A cat’s respiratory motion should
be smooth, even, and unrestrained. Rapid breathing at rest, coarse
breathing, wheezing, rasping, coughing, and bubbling in the
chest are all abnormal. (However, when a cat is intently sniffing an object,
the respirations may appear abnormal for a brief time.) Possible causes of
abnormal breathing are discussed in this section, along with their signs. Many
feline respiratory problems have infectious causes.
Rapid breathing. This can be caused by pain, stress, fever, or overheating.
Other conditions to consider are shock, dehydration, anemia, lung disease, heart
disease, and a buildup of acid or toxic substances in the blood (diabetes, kidney failure, or poisoning). An increased rate
of breathing at rest means a veterinary examination is necessary. X-rays and
other tests may be needed to help identify the exact cause.
Slow breathing. A very slow rate of breathing is found in cats with
narcotic poisoning, encephalitis, or a blood clot pressing on the brain. In
late stages of shock or collapse, it usually signifies a terminal
Panting. Panting is a normal process after exercise. It is one of the chief
ways in which a cat lowers her body temperature, as water evaporates from the
mouth, tongue, and lungs and warm air is exchanged for cool. Cats also cool
themselves by licking their fur and by perspiring through the pads of their
feet. When panting is rapid, labored, and accompanied by anxiety, heat stroke
should be considered. Some cats will pant and breathe with an open mouth when
they are frightened.
Shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is seen in cats with conditions that
restrict the motion of the rib cage. To avoid the pain of a deep breath, a cat
breathes rapidly but less deeply. The pain of pleurisy or rib fractures can
cause shallow breathing. Blood, pus, or serum in the chest produces restricted
breathing, but normally without pain. This condition, called pleural effusion,
is the most common cause of respiratory distress in cats.
Noisy breathing. Noisy breathing indicates obstructed airways and is a
cardinal sign of upper respiratory disease. Cats with
shortened muzzles, such as Persians, may always make some noise when they
breathe.Croupy breathing. This refers to the high, harsh sound caused by air
passing through a narrowed larynx. When the onset is sudden, the most likely
diagnosis is a foreign body in the larynx or a swelling in the throat.
Wheezing. A wheeze is a whistling sound that occurs when a cat breathes
forcefully in or out. It indicates narrowing or spasm in the bronchial tubes.
Tight, deep-seated wheezes are best heard with a stethoscope. Causes of
wheezing include feline asthma, lungworms, heartworms, and tumors or growths in the bronchial tubes.
Meowing (crying). A cat who meows continuously is most likely in pain or
some sort of discomfort or distress. You should determine the cause of this
anxiety and seek veterinary attention. Excessive meowing can lead to laryngitis.
Rarely diagnosed in cats but one of the most common conditions affecting dogs, mange is a skin disease caused by several species of tiny mites. Some mange mites are normal residents of a cat’s skin and hair follicles, while others are considered parasites. All mites can cause mild to severe skin infections if they proliferate.