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, so let's dig in and talk about the six most common causes.
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.
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.
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.
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, they only sweat through their toe beans, though this doesn’t do much to cool them down. Their main cooling mechanism is grooming, which helps cool them as their saliva evaporates (similar to how humans sweat evaporates to cool us down), but they can also pant.
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: 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.
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 plan 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 cats, on especially hot days, keep an eye out for the signs of heatstroke, including:
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. 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.
Other 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.
If you suspect your cat is in pain – especially if it's bad enough to cause panting, and especially if it's sudden – 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.
There are all sorts of different respiratory illnesses that cats can catch, from feline colds and flus 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 you 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.
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 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 feelslike 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.
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.
4: Your Cat is Panting Because of Stress
Stress can cause a number of bodily reactions, 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?
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.
You can also use feline pheromone sprays in the carrier to help sooth 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 disease 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. 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.
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.
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 onlyreasons. 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.
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.
Check out this adorable video of a kitten raised by dogs:
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.
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.
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 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 30K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).