A kitten panting with his mouth open.
A kitten panting with his mouth open. Photography by GlobalP/Thinkstock.

Cat Panting — Why Do Cats Pant and What to Do About Cats Panting

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Why do cats pant? If you’ve even seen your cat panting, you might wonder if it’s normal or not. Panting is a common way for dogs to cool themselves, but cats don’t typically pant. “We usually don’t see it happen, but there are some circumstances where it may be completely normal,” says Aimee Simpson, VMD, the medical director of VCA Cat Hospital of Philadelphia. So, why do cats pant? Read on to find out if a panting cat or a heavy-breathing cat is something to be concerned about.

A cat with his mouth open.

Some cats pant when excited or hot.

Like dogs, some cats might pant after vigorous exercise or to cool off. “Especially in young kittens, we’ll see exertional panting,” Dr. Simpson explains. “After they run around like crazy, sometimes they will pant for a very short period of time. I have heard that outdoor cats can use panting as a cooling mechanism if it’s really warm outside.” If you suspect your cat is panting or heavy breathing because he’s overheated, help him cool off by using the air conditioner or a fan. You can also give him a cool, damp towel to lie on.

Cats might pant when stressed or anxious.

“I’ve seen a lot of cats [pant] when they come into the vet for their exam,”  Dr. Simpson says. “They’ve been in the hot car, and when they get here they will usually pant briefly until they lessen their anxiety a little bit.”

Persistent cat panting might signal a breathing issue or heart problem.

A hard time breathing is another reason why a cat might pant or breathe heavily. “Once they’re panting, they’re in respiratory distress, and it doesn’t really go away until we’ve treated the underlying cause,” Dr. Simpson says. “In older cats, if I see them panting I’m more worried about congestive heart failure. The other time that we can see cats panting is with respiratory issues like allergic bronchitis or kitty asthma. Usually those cats have a history of coughing.”

How long the panting goes on can tell you whether it’s problematic or not.

If your cat pants infrequently (for instance, a kitten who pants for a few minutes after running and playing hard), it’s probably nothing to worry about. But cat panting that doesn’t go away is a concern. “If it’s something that’s transient and just kind of goes away on its own, it’s less likely to be concerning than something that is persistent,” Dr. Simpson says. “Anything that’s persistent like that we’re always really worried about. Those cats should come in right away, especially if it seems like they’re lethargic or they’re not eating or anything else is off about their behavior.”

Your vet will check a panting cat’s lungs and heart carefully.

“I always recommend that they come in for an exam so we can listen to their heart and lungs and make sure that we’re not hearing a heart murmur or anything abnormal with the lungs that would make us concerned,” Dr. Simpson explains. If the initial exam turns up anything abnormal, your vet might want to take chest X-rays or perform an echocardiogram, which is a special ultrasound of the heart. These tests help the vet look for an enlarged heart, abnormal heart function or fluid in the chest cavity.

When in doubt, bring a panting cat in for an exam.

“I always tell people, it’s better to come into the vet and have the pet examined and have it be nothing than to not come in and wish that you had,” Dr. Simpson says.

Tell us: What do you think? Have you ever seen your cat panting? What was the cause of your cat’s heavy breathing? Tell us in the comments!

Thumbnail: Photography by GlobalP/Thinkstock.

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20 thoughts on “Cat Panting — Why Do Cats Pant and What to Do About Cats Panting”

  1. My boy pants after playing but really only when jumping around. Not when he does zoomies or plays with springs. He is a year old. Is this normal? Vet listened to his heart and didn’t hear anything abnormal.

  2. Our 6 month old DLH kitty pants after vigorous play, quite a bit. She doesn’t seem to like the heat much and basically lives in our air-conditioned bedroom. it’s been very hot in New England so far this summer and she definitely prefers the cold. She never pants when in the AC so I believe it’s just from vigorous exercise, she is a little skittish and I think that also has something to do with it, but she plays very hard.

  3. Our six-year old tortie started panting a year ago, when we were doing a routine, 2 1/2 hour drive between our home and a cabin. The first time she started panting, it was very hot out and I tried to get her to drink some water. She laughed. The vet said it was probably a stress reaction. It’s funny how good cats are at disguising their emotions. We always thought she was a good traveler. Now we tell her we’re going to McDonald’s and keep the car cool. Seems to work.

  4. My cat pants as well as meows at me when she is going into labor, it’s the only time I’ve ever seen her pant

  5. The vet checked him and said she could find nothing wrong with him. She said its rare but some cats do pant after high activity for many years with nothing wrong with them.

  6. We have 2 Maine coon kittens now 6 months old. Our male plays so very hard and I noticed him panting for a couple of minutes afterwards. He’s been doing this since he was about 3 months old.
    I’ve had many cats and never seen any of them play like him. He will leap over the sectional to attack/play with his sister.
    We had them scheduled for spay/neuter today and when we picked them up our vet did not neuter him. He was concerned it was his heart and recommended we bring him to a cardiologist. I will comment on what happens. I think it is just his craziness.

    1. I have a male Maine Coon mix kitten who pants after strenuous exercise as well. Would be interested to know what you find out about your boy. I’m planning to call my vet and see what he thinks.

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  11. My 10 year old cat pants very heavily as a side effect of steroid injections. He needs the medication to manage a chronic disease. He has the steroid treatment approximately 4 times a year.
    His shortness of breath is very distressing (for me) but it usually subsides after about 48 hours.

  12. My kitten is a panter I got him at 2 months old. He is now 4 months and still pants after high activity (which is most of the time because he is an extremely active cat). The vet checked him and said she could find nothing wrong with him. She said its rare but some cats do pant after high activity for many years with nothing wrong with them.

    1. My “kitten” (8 mos old) is an indoor/outdoor kitty and pants loudly but for short periods of time after vigorous play! At first I thought Oh No! His collar is too tight! But it wasn’t… I googled my concern and this blog turned up. I’ve had maaaany cats and this is the first one who is so loud when he pants!! It’s scary! But after reading about your kitty, I feel better… He has had all his shots and the vet has always given him a clear bill of health and all but, like all “momma’s”, it concerned me!! I will mention it to her on his next regular check up in October. Meanwhile, I just give him breaks when he pants so hard and he’s off again!!

  13. When I first saw my two-month old kitten panting, I was actually scared for her and Googled everything I could find on it. I’ve never seen a domestic cat panting before. But I live in Florida, with limited air conditioning, and she likes to run – hard. Now two months later, she still pants after hard play, but it only lasts for a minute or two. Now that it’s full-on summer here, I bought extra fans to increase air flow and I freeze thin, damp towels in baggies to use as ice packs for her if it gets too hot. I also freeze bottles of water and set them on a desk she likes to lay on. She loves the cold condensation on the bottles.

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  15. My kitten was panting after a hard vigorous play plus the heat in the house. We have no air conditioner. I got her some water and let her lay down for a little while. When I checked on her, she was still panting. I got her to drink more water and I’m letting her rest a little while longer. I think it’s a combination of the very high heat factor plus the rough play. I will check on her again in a few more minutes.

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