6 Common Reasons Why Your Cat Started Panting Like a Dog

by K Marie Alto January 13, 2023 12 min read 2 Comments

6 Common Reasons Why Your Cat Started Panting Like a Dog

Panting is usually something we associate with dogs 🐶. In fact, most people have never even seen a cat 🐱 pant. So, what if your cat has started panting like a dog?

Are they just a bit too warm, or is there something more concerning going on?

There are a bunch of different reasons why your feline friend might have started panting. From the most innocuous reasons (make sure not to miss the educational 📽️ video in the section about other reasons your cat might pant) to some serious and nefarious 😲 ones.

Because panting is not a common behavior in cats, every cat parent should equip themselves with the key knowledge necessary to take action when needed, in order to assist their furry children.

As usual my blog is packed with research-backed 📚 knowledge. For pet parents looking for reliable, unbiased, and fact-based cat care guides, I have sprinkled some additional great ones throughout the post.

Without further ado, let’s dig in.

1: Your Cat is Panting Because of Excessive Warmth

Just like with dogs, cats will pant when they get too hot.

This typically occurs with dogs when they are outside playing or after a strenuous walk/run.

“Rapidly expelling hot air and drawing in cooler air is known as panting. When the cool air comes in contact with the moist lining of the lungs and throat, it helps the animal reduce its body temperature. You've definitely seen dogs do it—canines sweat through their paws but also pant to cool off more efficiently.”- Smithsonian Magazine

Cat Panting Due to Excessive Heat Image by Toe Beans

In the US though, most cats are kept indoors so they are able to stay in a comfortable temperature regulated home.

Of course, not everyone has air conditioning, and not all cats live inside, so you’re more likely to find an outdoor cat panting because they are overheated.

Even still, cats are incredible smart animals. On a hot summer day, you're not likely to see them cuddled up on a lap; instead, they'll have found a cool, shady spot to doze and conserve their energy.

Case in Point: I can tell when our little Sosa is too hot. She’s almost always on my lap, but on one particularly cold winter day, I pulled out her little cat-safe heating pad and had it on my lap. She napped for a long time, but eventually hopped down and laid on the hardwood floor. She never does that, so it was clear she needed to cool down a bit.

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If they aren't able to find a place to cool off, or if they are still too warm even when they're in the coolest location they can find, then they'll need to cool themselves off any way they can.

They have a few options. The first one is sweating. However, sweating doesn’t do much to cool down cats as they only sweat through their toe beans. No pun intended 😊

The second option is grooming, which is actually their main cooling mechanism. Grooming works by keeping them cool as their saliva evaporates. I know, it doesn’t sound very glamorous. This is kind of similar to how humans’ sweat evaporates to help cool us down.

Panting follows this same evaporation to cool methodology. Panting involves extending the tongue combined with rapid breathing allowing that moisture to evaporate subsequently cooling your fur baby down.

The third option is panting. Panting follows this same evaporation to cool methodology. Panting involves extending the tongue combined with rapid breathing allowing that moisture to evaporate subsequently cooling your fur baby down.

If you notice your fur baby panting when it's hot out, you might want to bring them to someplace cooler. You can also drop a couple of ice cubes in their water bowl.

Pro tip: Unless otherwise advised by your veterinarian, never shave your cat in the summer. Their coat helps regulate their body temperature by the air held between their coat and their skin. Remove that barrier and they lose an important cooling (and heating in the winter) mechanism.

"Fur acts as a thermal regulator to slow down the process of heat absorption." - James H. Jones, University of California at Davis.

As I mentioned in my example above, cats are going to seek areas to cool down, a tile floor, a lower level of a house. They’ll also groom a lot to further their cooling, so it’s unusual to find a cat panting because they are overheated.

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The most likely scenario (aside from an outdoor kitty in the heat) would be if you have a really active kitty that had a major play session. They may rest after the exertion and pant to cool down.

Excessive heat and lack of access to water can lead to dangerous consequences. While more common in dogs than in cats, on especially hot days, keep an eye out for the signs of heatstroke, including:

  • Restlessness.
  • Vomiting.
  • Lethargy.
  • Muscle shaking or tremors.
  • Drooling.
  • Excessive grooming.
  • Loss of balance or coordination.
  • Seizures or unconsciousness.

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If your cat is showing signs of any of these, you should bring them to the vet ASAP.

Heat stroke is a dangerous and potentially deadly condition and may require more than just a cool space and water to cure.

“Heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia, which often presents as an emergency, due to prolonged exposure to hot, humid temperatures with poor ventilation. It can be fatal.” – Lort Smith Animal Hospital

Unfortunately, since cats don't like to suffer visibly or show weakness, you might not be in a position to witness these issues until they're already a problem.

2: Your Cat is Panting Because of Pain

Bodies have a definite physiological reaction to pain, and it's not just that immediate sense of hurt.

Pain floods the body with hormones in an attempt to control it, and other effects will happen as well. Think about the last time you hurt yourself; you probably got flushed and warm, right? Well, pain triggers similar reactions in other animals, including cats.

Cats in pain – particularly when it's acute, sudden, and high levels of pain – are likely to pant as a way to help cool themselves and calm their bodies.

Vet Examining Cat For Pain Image by Toe Beans

Some signs of sudden pain, particularly when it's from an injury or a sudden issue, include lethargy, reduced appetite, hiding away, increased touch sensitivity, whining or yowling, changed behavioral patterns, limping or other movement issues, and other changes in behavior.

If something hurts, your cat's instincts are to try to soothe it any way they can, avoid things that aggravate it, and warn off potential threats.

That means they won't want you to touch the area that hurts, they'll hiss and swat at you and others nearby, and they'll possibly even try grooming or other soothing behaviors in the area.

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If you suspect your cat is in pain – if the onset is sudden and especially if it's bad enough to cause panting– you should take them to the vet right away.

There are many different reasons for pain to occur, and almost all of them need immediate treatment.

3: Your Cat is Panting Because of Respiratory Illness

While it might not seem like an obvious connection, sometimes your cat might pant because they're having trouble breathing.

Either they aren't getting enough oxygen when they breathe, or they're not able to take deep breaths.

Cat Panting Because of Respiratory Illness Image by Toe Beans

There are all sorts of different respiratory illnesses that cats can catch, from feline colds and flues to more nefarious infections. Pretty much all of them are worth talking to your vet about, especially if they've reached the point where your cat is panting.

Your vet can give you medications to give to your cat, as well as assess whether or not they're in any danger or if they're just uncomfortable.

Some of the most common signs of a respiratory irritation or infection include coughing, wheezing, hacking, or a runny or stuffy nose.

If your cat has a runny nose, the only thing you might notice is extra licking of the nose, which will likely become raw and scabbed. If you cat has a stuffy nose, they may make an audible sound when they breath.

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Asthma

Asthma isn't just an affliction that can affect humans. It's a respiratory ailment that isn't caused by a bacteria or virus but rather a reaction in the body.

It's a disease characterized by swelling in the lungs and airways, making it harder for your fur baby to bring in enough air to fuel their body.

Asthma attacks can have several similarities to respiratory illnesses, but they don't tend to involve hacking, wheezing, or a runny nose like an infection will.

Instead, they're mostly going to involve coughing since it feels like the lungs are all gummed up with stuff your cat wants to get rid of. Unfortunately, that "stuff" is the lungs and airways themselves, so no amount of coughing is going to help.

Panting happens because, in between coughing and shallow breathing, they just need more air than they're getting.

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There are two situations where your feline fur baby is having an asthma attack: expectedly or unexpectedly.

If your cat has been diagnosed with asthma, your vet will have given you a treatment plan and potentially even medication or another option for when an attack happens. If it happens unexpectedly, you'll want to bring them to the vet as soon as you can for that diagnosis and treatment.

While asthma may oftentimes be one of the most common dog-like panting causing respiratory conditions in cats, you may want to get your cat checked for other more serious conditions such as pleural effusion.

“Cats with pleural effusion often have rapid, shallow breathing. In some cases, you may notice increased respiratory effort – your cat’s abdomen may move significantly with each effort to draw breath. Cats may develop open-mouthed breathing in an effort to increase airflow. Some affected cats may also cough.”- VCA Animal Hospitals

4: Your Cat is Panting Because of Stress

Stress can cause a number of bodily reactions, including vomiting, potty accidents, and yes, panting. Think about when you’ve seen your cat pant. Were they riding in the car? Were they at the vet’s office?

“If you notice your cat is panting in the car, it is likely because they are stressed and anxious due to the travel. They may be unsure of the situation, which leads their heartbeat to increase and results in their panting. Cats enjoy having their own territory, so being put into a new environment, often in a carrier does not tend to be well received by them”- Greencross Vets

You can help reduce stress in these situations by making their carrier and car rides more frequent. Instead of going for a car ride once a year for the annual vet appointment, make a quick trip around the block every now and then.

Being in the car and returning home without being manhandled will help make the expectations of a car ride less daunting while minimizing the occurrence of panting.

To reduce the incidence of panting caused by stress, in addition to desensitizing your cat to car rides, you can try a few other tricks.

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First, if your cat likes catnip, you can give your kitty some to eat it about 10-15 mins before the known stressful event. Just a pinch. When catnip is consumed orally, the effect is quite the opposite to the zoomies. Cats will normally get drowsy and feel relaxed after eating catnip.

Second, you may want to try CBD for cats. CBD has been known to help cats with a number of conditions including reducing situational anxiety.

Lastly, you can also try using feline pheromone sprays in the carrier to help soothe your stressed kitty.

5: Your Cat is Panting Because of Heart Failure

"Heart failure" sounds like a deadly and incredibly emergent condition, but it's actually more of a long-term disease.

Fully known as "congestive heart failure," it's a condition where fluid builds up around the heart and throughout the chest cavity. In people as well as in cats, heart failure like this is a long and slow decline, which can be managed in some ways but rarely fully prevented.

Why does your cat pant if they have heart failure?

Fluid builds up in the chest cavity making it harder to breath. The breathing becomes more shallow and therefore more rapid, often leading to panting.

If you're familiar with pressure and hydraulics (hold on, this won't be that complex), you know that water can't be compressed the way air can.

A Cat Panting Image by Toe Beans

You can pressurize air by compressing it into a smaller space. You can't do that with water. Fluids, in general, don't compress in that way.

What this means is that when fluid builds up in the chest cavity, the lungs have less room to expand because they're trying to expand into space occupied by fluid.

The muscles that allow the lungs to breathe in aren't strong enough to compress air into the lungs – and they shouldn't be, that would damage the lungs – so they can't overcome the limited space.
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As noted above, heart failure in cats is a slow process and mostly affects older felines, and it is more common in Persians, Ragdolls, and Maine Coons.

Medication can help stave off the issue, but it's not fully curable. If you suspect your cat has heart issues, you should schedule a cat cardiology appointment.

6: Your Cat is Panting Because of Airway Obstructions

As you can see from most of the reasons why a cat might be panting, it tends to have something to do with an inability to breathe.

If it's not excessively hot out, and your cat doesn't have the symptoms of another disease, it's possible that your fur baby swallowed or inhaled something and it got caught in their nose or throat, partially blocking their airway.

Cat Panting Due to Airway Obstructions Image by Toe Beans

If this is the case, often the only symptom you'll notice is sudden panting, possibly with pawing at their head or other general signs of distress.

Sometimes coughing might occur as their body tries to expel the foreign object; other times, they can't breathe in enough to fully cough.

In any case, a partial airway obstruction is incredibly dangerous and deserves a trip to the emergency vet. It may be resolvable with as little as a pair of forceps and a bit of sedation, or it might require an emergency surgery.

Either way, once the foreign body is removed and your fur baby recovers, they'll be right as rain again.

Other Reasons Your Cat Might Pant

The six reasons above are the most common reasons why your cat might pant like a dog, but they aren't the only reasons.

In fact, there are quite a few other reasons. Anything that fills up the chest cavity, obstructs the airways or lungs, or causes pain or distress can lead to panting.

That includes, but is not limited to, things like heartworms, cancer, or a nutritional deficiency causing a reduced uptake of oxygen.

A Panting Cat Image by Toe Beans

There are also non-emergency reasons why your cat might be panting.

  • They had the zoomies and are all tuckered out. If your cat did a lot of running around, especially when it's warm out, they're probably just tired. They'll pant for a little bit before they calm down and settle in for a nap.
  • They're friends with dogs. Sometimes, cats that have been raised with dogs, particularly alongside puppies since they were newborn kittens, might adopt some of the behaviors of the dogs they grew up with. This can include panting as a more common situational behavior rather than a physiological reaction.

What to do if Your Cat Starts Panting

If your cat is panting, take a deep breath and remember it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a nefarious cause.

“We usually don’t see it [panting] happen, but there are some circumstances where it may be completely normal.” Aimee Simpson, VMD, VCA Cat Hospital of Philadelphia.

Observe the circumstances that might have contributed to the panting and look for any other behavioral changes.

Length and frequency of panting, along with any accompanying behaviors can help indicate if the issue is serious or benign.

Short-term panting after a rigorous play session, or a car ride, likely no big deal.

Frequent panting with no obvious cause, should be evaluated by your veterinarian.

“If a cat's open-mouth breathing does not resolve within a few minutes, they should be seen by a veterinarian right away.” - Dr. Christa Coppola.

If you do need to bring your cat to the vet due to unresolved panting, consider the following tips:

  • Try to keep your cat calm. Stressing your cat or making them anxious may result in the panting getting worse.
  • If you have reasons to believe your cat is overheated, dampen their toe beans and ears with a cool, wet cloth.
  • Avoid giving your cat anything to consume orally, whether it be food or water.

Do you have any questions about why your cat is panting? As mentioned, if you are ever in doubt, it never hurts to call your vet. It could save your furry friend's life. But for any general questions surrounding the topic, please feel free to drop a comment down below! I'd be glad to help you out however I can.

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 40K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).

2 Responses

K. Marie - toe beans team
K. Marie - toe beans team

February 28, 2023

Hi Lee, that behavior actually has a name! It’s called the Flehmen response. In my house we call it the “stinky face” (since it’s often seen after sniffing stinky shoes). They make that funny face to allow the scent access to their vomeronasal organ. This organ allows your kitty to get a better smell of the scent they picked up. Check out this page to learn more: biologyonline.com/dictionary/flehmen-response

Lee Jones
Lee Jones

February 28, 2023

My cats keep their mouth open shortly after smelling something strange in the rug. That’s OK I’m sure.

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