Why Is My Cat Panting?

Stephanie Lantry, DVM
By Stephanie Lantry, DVM on Aug. 31, 2021


You’ve probably seen a dog panting at some point, but what about cats?

The first thing to remember is that cats are not small dogs, so the same behaviors can mean different things in a cat versus a dog. It is important to be aware of some of these differences so you can help take good care of your cat and recognize when there is a medical emergency.

Cat panting is one of those differences, so it’s important to watch for in your cat. Here’s what you need to know about cat panting.

Is Cat Panting Normal?

Heat exchange in cats is not the same as humans. Cats do not sweat through their pores that are all over their bodies. Instead, they experience minor sweating through the pads on the bottom of their paws.  

However, cats need to pant to release heat from their bodies because they can’t sweat enough. That being said, it is not that common to see a cat walking around panting like a dog.

Why Do Cats Pant?

Cats can pant for a variety of reasons. Here’s why cats pant and what to look for.

Cats Pant to Release Heat

Cats need to pant to regulate their body temperature by releasing heat. Cats have tiny sweat glands on their paw pads and between their toes. However, their paws are small; they cannot regulate their whole body temperature just through that small surface area.

So, if they are really hot, cats need to pant to get rid of excess heat via evaporation. This is not something you will commonly see a cat do, though. They are built for adapting to being in outdoor climates and seek shade and shelter to prevent themselves from overheating in the sun.

Contact your vet if you suspect that your cat is panting from being overheated.

Cats Pant When They Are Stressed

More commonly than heat panting, you will see a cat pant out of stress. This is an important sign to watch for so you can take action to remove your cat from the stressful situation. Most cats are not the biggest fans of being in carriers or traveling, so that may be a scenario where it’s common to see cats panting if they are stressed.

What Should You Do If Your Cat Is Panting in a Car?

Get your cat out of the car as soon as possible if they are panting. If your cat is drooling excessively or seems weak, get them in to see the veterinarian as soon as possible.

The most important way you can help your cat if they are stressed in the car is to keep them as cool as possible and try to reduce their stress.

Often, a trip to the vet’s office is the only time a cat rides in the car. If your cat is panting and struggling, call your vet on the way to ask them to help you get into a quiet room ASAP to help your cat calm down quickly.

Planning ahead is the best way to keep your cat comfortable and safe. Some cats do well with a pheromone spray, a natural calming treat, or prescription calming medication before a car ride.

Open the windows or turn on the air conditioning before placing your cat and their carrier in the car. Position the front of the carrier near the air conditioning vents to make sure the cat is feeling some cooling airflow.

Cat Panting Can Be a Sign of a Heart Issue

Cats can have underlying heart issues, even at a young age. Cardiomyopathy (a structural disease of the heart muscle) is a common condition that can be genetic in cats and is more common in certain breeds.

According to the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, the cat breeds that have been shown to be more genetically prone to cardiomyopathy include:

Kittens can be born with the condition and develop symptoms at some point in their lives. Senior cats can be more prone to developing heart problems as they age, especially secondary to hyperthyroidism.

If your cat is panting, especially if they are a senior cat, talk to your vet about possible heart issues.

Cat Panting Can Be Caused by Respiratory Diseases

Cats can also develop respiratory diseases in the upper respiratory tract where the nasal cavity is the issue. Common causes of this are viral infections (including the herpes virus, which is one of the things we vaccinate for), and nasal polyps and tumors (more common in older cats).

If a cat’s nose is congested or has a blockage, they may need to breathe out of their mouth. This is not a natural thing for cats, so it can be distressing to them.

Cats also can suffer from asthma. Asthma in cats can be caused by heartworm disease or by inflammation and allergies. If their airways are constricted and they are not getting enough oxygen, they may need to do open-mouth breathing to try to get enough air into their lungs.

Cats can also develop infection in the lung or fluid in the lung. This can restrict their ability to breathe, and they may have to open their mouth to suck air in. It’s not comfortable for a cat to be in this position; it’s considered respiratory distress.

If you think that your cat could be in respiratory distress, contact your vet immediately.

Cats Can Pant From Overexertion

Cats can start panting during play if they are exerting themselves. This is much more common in kittens. If you see your cat or kitten panting, encourage them to calm down and stop playing.

If they are wrestling with or running around with another pet, try to separate them calmly. Pet them or leave them alone to catch their breath. If they are perky and calm down within a couple of minutes and there is no more panting, then it’s okay to just monitor them when they play vigorously.

If they do not stop panting after several minutes or are staggering or weak, seek medical attention for your cat.

When Is Cat Panting an Emergency?

Cat panting can turn into an emergency if your cat is struggling to breathe or not getting enough oxygen. If your cat’s tongue ever turns a blue or purple, this is a dire emergency.

Watch the sides of your cat’s belly to see how fast they are pushing air into their lungs. If they are lying down, not wanting to move around a lot, and forcing the air by moving their belly muscles in and out at a rate of more than 40 breaths per minute, this is a sign of respiratory distress.

If panting continues for more than 5 minutes after the stressful event is over, seek veterinary attention.

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Stephanie Lantry, DVM


Stephanie Lantry, DVM


Dr. Lantry is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin native. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian and worked towards that...

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