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Key takeaways

Panting is not a common symptom in cats. Rapid, open-mouthed breathing, which is normal in dogs, might be a symptom of a severe, potentially fatal, illness in cats. 

  • There are many possible causes for panting in cats, some of them more dangerous than others
  • Cats might start panting due to behavioral causes, environmental causes, heart or respiratory conditions, blood disorders, poisoning, and neurologic disease
  • Diagnostic tools include physical evaluation, including blood tests, urinalysis and diagnostic imaging
  • Initial treatment is usually supportive followed by specific treatment of the underlying cause
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A closer look: Panting in Cats

When it comes to panting in cats, severity varies depending on several factors such as its duration, the presence of other symptoms, and the circumstances under which panting appears.

Panting in cats is rare and should always be treated as an emergency warranting urgent veterinary attention.

Possible causes

There are many potential causes for panting in cats, some of them are less serious than others, and some require immediate medical attention. In general, causes of panting in cats can be categorized as behavioral, environmental, or related to an underlying disease process.

Behavioral causes include stress, pain, and separation anxiety

Environmental causes: Cats might pant when it is very hot but this is not a normal way for them to cool down so it has to be investigated. Heat exhaustion/heatstroke can also lead to panting in cats.

Risk factors

Panting is not normal in cats. It is not always an emergency symptom but as some conditions associated with it are life-threatening, it is always better to investigate as soon as the symptom arises. It must be treated as an emergency, especially if other concerning, life-threatening symptoms are present.

Stressed or nauseated cats may pant, but it is often short lived. Other symptoms provide an indicator of the severity of the situation. Cat owners should be on alert for signs such as lethargy, vomiting, difficulty breathing and, in serious cases, cyanosis (blue gums) are clear signs of an emergency.

Testing and diagnosis

The diagnostic process involves a complete physical examination, blood tests, and urinalysis. Diagnostic imaging might also be necessary to investigate the presence of tumors or foreign objects in the upper respiratory system.

Other specific tests, such as heartworm test or thoracentesis (collecting fluid from the thoracic cavity surrounding the lungs), might also be necessary depending on the specific situation.

Treatment depends on the underlying condition. General supportive therapy includes rest and oxygen therapy. Fluid therapy might also be recommended in cases of dehydration due to excessive vomiting and diarrhea.

Similar symptoms

Panting is self-evident. It is described as shallow, rapid, open-mouthed breathing. Panting may be associated with, and mistaken for dyspnea (difficulty breathing) or tachypnea (rapid breathing) which is different from panting as rapid breathing may occur while the mouth is closed.

Associated symptoms


Dr. Bari Spielman - Writing for PetPlace
Roger Gfeller, DVM, DACVECC; Michael Thomas, DVM; Isaac Mayo; The VIN Emergency Medicine Consultants - Writing for Veterinary Partner
No Author - Writing for Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
DR. MICHAEL RODGERS - Writing for Veterinary Emergency Group

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