Can Cats Breathe Through Their Mouths?

Can Cats Breathe Through Their Mouths

Cats can breathe through their mouths, but open mouth breathing isn’t exactly common. A normal, healthy cat will take long breaths in through their nostrils. Cats can (and will) breathe through their mouths depending on a number of external stimuli.

There are times, however, when you should be worried about your cat breathing with their mouth open. It could be a sign that your cat has trouble breathing due to a condition like feline asthma, or upper respiratory infections.

We’re going to dive in and explain all of this in detail. BUT, if your cat is breathing through their mouth then you should reach out to your vet just to be safe. You always want to err on the side of caution when it comes to our feline friends.

Let’s take a look at when it is and isn’t okay for cats to breathe through their mouths. Learning about your cat’s acceptable behavior when breathing can help ensure they live a long and healthy life!

PLEASE NOTE: If you notice your cat’s nose is starting to turn blue, or if they’ve got cloudy eyes, IMMEDIATELY CONTACT your local vet or an emergency vet!

A normal, healthy cat will breathe through their nostrils or nasal passages. The normal respiratory rate for a cat that’s awake can be anywhere from 15-60 breathe per minute, depending on how active they’ve recently been.

If your cat has blocked nasal passages, whether from a runny nose, bacterial infections, or a severe medical condition, then they may have trouble breathing normally. We will go into all of these in detail but if you feel your cat is having breathing problems then you need to contact your vet immediately.

You should never wait around if your cat needs medical attention. An emergency trip to the vet is not something anyone wants to do, but your cat might need help breathing.

A healthy sleeping cat should have a respiratory rate of no more than 30 breaths per minute. Your cat’s body temperature drops when it goes to sleep, this is why they’re able to get by with slower breathing.

These breaths while sleeping are done through the nostrils. If you your cat has rapid breathing while they’re asleep when you should call your vet immediately.

Conversely, if you notice your cat has abnormal breathing and is breathing at a much slower rate, you should also check with your vet for further guidance.

Can Cats Breathe Through Their Mouths & Is It Safe?

Open mouth breathing and mouth breathing in general aren’t necessarily a sign that something is wrong, but it is cause for concern. Let’s first look at a few reasons where open-mouth breathing is not cause for concern.

It’s possible to see your cat breathing through their mouth because they’ve been playing so hard. Usually this will be obvious as you will notice your cat panting directly after a busy play session.

Your cat’s open mouth breathing could also just be them panting because they got a little overheated.

You might also notice your cat breathing through their mouth when they are trying to process a specific scent or smell. Your cat breathing through their mouth allows them to pass the scent through their Jacobson’s Organ.

This organ allows them to better process scents and smells that they can’t quite figure out with their noses. Your cat merely uses this organ to process scents, it doesn’t help your cat breathe better.

Can cats breathe through their mouths? WARNING SIGNS

When To Be Worried About Your Cat or Kitten Open Mouth Breathing

Now that you know when it’s okay for your cat to be open mouth breathing, let’s take a look at times when you should be worried.

Mouth Breathing From Overexertion

I know we JUST mentioned above that cats may start panting after a rigorous play session or strenuous exercise and how that can be normal. BUT, we want to mention it here in the ‘bad’ section as well.

Anytime your cat has trouble breathing you should keep a close eye on them. If they start panting from playing too hard then it’s time for a break. Your cat’s lungs are being overexerted and while it’s not cause for medical treatment, you should use caution.

Stop play time and get your cat some cold water so that your cat’s lungs can “catch up” and they can start breathing normally again. If your cat suffers from feline asthma then PLEASE try to limit play sessions.

After the rough play session you should watch your cat closely until your cat’s breathing returns to normal. Cats can’t sweat, so in extreme situations, panting helps keep cats cool.

Feline Asthma

Feline asthma typically develops in cats between the ages of 2-7 years old. This condition, along with even just some mild asthma, can cause your cat to breathe through their mouth.

Oftentimes your cat won’t show any symptoms of this during the first couple of years of their life.

Even a mild attack can cause your cat to have trouble getting enough oxygen into their lungs. This can also cause your cat to have abnormal fatigue and become extremely stressed as they can understand this isn’t exactly normal behavior for cats.

Most people don’t realize that other animals can suffer from asthma, it’s not just a human condition! Breathing problems can be prevalent in any living thing that has a respiratory system!

Something Is Stuck In Their Throat

If you notice your cat start breathing with an open mouth after eating, playing, or exploring then they might have something stuck in their throat.

If a foreign object is lodged in your cat’s throat then they will struggle to get air and it’s imperative that you get your cat help IMMEDIATELY.

An item lodged in their throat isn’t just a ‘normal’ breathing problem. This is something that can cause irreversible damage or even death. No cat owner ever wants to deal with those two events.

If the object is visible then you need to try and dislodge it. If you can’t feel the object or see the object then you need to call an emergency vet ASAP. The longer cats go without breathing properly or getting oxygen, the further along irreversible damage will be.

Your Cat Has A Feline Cold

Believe it or not, cats can get a cold just like us humans can. There are even similar symptoms that humans and cats share when they get a cold.

One of the most common symptoms of a feline cold is a runny nose. Because cats rely on their noses so much, a runny nose can cause breathing problems. These breathing problems can result in your cat breathing with their mouth open because of their blocked nose.

Other symptoms of a feline cold include: congestion, sneezing, coughing, and a nose that isn’t their typical healthy pink color.

Thankfully a feline cold is an ‘easier’ breathing problem to deal with.

Smoking Around Your Cat Can Cause Lung Cancer

Even though your cat doesn’t smoke, they can still develop lung cancer by means of secondhand smoke.

Lung cancer in cats is more than just a ‘breathing problem’ and is something that should be addressed immediately.

Your vet can easily diagnose this, but it’s not something you can exactly diagnose at home.

Please don’t smoke around your pets.

There Is Excess Fluid In Their Lungs

Excess fluid in the lungs, AKA Pulmonary Edema, can cause your cat to breathe with their mouth open. This condition also occurs along with heart failure.

As fluid accumulates, your cat may be wheezing, have a dry cough, have shortness of breath, and they might feel lethargic. This is a chronic condition that requires immediate medical attention from your vet.

Upper Respiratory Infections

Kittens, cats in shelters, cats that go outside, and Persian cats are the most at-risk groups for upper respiratory infections.

These infections can cause Feline Dyspnea (aka a breathing problem in cats)

Symptoms include difficulty breathing, open mouth breathing, eye discharge, squinting, nasal discharge, sneezing, wheezing, and changes to the way your cat meows.

Most Respiratory Infections are caused by a virus. However, secondary bacterial infections are also known to cause these infections.

Mild cases can be treated by ensuring your cat eats regularly, using oxygen therapy or dehumidified air with a hepa filter. Extremely clean and dry hair can work wonders in mild cases.

More severe cases where fever and loss of appetite is present often require antibiotics prescribed by your vet.


Us humans will cool ourselves off by sweating. As the sweat evaporates, our body cools off. Cats, unfortunately, do not have this feature. Cats can sweat a little bit through their paw pads and their noses. But this isn’t typically enough to cool them down.

Cats will also groom themselves to cool off. Similar to how sweating in humans works, whenever a cat grooms itself, their body cools off as their saliva evaporates.

The final way cats cool themselves off is through heat displacement. This is when you might notice your cat sprawled out on a cool tile floor during a hot Summer day. Your cat transfers its body heat into a cooler object, such as floor tiles in the bathroom.

There are times when none of these methods work so your cat will start panting because they’re extremely overheated.

If heatstroke does not get treated immediately, your cat’s body temperature will continually rise. As their body heat rises their heartrate will increase. Overworking their heart like this can result in seizures, coma, or death.

If you notice ANY signs of heat stroke: panting, lethargy, foam/saliva around the mouth, red and swollen gums, vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite, then you need to call an emergency vet IMMEDIATELY.

Capstar Can Make Cats Breathe With Their Mouths Opens

CapStar is a popular flea medicine that kills all fleas on a cat within 24 hours. It gets into the cats bloodstream and makes their blood poisonous to the fleas that are clinging to them. After giving your cat CapStar you can see fleas literally falling off of them within an hour.

BUT, CapStar does have side effects. One of those side effects is your cat might start panting or mouth breathing.

This is one of the most common side effects and isn’t always cause for concern. If you notice this behavior going on for multiple hours and your cat has trouble slowing their breathing down, then you need to call your vet immediately.

Cats and open mouth breathing

Is Your Cat Actually Breathing Through Their Mouth?

As we mentioned earlier, your cat may simple have their mouth open to help them process a nearby smell or scent. It could be from those new scented candles you got, it could be something in their litter box, it could be those annoying essential oil diffusers that your mom uses.

Your cat simply having their mouth open isn’t cause for concern on its own. You need to take a look at their stomach. Can you see their stomach expanding and contracting? If you got close to their mouth, can you hear and feel the air coming directly from their mouth?

Is Your Cat Sleeping With Their Mouth Open?

Just like humans, cats may fall into a deep sleep in just the right position their their mouths may just involuntarily open.

Being in a deep sleep isn’t enough to be concerned about. You should also look for other symptoms mentioned above and take into consideration your cat’s behavior prior to it falling asleep.

Cats Normally Don't Breathe Through Their Mouths

Final Thoughts

Yes, cats can breathe through their mouths. But, as primarily nasal breathers, mouth breathing is not something that they do naturally.

If you just had a strenuous play session with your cat or if they’re in a deep slumber with their mouth slightly agape then that alone shouldn’t really worry you.

If they experience any symptoms mentioned above then I would call your vet immediately. As with anything medical related, you should ALWAYS call your vet if you have any doubts whatsoever.

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