tissues sufficiently, causing a cat to pant simply as a way to try to increase their oxygen intake. Heart disease may also cause lethargy, coughing, and exercise intolerance.
2. Respiratory Disease
Along the same lines as above, any condition affecting the lungs can inhibit the amount of oxygen that a kitty takes in, making panting a last resort to up their oxygen levels.
Respiratory diseases can also come with coughing, sneezing, noisy breathing, fevers, and lethargy. Kitties having difficulty breathing may also stand with their elbows pointing out or stretch out their body as a way of expanding their chest to allow more air in.
Pain can be caused by several health conditions, including injuries and illness. A cat in pain may pant as a stress response due to the release of cortisone. Cats in pain may also cry out, be irritated, have a limp, or an obvious wound that could be causing it.
Fevers due to illness can have a kitty panting as the body’s way of trying to cool itself down. While some fevers show up without any accompanying symptoms, most of the time, a cat will give off some other clues as well. Lethargy, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, or watery eyes and a runny nose may be other signs of illness.
Should My Cat See a Vet For Panting?
Most cat parents will rarely catch a glimpse of their cat panting, and most of the time, that panting will subside with a little rest.
However, if your kitty’s panting isn’t getting better with a little relaxation or if your kitty seems distressed by it, see your veterinarian.
Also, if you have never seen your cat panting before, and now they just can’t seem to stop, you need to see your veterinarian. If there are any other accompanying signs or you just can’t put your finger on a reason for their panting, see a veterinarian.
Your vet will examine your kitty, check their temperature, listen to their heart and lungs, and possibly do some blood work and x-rays to find out what’s behind it all.
Panting in cats can be a normal behavior. While it’s not as common as panting in dogs, it is one of their ways of cooling off and showing stress or anxiety. However, panting can also mean that something more serious is wrong and needs to be looked at. When in doubt about your cat panting, ask your veterinarian.
Dr. Chyrle Bonk has been practicing veterinary medicine since 2010. She lives in Idaho with her husband and two sons, where they spend their free time exploring the great outdoors that is right in their backyard.