What To Do If Your Cat Is Breathing Fast?

It’s a rare sight, but if you are a cat owner, you might have seen your cat breathing fast. No, it’s not transforming into a dog. When you see this happening, you should ask yourself “why is my cat breathing fast?” and carefully observe your cat’s breathing patterns. It is not a common sight, and there can be some serious consequences.

Fast breathing can vary from seeing slightly faster chest movements to open mouth breathing and major abdominal effort.

Dyspnea is labored breathing, usually with an open mouth. The belly and chest move in an exaggerated manner when breathing and the breaths may be noisy. This may be caused by a variety of factors that may or may not be related to those that cause other breathing disorders. 

cat trying to breath

Panting is fast and shallow breathing with an open mouth usually caused by high body temperature from a hot environment or from a fever. 

The “breathing fast” phenomenon is formally called tachypnea which is abnormally rapid breathing with a closed mouth.

Reasons For Your Kitty Breathing Fast

Tachypnea may be caused by low oxygen levels (hypoxemia) due to low red blood cell count (anemia), asthma, lung infection (pneumonia) or incapability of the cat’s heart to pump sufficient blood through the body.

Heartworms are less common in cats than in dogs, but it can also cause breathing difficulties and can be fatal.

There may also be an obstruction in the airways causing the cat to have difficulty in breathing. This may be caused by fluid in the chest space surrounding the lungs (pleural effusion), build-up of fluid in the air sacs in the lungs (pulmonary edema), bleeding into the lungs or even possibly hernias through the diaphragm.

Most of these can be cured or managed by medications, such as feline asthma or pneumonia. Other causes such as exposure to chemical fumes, pollen or dust can easily be prevented by proper pet care.

Others, like hernias, are more difficult to deal with because it requires more invasive procedures, such as surgery.

Rapid breathing can also signal stress or pain. It is usually accompanied by increased heart rate, pupil dilation and agitated behavior. Purring along with rapid breathing is also a sign of distress.

What To Do With Your Kitty?

The best immediate action is to bring the cat to the vet in a carrier. Transporting using a carrier prevents the cat from being squeezed when carried by the body which may aggravate the breathing condition.

Of course, it is not always that simple. Sometimes there are no available veterinarians nearby or the owner may discover the breathing symptoms in the evening and may have to wait till morning until they can bring the cat to the vet.

To determine if it is necessary to bring the cat to the vet immediately, there are procedures that can be performed at home. The first is observing the breathing patterns. Observe your cat to make sure that its symptoms mostly fit that of tachypnea.

If breathing pattern is visible, you may count how many breaths they take every minute. The normal resting respiratory rate is around 15-30 breaths per minute.

You can also count the cat’s heartbeat. The heart rate can be measured by gently pressing your hand on the side of cat’s chest. Normal heart rate can range from 130-160 beats per minute.

If the cat just finished playing vigorously then it is normal to have elevated breathing rates and heartbeats but if it occurs suddenly and without apparent cause, then make sure that the cat is brought to the vet, regardless of time of day or night.

The next step is to collect as much information and observations about the cat which will assist the vet in making a correct diagnosis.

Here is a general checklist to guide you on what you need to know:

  • Age and weight
  • Changes in eating and drinking habit, urination and defecation
  • Changes in behavior such as being listless
  • Wheezing or coughing history
  • Color of gums: Pink, red, grey, blue or white?
  • When the cat exhibited symptoms
  • What occurred before the cat exhibited symptoms
  • Any previous history of underlying diseases

Professional Diagnosis

You can start observing the cat and collecting information, but given that diagnosis is complex, it is better to bring your pet to the vet. The doctor will ask for a medical history as well as the daily lifestyle of the cat which you have already noted.

The systemic exam that the vet will perform may include tests that may not even seem related to breathing such as blood or urine analysis and biochemical profile. These tests will show if the cat’s organs are functioning normally. The vet will also listen to the chest using a stethoscope for evidence of heart murmur or fluid in the lungs.

After narrowing down potential causes, your veterinarian may request imaging of your cat’s chest area via x-ray or ultrasound. The images will show if the heart is enlarged or if the lungs appear normal. This will also show if there is fluid build-up, foreign objects, potential tumors or masses that may cause the breathing disorder.

An electrocardiogram for the heart will determine if it is properly functioning. An endoscope may be used to inspect the air passages. If there is evidence of fluid in the chest, it will be drawn off using a needle. 


When Your Kitty Is Back Home

After your cat is treated at the vet, don’t expect it to be 100% right away. Allow for proper recovery by giving their medication and reducing the activity level of the cat.

The underlying cause for cat’s heavy panting can come from many sources and can be incredibly complex. The cat may just be feeling the effects of heat stroke and may only require water to combat the hot weather, but there are many cases that the underlying cause is life threatening and can shorten the lifespan of the cat even when cured.

In the end, there is nothing that we can do as good parents but provide a healthy environment and a happy lifestyle for our cats and just hope for the best. But if you are to just take a small thing away from this article, cats do not pant like dogs, and if he is open mouth breathing, it is always an emergency.

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