Exercise Intolerance in Cats

Published on
Last updated on
3 min read

Key takeaways

Exercise intolerance is defined as the decreased ability to tolerate strenuous exercise. Cats with exercise intolerance want to get up and play or run, but aren’t able to keep up without difficulty.

  • Exercise intolerance in cats indicates a need for urgent medical care. When accompanied by other symptoms like pale gums, labored breathing, or collapse, exercise intolerance is indicative of a medical emergency.
  • Cats often hide signs of cardiovascular and respiratory disease until the illness is quite advanced
  • Exercise intolerance is easily confused with lethargy, which is defined as a severe decrease in activity and an unwillingness to exercise or even move
  • Diagnostic tests such as blood work and x-Rays are used to determine the underlying cause for this symptom and to guide the best course of treatment.
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A closer look: Exercise Intolerance in Cats

Exercise intolerance is rarely observed in cats, and it is often difficult to notice as adult cats do not typically exercise strenuously.

It is often associated with serious medical conditions such as heart and respiratory disease and as such warrants urgent medical care. Cats are masters at hiding their symptoms, so it is best to pursue veterinary attention while the exercise intolerance is still mild.

Other symptoms of heart or respiratory disease such as pale gums, fainting, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or panting, indicate a need for emergency care.

Possible causes

Risk factors

While exercise intolerance can occur in any cat at any age, older cats and certain breeds may be more susceptible to the conditions that underlie it.

Exercise intolerance is classified according to its:

  • Onset: did the intolerance suddenly occur (acute), or has it been observed over a period of time (chronic)?
  • Severity: How long does it take for the cat to return to normal after exercise?

Exercise intolerance in cats warrants urgent veterinary care. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of underlying conditions can improve outcomes. If accompanied by pale gums, fainting, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or panting, seek immediate emergency care.

Testing and diagnosis

The underlying cause for exercise intolerance is usually determined by performing:

  • Physical exam
  • Blood work
  • X-rays
  • Echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart)

Treatment and prognosis vary widely depending on the underlying cause.

Similar symptoms

Exercise intolerance is sometimes mistaken for laziness. It is a subtle symptom in cats since many healthy cats are not particularly active.

Exercise intolerance is commonly confused for lethargy. While very similar, a cat that is lethargic does not want to get up and exercise or play. A cat suffering from exercise intolerance wants to take part in these activities, but is unable to keep up, usually due to inadequate circulation or breathing.

Associated symptoms


No Author - Writing for Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
Jean Marie Bauhaus - Writing for Hill's Pet Nutrition

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