Why Do House Cats Pant?

Clse-up of owner holding a cat.
Clse-up of owner holding a cat. (Image: DamianPalus/iStock/Getty Images)

Panting is a natural gesture that occurs when a cat is trying to cool down his body and bring more oxygen into his lungs. It's normal for dogs, but panting is not considered a normal behavior for cats. Pay special attention to your cat if you notice that he is breathing abnormally -- a trip to the veterinarian may be in order.

Understanding Panting

When your cat pants, he is releasing heat through his mouth. The water on his tongue and mouth will evaporate, and the hot air from his lungs can be more easily exhaled and exchanged for cool air as he breathes in. A cat may pant for various reasons:

Overexertion due to exercise Anxiety or fear Overheating or heatstroke Heart disease *Shock, trauma or pain

Cats who are panting as a result of exercise should recover in a matter of minutes. Unless you have just observed your cat engaged in vigorous physical exercise, panting is probably a sign that something is wrong with your cat.

Identifying Panting

The normal rate of respiration for an adult cat in good health is between 20 and 30 breaths per minute. If your cat is panting, he will be breathing more rapidly than the normal 20 to 30 breaths per minute. Calculate your cat's exact respiratory rate by counting the number of breaths he takes in 15 seconds. Multiply by 4 to determine the rate of respiration in breaths per minute.

Feline Heatstroke

A cat has heatstroke if his body temperature is above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, taken with a rectal thermometer. Heatstroke can occur in any cat regardless of health or age. Heatstroke occurs when your cat becomes overheated due to one or a combination of the following conditions:

High temperatures High humidity Lack of shade Lack of water

Cats suffering from heatstroke will pant because it is one of the few ways they have to lower their body temperatures. A cat in the early part of heatstroke may have sweaty paws, may groom himself vigorously or may drool as he tries to cool down. As heatstroke progresses, a cat's panting may escalate into rapid breathing, or he may have difficulty breathing. His tongue and mouth may appear red. He may become lethargic, begin vomiting or suffer from a loss of coordination.

If you believe your cat is suffering from heatstroke, you need to help him start cooling down. Move your cat to a cool environment. Soak your cat in cool, not cold, water and offer him water to drink. Call the vet. Continue providing him as much relief from the heat as possible on your way to the veterinarian's office.

Feline Heart Disease

Some cats are born with feline heart disease caused by congenital health problems; sometimes heart disease develops over the course of a cat's lifetime. The primary symptoms of feline heart disease are breathing problems and difficulty walking. Panting and other breathing problems occur due to heart disease because the heart is responsible for receiving oxygenated blood from the cat's lungs and pumping it to the rest of your cat's body. In addition to panting, symptoms of heart disease in felines include:

Hind-limb paralysis Weak pulse Loss of appetite Lethargy Intolerance to exercise and/or physical exertion Abnormal heartbeat Collapse Death due to heart failure

A cat with any degree of heart failure will need a veterinarian's oversight for proper care.

Shock or Pain

Panting can be a side effect of significant trauma that either is causing your cat a lot of pain or has sent him into shock. Shock is normally accompanied by fairly significant injury or illness. In addition to panting, your cat may display the following symptoms if he is in shock:

Discolored gums Weak pulse Low body temperature Rapid heart rate *Lethargy

If your cat is in shock, you need to get him to the veterinarian as quickly as possible.

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