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My Cat Is Breathing Fast: What Should I Do?

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Do cat’s normally breathe heavy and fast? Yes, but only in very specific conditions. If you observe your cat breathing unusually fast, then they could be facing a more serious underlying health condition.

If you’ve found yourself looking at your furry friend and wondering “My cat is breathing fast – what should I do?” your next step is to make an informed decision of how to react to this respiratory difficulty.

In this guide, we discuss what can cause a cat to breathe fast, cat panting symptoms, when heavy cat breathing is abnormal, and what to do!

In this article:

  • Cat breathing fast | What is Tachypnea?
  • Main Symptoms & Causes
  • What to Do if Your Cat is Breathing Fast
  • Final Thoughts: My Cat Is Breathing Fast

Sometimes deciphering between a serious situation and a temporary ailment can be incredibly difficult. So how fast do cats breathe?

A relaxed cat will breathe approximately 20-30 times per 60 seconds. 

Cats breathing faster than this for only a few minutes is natural (after exercising, etc.), but any longer with additional symptoms may pose as a real underlying problem.

My Cat Is Breathing Fast: What Should I Do?

Cats are generally very guarded when it comes to displaying signs of illness, so owners must be especially vigilant to notice signs of what is medically referred to as Tachypnea (and not Dyspnea). Learn more about these terms here.

Owners experiencing this for the first time with their pet can get very worried but fear not. If acted upon swiftly, this potentially critical situation can be remedied and your little furball will be back to “normal cat breathing”.

What Is Tachypnea?

Tachypnea is a serious medical condition in which your cat’s breathing pattern becomes incredibly rapid but shallow.

This is sometimes combined with other symptoms, but it is key to watch out for its early stages. So if your cat is breathing fast and shallow, this may be a sign. 

Your cat’s breathing may increase if they become overexcited after exercise, but this should decrease after a few minutes.

If it does not subside or gets worse, it is a sign of a much more serious condition. It has also been known as air hunger.

A cat’s normal resting respiratory rate is between 20-30 breaths per minute, so anything higher should be taken seriously. Check if your cat’s breathing pattern appears different, but also look for a change in their body movements.

Important note : You may have heard of Dyspnea. This technical word refers to the sensation of shortness of breath. With dyspnea, the breathing rate may be rapid, slow, or normal, and the depth of breathing may be shallow, deep, or normal. | Deborah Leader, RN, BSN, PHN, COPD expert|

Main Symptoms & Causes

Although Tachypnea can manifest itself through many different symptoms, the main ones to look out for are:

  • Incredibly quick, shallow breathing
  • Panting with the tongue out of the mouth
  • Coughing
  • Cat wheezing when breathing
  • Blue coloring of gums (due to lack of oxygen)
  • Loss of appetite: cat breathing fast and not eating
  • Cat breathing fast when sleeping

Cats primarily breathe through their noses, so a cat breathing or panting through its mouth has a serious medical condition or is under lots of distress. Either way, it’s important to get to the cause of the heavy breathing or panting.

The best thing to do is lookout for anything that seems out of place with your cat’s normal behavior.

This is because, if left alone, heavy cat panting can soon turn into a respiratory issue far more dangerous. Here is some advice from cat health expert and veterinary Dr. Jones (very informative video on cat panting).

Underlying causes of Tachypnea are varied and can often be incredibly complex. So it can be difficult to determine what exact health issue your cat has.

Possible Causes of Heavy Breathing

The two main causes are usually certain forms of heart disease (heartworm), or a respiratory infection.

Heartworm or other heart diseases

Heartworm can be managed, but it should be diagnosed swiftly before the infection progresses. There are about 10 cats to 100 dogs who get heartworm, so it’s much less common in cats but it can still be fatal. Actually, a seemingly healthy cat might not show any symptoms of heartworm until it’s too late. 

If your cat is breathing abnormally quick, it’s best to call your vet as soon as possible.

Cat breathing fast and shallow

Respiratory Infection

Secondly, with a respiratory infection, your cat’s airways may be finding it difficult to get oxygen into the bloodstream.

There are a variety of respiratory infections that can cause this quick breathing, all of which are easily treatable.

Some other potential causes are:

  • Feline asthma
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Pneumonia
  • Heart failure
  • Inflammation of the nostrils
  • Fluid on the lungs
  • Heatstroke
  • Allergy
  • Your cat is too fat (if that’s the case, a simple switch to healthy food would do the trick)

What to Do if Your Cat is Breathing Too Fast

If you still find yourself worrying that your cat is breathing fast and the symptoms haven’t subsided or have gotten worse, the best thing to do is to call your veterinarian immediately.

They should be able to access your cat’s medical situation over the phone, and will most likely tell you to bring the cat to the animal hospital.

By calling them first they may also be able to arrange transport to the hospital, as not to prolong your cat’s medical situation any longer.

With respiratory distress, it is best to try and keep your pet as calm as much as you can. Read our article here if traveling is stressful for your cat. 

In the worst-case scenario, if your cat stops breathing entirely before you reach the hospital, you can perform CPR.

If you don’t have time to read CPR instructions for cats online, your vet will be able to give you more specific instructions through the phone.

Once at the animal clinic, your veterinarian will assess the stage of your cat’s Tachypnea, what has caused it, and will provide your pet with a steady supply of oxygen.

After a physical examination and diagnosis, they will decide what the best form of treatment will be.

Depending on the severity of your cat’s condition, they may be put in an oxygen or ICU cage. The vet will also advise you on how to best care for your cat once it can be brought home.

Final Thoughts: My Cat Is Breathing Fast

When you find yourself thinking hmm.. ‘ my cat is breathing fast ‘, then make sure to act quickly.

Tachypnea is a very serious medical condition that needs attention as soon as the problem presents itself. Pay close attention to your cat, monitor their breathing carefully, and take action when you feel it’s necessary. 

Remember that when something seems unusual about your pet’s health, it probably is. 

Some of the ways you can try to prevent your cat from developing a serious case of Tachypnea is by providing them with lots of water in hot weather, keep them away from toxic chemicals and minimize any potentially stressful situations they might be in.

Though, the most common form of prevention is to organize regular veterinary visits so that your pet is given a full medical check-up once a year at least.

Your cat’s health is vital, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.


Wednesday 2nd of January 2019

Hello , My cat is breathing abnormally fast and I believe that he is 8 years old . I am very worried about his health and I can even hear him breathing even when I am not close to him . He breathes rapidly in the night as well . From what I have been reading he might have tachypnea. Please can you advice me on what to do with my fast breathing cat. Daniel

Brittany, Paul, & Yoda =^^=

Friday 4th of January 2019

Hi Daniel, is he panting, have blue gums, or is exhibiting any other symptoms of tachypnea? If so, the best is to call your vet. There are additional risks as a cat ages, so it's better to be safe than sorry. Good luck!


Thursday 11th of October 2018

Hello... My cat is getting older. I believe she is 13 or so. As of a few weeks ago, I noticed that she is breathing quicker. I counted the breaths and they’re around 30 to 34 breaths a minute. She still wants to play. She is eating and going to her pan regularly. I have a water machine for her, which she is drinking from regularly as well. Everything with her is normal, just that she is breathing a lot more. I’m wondering if the filter used in her water machine might be doing something ? I really don’t know. I have a habit of over-dramatizing situations; hoping this is yet another instance. Your response is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Brittany, Paul, & Yoda =^^=

Friday 12th of October 2018

Hi Dan, Thanks for reaching out to us. :) We are no vets, but it sounds like your kitty is doing a-okay! If everything else is normal (eating, potty, sleep, appetite, etc.) then there isn't much cause to worry. A healthy cat will take anywhere between 20 or 30 breaths per minute. But if you begin to observe a loss of appetite, blue gums, panting with the tongue out, and so on, then those are indicators of something more serious. We hope this helps. Best of luck and thanks again!

louise trujillo

Thursday 30th of August 2018

Did you receive my previous question...... he's breathing quickly...

Brittany, Paul, & Yoda =^^=

Thursday 30th of August 2018

Yes, check your messages! Sorry for the delay, it's a little later here :)

louise trujillo

Thursday 30th of August 2018

Took my 13 year old snowshoe Boss ...who is always Vet ER because this morning he had no interest in food or water, just laid down, looked out of it. ...and then I noticed he was breathing faster than normal, no panting or open mouth....just not the relaxed gentle breathing he usually does. Complete physical exam, said he seemed normal and if I was still worried to come back for cxr of lungs and possible blood work...but at least cxr. That was at about 10:30am.... it's now 6:30pm...... nothing changed...still sleeping and lower chest almost abdominal area, fast breathing...prob about 60pm...... Safe to wait till morning or not? Dr didn't seem extremely worried!? TU

Brittany, Paul, & Yoda =^^=

Thursday 30th of August 2018

Hi Louise, thanks for reaching out to us, we're so sorry to hear your kitty isn't feeling too well! It's a great thing you went to the vet immediately. And even better news if the doc said everything seemed normal! We are no veterinarians - Paul and I - so please take your vet's advice first. I would just add that it's a good sign there's not really other symptoms to the fast breathing other than loss of appetite (which might come back, or might already have since this morning??) It could be a small respiratory infection or a general feeling of unwellness, but your cat is older so it's a good thing you checked with a vet first. Now it's roughly 7:30 pm for you, I'd say if your cat is not having any other physical signs of distress or panting, blue gums, or anything bizarre, it will be safe to wait until the morning to see if the breathing has calmed. But please go with your gut and your knowledge of your cat!! If your cat's behavior is still abnormal and he is refusing food then give another shot at the vet's office. Possible bloodwork could be done and tests to see if there's heartworm or other diseases that could be a cause for the prolonged, rapid breathing. We hope this has helped! Best of luck and please do let us know what the results are / what you find out. Best, Brittany & Paul


Thursday 16th of August 2018

hi so there's a stray cat that visit's me everyday, she had a wound on her leg 2 months ago and i felt bad for her so i started feeding her and now she's pretty friendly and loves it when i pet her, but i noticed her breathing is fast and i mean really fast, i only notice it when she's laying down, she doesn't have any of the symptoms mentioned above except breathing fast(i haven't counted but if i'm to guess, it's about 90 per minute, it's noticeably fast) but it's really really hot here (39c about 102f) is there anything i can do for her? cuz i can't take her to a vet, she's a stray, she is friendly and loves to rub herself on my feet but i don't think she'll ever let me pick her up(and i don't intend to try!!) could it be just the heat? again, she doesn't have any of the symptoms mentioned in the article, she's relaxed and have a good appetite too. . .

Brittany, Paul, & Yoda =^^=

Sunday 19th of August 2018

Hi Farhood, thanks for reaching out to us! Thanks for taking care of this little stray :) If you say she doesn't display any of the symptoms and is eating well, it wouldn't seem like she has any underlying issue. That is pretty hot, so make sure she has an area nicely covered by shade (plants, garden, etc). She isn't panting, is she? Panting shows signs of heat exhaustion. Here, please read our article on keeping cats cool in the summer. Hope it helps! Best of luck.