Why Is My Cat Panting?

Cats pant for a number of reasons such as playing too hard, anxiety, or underlying medical conditions.

We all know that dogs pant to help them regulate their body’s temperature. But should a cat owner worry when the question of “Why is my cat panting?” arises? Take a deep breath, relax, and let’s go over why cats pant and when it should be worrisome enough for you to call your vet. 

As humans our bodies regulate temperature through sweating. Dogs regulate their temperature through panting. Sweating isn’t really something cats do and it’s not exactly common for them to pant. Cats have a few sweat glands on their paw pads and on their nose, but it’s not enough to fully regulate their body’s temperature.

Cat’s don’t typically pant to regulate their body temperature, so keep reading to see why your cat might be panting or use the menu below to skip ahead! 

A healthy core body temperature for your cat is around 101º-102º. It’s a common misconception that cats cool themselves off through the sweat glands in their paw pads.

One method cats use to regulate their body temperature through conduction. They will seek out cool objects and lay on them or rub their bodies against them to “absorb” (for lack of a better word) the coolness from that object. Such as laying down on the cold tile bathroom floor. 

Another way cat’s regulate their body temperature is by mimicking how humans’ bodies work. Humans sweat and when that sweat evaporates it cools our bodies. Cats will groom themselves which allows their saliva to evaporate and cool their bodies down. 

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Why Is My Cat Panting?

Alright, let’s dive in and see if we can figure out why your cat is panting. If you have any uncertainty or doubts about our list below then please contact your cat’s vet immediately. It’s always better to be safe than sorry! 

PLEASE NOTE: This is not an exhaustive list by any means. There are numerous issues that can cause a cat to pant. If you have any shred of doubt about anything on this list then you need to call your vet IMMEDIATELY to ask for further guidance! 

They Are Overheating

I know, I know. We spent the introduction of this article explaining that cats don’t regulate their body’s temperature by panting. However, if a cat is getting overheated, they will start to pant as a last resort. If your cat cannot find a cool enough place to lay down, and can’t control their temperature with their paw pads or through the evaporation process we mentioned above, then they might start panting.

What Do I Do If My Cat Is Overheating?

  • Remain Calm! Your cat can and will pick up on your body language and tone of voice. The last thing you want to do is to stress them out.
  • Try taking them to a cool place, such as a tile floor, and see if they’ll drink some water. Do NOT try and force them to drink water.
  • If they’re still panting, moisten their feet, paw pads, toes, and ears with a cool, wet towel.
  • If your cat got overheated and is still panting after trying everything above, call your vet immediately. 

A cat that is being overly vocal, drooling, nauseous, or lethargic, is cause for concern – call your vet for guidance on what to do next. 

They Are Stressed or Anxious

Your cat might seem super lazy and carefree, just lounging around, popping up to eat or play or ask for pets at their leisure. Sadly that’s not always the case. Cats feel anxiety, fear, and stress just like humans do. They will often use a body language that you’re not used to when they need to express their anxiety, fear, or stress. 

Cats that are scared, worried, or stressed out about something might take shallow and fast breaths with their mouths open. If your cat is panting like this then it might be a sign that something in your home is stressing them out. 

Cats get stressed over a variety of reasons, it could be there is someone new in your home, it could be you’ve introduced a new pet into your family, or it could be you set their cat carrier out and they know you only do that when it’s time to go to the vet. 

Another big stressor for cats is moving. Just the act of packing things up around the house can stress cats out. Read our tips on moving with a cat to ensure a less-stressful move for them. 

What Do I Do If My Cat Is Stressed?

As usual, the first thing you need to do is remain calm so that your cat doesn’t pick up on any negative body language. Next, try and take a look at the surrounding environment. Have there been any changes that could act as stressors to your cat?

Try to give your cat a safe space that they can go to in order to escape any unwanted interactions with other people, animals, sights, sounds, or even smells. Make sure your cat has access to their favorite toys, scratching post, and things that smell familiar to them.

Keep unwanted visitors away while you try and assess what it is that’s stressing your cat out or making them anxious. 

They Played Too Hard

When your kitty just gets overly excited they might start panting. This isn’t necessarily related to being overheated. It might just mean that they’re “revved up with excitement” and just can’t contain their energy. 

Always make sure your cat has plenty of enrichment toys that give them reasons to run, play, scratch, stretch, kick, and chase. At the same time, be sure to let your cat rest after exercise or intense play sessions. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get overheated. 

If your cat is panting from playing too hard then the panting will subside once they calm down a bit!

They Are In Pain

When your cat is in pain their behavior might change. They might start showing behaviors that seem out of the ordinary for them. If your cat is in pain it could be from an underlying medical condition or a recent injury. Sadly cats aren’t always able to tell us exactly where they’re hurting so it can be hard to pinpoint the source. 

Other signs your cat may be in pain:

  • Changes in vocalization (tone, volume, frequency)
  • Mood changes
  • Lack of appetite
  • Litter box aversion
  • increased clinginess

IF YOU THINK YOUR CAT IS IN PAIN CALL THE VET IMMEDIATELY 

They Have A Heart Issue

Even at a young age, cats can have underlying heart issues that will cause them to pant. There are genetic issues that kittens can be born with but not show symptoms until later in life, such as Cardiomyopathy or Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. 

Cardiomyopathy is a structural disease that affects the cat’s heart muscle. It is a genetic disease that can be more prevalent in certain breeds such as Bengals, Persians, Ragdolls, Maine Coons, and British Shorthairs. 

Cats that pant related to heart issues might also have heartworms. Heartworms in cats is a parasitic worm that can result in lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, or death.

They Have A Respiratory Issue

Cats can sometimes develop respiratory diseases in the upper-respiratory tract where their nasal cavity is. If a cat has a respiratory issue by their nasal cavity and they get congested or stopped up then they may need to breathe out of their mouth. This can be distressing for cats as it’s not a normal behavior for them.

Oftentimes viral infections can cause these upper respiratory diseases. One of the most common viral infections that affects this area is the herpes virus. Older cats may develop nasal polyps and tumors that affect this area of their respiratory tract as well. 

It’s also possible for cats to have asthma. Asthma in cats can be caused by inflammation, allergies, or heartworm disease. All of these can cause cats to not get proper airflow through their nasal passage, resulting in open-mouthed breathing. 

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Why Is My Cat Panting In The Car?

Cats absolutely HATE riding in the car. There are very rare exceptions to that rule for certain breeds with certain mannerisms who have been exposed to car rides since they were a kitten. But overall, cats despite going anywhere. They hate the movement, they hate the change in scenery, they hate the environmental changes. 

In most cases, car rides are extremely stressful for most cats. It can cause them a lot of stress which results in numerous physical and behavioral changes. Cats typically pant in the car because of how nervous and anxious car rides make them. While panting itself isn’t normal, panting in the car for cats isn’t abnormal. 

When us humans get anxious our heart rate rises and it causes us to sweat. Cats can’t really sweat, so when their heart rate goes up from the car ride it causes them to pant. Sometimes it causes them to pant heavily. 

The temperature inside the car may also cause cats to pant. Cats regulate their temperature through conduction and seek out cool or cold places to lay on or rub up against. Your car likely doesn’t have cold tiles like your bathroom floor does so your cat will have trouble regulating their temperature, causing them to pant. 

You should only take your cat on car rides when it’s absolutely necessary, such as a visit to the vet or if you’re moving. Otherwise keep your cat out of the car, it’s not cute or cool to have them ride around with you and it’s likely causing them unnecessary stress, even if you can’t see it. 

What Does It Look Like When A Cat Is Panting?

Is Cat Panting An Emergency?

Try and think about what your cat was doing before they started panting. Did they have an intense play session? Did you just get back from the vet? Have you brought a new puppy into the house? These are all things that can trigger panting that doesn’t require medical intervention. 

If you don’t feel your cat is stressed, if you didn’t just have a big play session, or if they’re not (lightly) overheated, then you need to call your vet. Your cat might be panting due to an underlying medical condition that needs to be assessed by a professional as soon as possible. 

We hope our guide on “Why is my cat panting?” helped to shed some light on how your cat is doing and what they’re feeling. If you have any shred of doubt then you need to call your vet just to be safe.