Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Healthy Cats

Font Size

Abnormal Breathing in Cats

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 condition.
  • 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.

 

Recommended Related to Cats

Bathing Your Cat

With her built-in grooming tools (tongue and teeth, of course), your fastidious feline is well-equipped to tackle her own haircare needs. But if she is very dirty or gets into something sticky or smelly, you may need to give her a bath. Read the following tips before you begin to ensure minimal stress and maximum efficiency. 1. Perfect timing: Schedule baths when your cat’s at her most mellow. A play session with a cat dancer or other toy of choice can help tire out even the friskiest of felines...

Read the Bathing Your Cat article > >

WebMD Veterinary Reference from "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook"

Today on WebMD

cat at table
What's safe for them to eat?
Maine Coon cat breed
What they do and why cats have them.
 
Kitten in litterbox
How to solve them.
cat meowing
Why some cats are so talkative
 
cat on couch
Evaluator
Kitten using litter box
Quiz
 
sleeping kitten
Slideshow
sad kitten looking at milk glass
Slideshow
 

Love your pets, hate your allergies?

Get tips for relief.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

cat at table
Slideshow
muddy dog on white sofa
Quiz
 
Maine Coon cat breed
Article
Pets: Behavior Problems in Cats
Slideshow