It’s a hot day in late July.
Your cat is happily trotting ahead of you on the boardwalk, their tail pointed straight up at the sky. It’s a perfect moment, so you run ahead to get a snapshot for Instagram.
Once you get in front of your cat, you realize that they’re doing something unusual – their mouth is open and they’re panting just like a dog.
Is cat panting normal? Is your cat okay?
Remember that cats aren’t endurance athletes – they’re sprinters. Unlike dogs, who often run for extended periods of time and play for hours, cats exert themselves in short bursts.
We don’t normally see cats panting because cats aren’t usually active for extended periods of time. When they’ve exerted themselves for a long time in warm weather, cats will become hot and will probably start panting.
Along with sweating through their paw pads, panting is one of the ways that cats regulate their body temperature.
For these reasons, it’s normal for your cat to pant while hiking or walking in warm weather. Some cats will start panting during play, especially if they’re enthusiastic and have worked themselves up over the game.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Panting can also be a symptom of an underlying problem.
Here are a few top causes of cat panting.
Your cat might be stressed.
If your cat starts panting when they get into the car or go to the veterinarian, their heavy breathing is probably the result of stress. As your cat’s heart rate increases, they’ll start panting. Their ears and nose may also become a bright pink color.
If you believe that your cat’s panting is caused by stress, here’s what to do:
Attempt to eliminate stressors.
To minimize stress while you and your cat are in the car, make sure that your car is cool and comfortable. Use your air conditioner to maintain a comfortable atmosphere. Assuming that your cat is contained in a carrier, it’s a good idea to pull down a privacy shade or drape a towel, jacket, or blanket over the carrier. By blocking out the changing environment outside, this covering will help your cat to calm down.
If possible, use a synthetic pheromone spray to soothe your cat. In a pinch, you can also sprinkle catnip on your cat’s bedding for a soothing scent.
It could be the heat.
Panting is a mechanism of your cat’s thermoregulation system. Normally, cats manage their body temperature by lounging around and doing nothing.
But when they’re on an exciting adventure and moving around for a long period of time, your cat experiences the same elevation in body temperature that causes dogs to pant.
If you believe that your cat’s panting is caused by heat, here’s what to do:
If your cat appears to be overheating, stop the activity and allow your cat to rest. If you have a cat backpack, let your cat relax in the pack. Otherwise, you can bring your cat to a shady area near bushes or trees.
As your cat rests, they’ll probably start grooming. Just as taking a shower on a summer day leaves you feeling cool, your cat’s bathing session helps to cool them down. Sprinkling cool water on your cat’s coat can help cool their skin while helping them to stay hydrated.
If your cat accepts it, give them a cooling cape by dampening a towel or cloth and draping it over your cat’s body. You might also consider using a cooling towel. These towels naturally maintain a chilly temperature for up to 3 hours.
Your cat might be overweight and out of shape.
Just like anyone else who’s carrying too much fat, overweight cats have a harder time on the trails. Overweight and obese cats can have difficulty breathing, and this might manifest in panting during exertion. Overweight cats have difficulty walking for extended periods of time and even play can become a challenge. If they get carried away and keep moving for too long, they could overexert themselves and start panting.
If you believe your cat’s panting is due to excess weight, here’s what to do:
If you’re currently feeding your cat a high-carbohydrate food, start transitioning them onto a diet rich in moisture and animal protein. Canned food is a good place to start, but freeze-dried, frozen, and fresh cooked or raw homemade food are all great choices for cats who need to lose weight.
Cat panting may also be rooted in serious conditions.
If your cat’s panting lasts for a long time or happens when they’re not out in the heat or obviously under stress, heavy breathing could be indicative of a serious condition.
Your cat’s panting should not be accompanied by other symptoms of distress, like:
- Foaming at the mouth
- White gums
- Cyanosis – a blue tinge to the mucous membranes
If your cat is panting and also exhibiting these symptoms, it’s time to visit a veterinarian.
More common among older cats, heart disease causes fluid to build up in the lungs. This makes it difficult for your cat to breathe and leads to bouts of panting.
Feline Asthma (also known as bronchial asthma, allergic bronchitis, or chronic bronchitis)
Usually accompanied by hacking or wheezing, panting is a symptom of feline asthma. In feline asthma, mucus builds up in the airways, causing them to become inflamed and ulcerated. Lung spasms lead to hacking, wheezing, and sometimes, panting.
These symptoms can be triggered by a reaction to environmental allergens or they may occur during exertion.
Panting is associated with numerous other serious disorders, like drug poisoning, fluid in the abdomen, blood poisoning, and masses in the chest cavity.
If you believe that your cat’s panting is caused by an underlying illness or disorder, here’s what to do:
Keep your cat calm and bring them to a veterinarian, where a professional can perform tests to identify the cause of your cat’s panting.