Rapid Breathing In Cats (2023)

Rapid breathing (tachypnea)is not a disease in itself, but can be a symptom of a potentially serious or even life-threatening condition. Note that it's normal, or at least not unexpected, for a cat to breath rapidly if it's anxious, overheated, or playing enthusiastically. But it's abnormal if a cat is breathing rapidly while at rest, particularly if it also appears lethargic or ill. If your cat is experiencing tachypnea,it can be a sign of a variety of issues from stress to heart disease and indicates that your pet is not getting enough oxygen through its system.

Cats are generally subtle in showing their caregivers signs of illness, so you must be especially vigilant to notice symptoms like rapid breathing. Being observant may help you to determine the cause of the rapid breathing or the situations in which it occurs. Because tachypnea can be a sign of serious illness, it's important to seek veterinary attention if your cat continues to breathe rapidly.

What Is Rapid Breathing (Respiratory Rate) in a Cat?

To know if a cat is breathing rapidly, you first need to know a healthy respiratory rate (breathing) for a cat, which is 20 to 30 breaths per minute when resting calmly or sleeping. Breaths should create small movements of the chest; if your cat’s sides are moving a large amount, this can indicate labored breathing.Be concerned if your cat’s breathing is abnormal. That means it’s unusually slow, fast, noisy (has a high, harsh, or whistling sound), or the cat is having difficulty breathing.

To measure your cat's resting respiration rate, count the number of breaths your cat takes while sleeping. One breath consists of your cat’s chest rising (inhaling) and falling (exhaling). Use your phone or watch to time 30 seconds and count how many breaths occur during that 30 second period. Next, multiply the number of breaths you counted by two to get the number of breaths in a minute. If your cat is breathing more than 30 times per minute while at rest, it is experiencing tachypnea.

Cat Health For All Stages of Their Life

(Video) Checking a Resting Breathing Rate in your Cat

Symptoms of Rapid Breathing in Cats

Because tachypnea is a sign of an underlying health problem, there are often a number of other symptoms that can occur along with the rapid breathing. Any breathing difficulty is a medical emergency and requires urgent veterinary attention. You might observe:

Symptoms

  • Rapid rising and falling of the stomach or chest
  • Open mouth breathing (panting)
  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Breathing with the elbows sticking out from the body
  • Noisy breathing
  • Lethargy/fatigue
  • Blue color to the gums
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Exercise intolerance/reluctance to move

The most obvious sign of tachypnea in cats is rapid rising and falling of the stomach and chest, indicating that the cat is breathing faster than normal. Sometimes it will appear that your cat's sides are sucking in and out with each breath. You might see your cat try to ease its breathing by crouching down with elbows held out slightly from its body and its head stretched forward. A cat that is really struggling to breath will often pant through an open mouth, and might appear anxious or even panicky.

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Depending on the cause of the rapid breathing, you might hear abnormal respiratory sounds, such as whistling, wheezing, or groans with each breath. Your cat might even cough or gag. If the breathing difficulty is quite severe, your cat's gums might appear bluish, which indicates a lack of oxygen.

Other symptoms that can accompany breathing difficulties include a loss of interest in play or other activities, sleeping more than usual, loss of appetite, lethargy or depression, and irritability.

Causes of Rapid Breathing in Cats

Rapid breathing in cats is a symptom of a variety of illnesses and injuries and should beevaluated by your veterinarian right away. While many causes of tachypnea are mild and easily treated, others are life-threatening without rapid treatment.

Some possible causes include:

  • Allergies: Just like humans, cats can be allergic to foods or airborne particles such as pollen.
  • Anemia: There are many causes of anemia, which is a condition where there are too few red blood cells. Since red blood cells carry oxygen, anemia can lead to rapid breathing as a way to compensate for the lowered blood oxygen levels.
  • Asthma: This breathing disorder causes the cat's airways to constrict, making breathing difficult.
  • Emotional distress: If your cat is frightened, stressed, or angry, it will breathe more rapidly than normal. In this case, however, the respiratory rate should return to normal once the cat calms down.
  • Exertion: A cat that is playing hard, exercising, or otherwise exerting itself will breathe more rapidly than normal. However, the respiratory rate should return to normal once the cat rests.
  • Heart Disease: Congestive heart failure, along with other heart diseases, can cause rapid breathing due to the heart's reduced ability to move oxygenated blood throughout the cat's body.
  • Heat: If your cat is overheated, it will breathe more rapidly than normal in an attempt to cool down.
  • Pain: Cats in pain often breathe rapidly in response to stress.
  • Pleural effusion (abnormal accumulation of fluid within the chest cavity): Fluid in the chest cavity restricts the ability of the heart and lungs to work normally, leading to an increased respiratory rate and other signs of respiratory distress.
  • Pulmonary edema (lungs filling with fluid)In this condition, the lungs are unable to effectively oxygenate the cat's blood, causing an increased rate of breathing to compensate.
  • Foreign objects lodged in windpipe or other airway obstruction: If your cat swallows a toy, chunk of food, or another foreign object that blocks the airways, it will struggle to breathe in and out.
  • Respiratory infections: Any infection in the respiratory system, such as pneumonia, can increase the cat's respiratory rate.
  • Trauma, exposure to toxins, or injury: Trauma can lead to rapid breathing in response to the shock, or due to damage to the cat's respiratory system.
  • Tumors in the chest or throat: If a tumor is large enough to impede the normal movements of the lungs and heart, or takes up space in the cat's chest, one symptom might be rapid breathing.

Diagnosis of Rapid Breathing in Cats

If your cat is breathing rapidly, consider any obvious factors that may be causing it and remove them from your cat's environment. Some factors include emotional distress and heat. If your cat is panting due to heat, for example, get them out of the heat as soon as possible and make sure to have water available to them. If your cat's breathing quickly returns to normal, then you know that the problem was a situational response and not an underlying health issue. However, if rapid breathing continues despite removing the possible cause, seek veterinary attention.

(Video) Rapid Breathing in Cats | Wag!

The veterinarian will perform an examination observing how your cat breathes, listening to their chest for evidence or abnormalities such as a heart murmur or fluid in the lungs. They'll also check the color of your cat's gums to indicate whether oxygen is being delivered to the organs effectively, and do a complete examination of the whole body.

Your veterinarian will most likely perform blood tests to check for underlying conditions and take X-rays and/or ultrasound to examine the lungs and heart.

Treatment of Rapid Breathing in Cats

Rapid breathing is a symptom of an underlying medical issue, and treatment varies depending on the severity of illness and diagnosis. If your pet is struggling to breathe, the veterinarian or veterinary technician may take it to the treatment area immediately upon arrival to stabilize your cat.This will include providing oxygen through a mask and placing an IV catheter to administer emergency drugs and fluids. If a foreign object is lodged in the cat's airways, the veterinarian will remove it manually if possible, or through an emergency surgery if the object cannot be easily reached.

In cases of pleural effusion, a thoracentesis will be performed to remove fluid from the chest, which will improve breathing and provide the veterinarian with a fluid sample for analysis. If heart disease is a concern, once your cat is stabilized, x-rays and an echocardiogram of the heart will be performed to evaluate the size and function of the heart.

Antibiotics, allergy medications, and anti-inflammatories will be prescribed in cases of infectious or inflammatory illnesses, or if the veterinarian suspects allergies are causing the problem.

(Video) Cat abnormal breathing - rapid and shallow

If your cat is in respiratory distress, it is best to be as calm as possible. If traveling is stressful for your cat, your veterinarian will be able to best advise you on how to transport your cat.

Remember that if you think your cat is exhibiting rapid breathing, in most cases, this is an emergency. It is always safest to have your pet evaluated at the first sign of rapid breathing. If your cat exhibits rapid breathing that resolves after a few minutes, keep a journal of details including how long it lasted, what was happening before and after, and the date to share with your veterinarian. This will help your veterinarian narrow down potential causes and recognize possible triggers.

Prognosis

If your cat is breathing rapidly due to infection, allergies, or another simple health issue, then the problem should resolve with treatment. However, if the tachypnea is caused by heart disease, trauma, poisoning, or a tumor, the prognosis is far more guarded.

Prevention of Rapid Breathing in Cats

Because so many things can cause rapid breathing in cats, you cannot always prevent this symptom. But you can help ward off health issues by getting your cat regular veterinary checkups, feeding a balanced, healthy diet, making sure your cat is a healthy weight, and avoiding situations that might stress, frighten, or overheat your cat.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.

FAQs

Is it normal for cats to breathe rapidly? ›

Rapid breathing (tachypnea) is not a disease in itself, but can be a symptom of a potentially serious or even life-threatening condition. Note that it's normal, or at least not unexpected, for a cat to breath rapidly if it's anxious, overheated, or playing enthusiastically.

How many breaths per minute is too much for a cat? ›

In general, all dogs and cats, with or without heart disease, have a breathing rate of between 15-30 breaths every minute. Lower rates are even possible and are no cause for concern as long as your pet is otherwise healthy.

How can I calm my cats breathing? ›

Your veterinarian may prescribe two drugs to help make it easier for your cat to breathe: typically an anti-inflammatory like prednisolone or fluticasone, and an airway dilator like albuterol or terbutaline.

Why is my cat breathing fast while lying down? ›

A regular breathing rate for cats is between 15-30 breaths per minute. Cats may breathe fast when sleeping due to heart disease, a respiratory infection, asthma, injury, trauma, or windpipe obstruction. However, rapid breathing isn't always a sign of a health condition.

Can stress cause rapid breathing in cats? ›

* Breathing: An extremely stressed cat will display increased respiratory effort. This often correlates to an increase in heart rate and pulse. A normal cat takes an average 20-30 breaths per minute. Open-mouthed breathing with panting is alarming and should be considered an emergency.

Is 35 breaths per minute normal for a cat? ›

Most dogs and cats have a normal resting respiratory rate with breaths per minute ranging between the mid-teens to mid-20s. In general, a resting respiratory rate over 35-40 breaths per minute is considered abnormal.

Is 50 breaths per minute bad for cats? ›

A cat has a resting respiration rate that typically ranges from 15-30 breaths per minute. A respiratory rate over 50 breaths per minute means you should contact the vet.

How quickly should a cat breathe? ›

What is Rapid Breathing? A normal healthy cat will take 10-30 regular breaths per minute.

Why is my cat breathing heavy while resting? ›

Why is my cat breathing fast while resting? Tachypnea, or rapid breathing in cats, can indicate low oxygen levels in the blood (hypoxemia), low red blood cell levels (anemia), or asthma. Fluid in the lungs owing to heart failure or fluid in the chest around the lungs might cause a cat to breathe quickly.

What does asthma in cats sound like? ›

Your cat may be wheezing if they are having difficulty breathing. A wheeze is a whistling or rattling sound made when it is difficult for air to make its way through the air passageways. This is usually a sign the passageways are swollen and/or constricted.

Why is my cat breathing fast and purring? ›

Your cat breathing fast and purring could mean asthma or cardiac disease. Your vet will need to know a thorough history and if your cat is breathing fast but otherwise normal. It's important that you inform your vet whether your cat is allowed outdoors.

Why is my cat breathing fast and running around? ›

Normal Panting in Cats

Cats may begin to pant when they are overheated or anxious or if they've just done strenuous exercise (like the zoomies!). If your cat is panting for any of these reasons, it should resolve itself once the cat has had an opportunity to calm down, cool down or rest.

What are the signs of heart failure in a cat? ›

Signs of Heart Failure

Coughing and difficulty breathing are the most common signs, although cats with heart failure are far less likely to cough than dogs with the disease. Increased breathing rate, loss of appetite, or reluctance to exercise may also be noted.

How do you destress a cat? ›

Scratching posts or climbable furniture are great ways to distract your cat, and may give them a little exercise too. Toys and games let your cat burn some nervous energy, and help strengthen the bond between the two of you.

Is 40 breaths per minute normal for a kitten? ›

Respiratory Rate:

Kitty should be laying quietly in a relaxed position. Watch the chest rise and fall. Count the number or breaths kitty takes, for one minute. Normal resting respiratory rate is approximately 24-48 breaths per minute.

How can I tell if my cat is in respiratory distress? ›

Signs
  • Rapid breathing or continuous panting.
  • Long drawn out breathing.
  • Being unable to settle and distress.
  • Standing with elbows pointed outwards and the neck extended.
  • Exaggerated or abnormal movement of the chest/abdomen while breathing.
  • Blue gums.
  • Collapse.
  • Open mouth breathing (in cats)

How many beats per minute is normal for a cat? ›

Normal resting heart rates: Cats- between 120 and 160 per minute.

Why is my cat belly breathing? ›

In cases of significant heart disease, the chest is prone to fill up with fluid, and because there is a compromise of lung space, the cat will be forced to breath with intense effort which ends up looking like they are breathing from their bellies.

What can trigger a cat's asthma? ›

What causes asthma in cats? Asthma in cats is an immunity-related condition and attacks can often be brought on by an allergy or stress. Suspected triggers include pollen, grass, mould, dust mites, tobacco smoke, cat litter, household cleaning products and even some foods.

Can cat asthma go away on its own? ›

Although cats can never be truly “cured” of asthma, by carefully monitoring their respiratory effort, keeping an eye out for coughing, and intervening with medication when they need help, owners can help their asthmatic cats live happily for years.

What is the most common symptom of feline asthma? ›

Coughing and wheezing are usually the first signs that your cat is having an asthma attack. Another common symptom is your cat hunching close to the ground with its neck extended forward as if trying to expel a hairball.

How can I tell if my cat is having trouble breathing? ›

In addition to obvious difficulty in breathing in and out, cats exhibiting dyspnea frequently show a variety of associated clinical signs. Their rate of breathing may be noticeably rapid, for example. They may pant noisily with an open mouth and may cough frequently.

What does labored breathing in a cat look like? ›

Hunched over in sternal. Hiding. Coughing (which sounds like “hacking” up a hairball) Open mouth breathing (unless it's a stressful event like a car ride, this is always abnormal as cats always prefer.

How do I know if my cat isn't getting enough oxygen? ›

Symptoms of Low Blood Oxygen in Cats
  1. Lethargy.
  2. Weakness.
  3. Trouble breathing.
  4. Rapid breathing or panting.
  5. Breathing through the mouth.
  6. Breathing accompanied by extreme chest or side movements.
  7. Exercise intolerance.
  8. Bluish tint to gums, skin, or mucous membranes.

Why is my cat breathing heavy while resting? ›

Why is my cat breathing fast while resting? Tachypnea, or rapid breathing in cats, can indicate low oxygen levels in the blood (hypoxemia), low red blood cell levels (anemia), or asthma. Fluid in the lungs owing to heart failure or fluid in the chest around the lungs might cause a cat to breathe quickly.

What are the signs of heart failure in a cat? ›

Signs of Heart Failure

Coughing and difficulty breathing are the most common signs, although cats with heart failure are far less likely to cough than dogs with the disease. Increased breathing rate, loss of appetite, or reluctance to exercise may also be noted.

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