Cat Panting with Mouth Open– Our Vet Explains How to Help

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  • The first time I saw a panting cat was during my freshman year in vet school. My roommate’s kitten was playing so hard she finally laid down and started panting with an open mouth. That’s when I learned cats can pant like a dog when they’re excited, stressed, or overheated. In those cases, panting is a normal way to release stress or cool off.

    In practice, I would occasionally encounter a kitty that panted for other reasons. For these felines, open mouth breathing was a sign of a medical problem that caused respiratory distress.

    Let’s review the top causes of your cat’s open-mouthed panting and what you can do at home to help.

    Common reasons that cats pant with an open mouth

    Normal Causes of Panting

    When your cat pants because he’s overheated or stressed, it should resolve shortly after the trigger situation ends. For overheated cats, move them out of the sun to a cool environment to help them release heat more quickly. If stress is involved, provide a quiet, soothing environment as soon as you are able.

    Diseases or Conditions

    Inflammatory conditions of the respiratory tract

    Feline asthma, bronchitis, and other conditions that cause inflammation in the respiratory tract. This causes the airways to constrict, resulting in difficulty breathing. When a cat has an asthma attack, you may notice:

    • Panting
    • Wheezing
    • Coughing
    • Rapid respirations
    • Lethargy
    • Blue lips and gums
    • Squatting and breathing with the neck extended

    Treatment for cats with asthma involves changing the environment to reduce the risk of trigger events and administration of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. Depending on the severity of your cat’s asthma, treatment can cost anywhere from $10-250 a month.

    Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD)

    The heartworm parasite can affect a cat’s heart and lungs and cause respiratory distress. When a cat suffers from HARD, the symptoms resemble asthma:

    • Panting
    • Wheezing
    • Coughing
    • Lethargy
    • Hiding
    • Loss of appetite
    • Weight loss
    • Vomiting
    • Weakness

    Currently, there’s no FDA-approved treatment for heartworm in cats. Mild cases may be managed with corticosteroids until the worms die. For serious cases, such as seen with HARD, the recommended treatment is the surgical removal of the parasites. The procedure is risky; about 40% of the cats die. Heartworm treatment can run $500-1000 or more.

    Heart Disease

    Cats and kittens can experience heart problems that include cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. If these conditions progress, they can cause fluid to accumulate around the lungs. When this happens, your cat’s ability to breathe is restricted. Symptoms include:

    • Panting
    • Rapid breathing
    • Blue gums and lips
    • Lethargy
    • Loss of appetite
    • Coughing
    • Reduced activity
    • Swollen abdomen

    Cats with heart disease may need oxygen therapy. If the condition causes fluid accumulation around the lungs or in the abdomen, your veterinarian may also prescribe a diuretic like furosemide. Your kitty may also receive heart medications to support healthy cardiac function. The cost of treatment for heart disease averages $600-1,000.

    Anemia

    Anemia is a low percentage of red blood cells. Because red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues, cats with anemia may not get enough oxygen for daily activity. Cats with anemia may have signs like:

    • Panting
    • Rapid respirations
    • Lethargy
    • Pale lips and gums
    • Increased heart rate
    • Jaundice
    • Loss of appetite

    Cats with severe anemia may need a blood transfusion. If losing red cells is caused by an infection or immune disease, your veterinarian may also prescribe medications such as antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs to treat the underlying condition. One type of anemia, infectious anemia, can cost $500-1200 or more to treat.

    Respiratory infection

    Infection of the upper respiratory tract, usually from a virus, can cause congestion in the nasal passages. When breathing through the nose becomes difficult, some felines will breathe through the mouth. Signs of a respiratory infection include:

    • Wheezing
    • Coughing
    • Sneezing
    • Panting
    • Runny nose or eyes

    Treatment for a respiratory infection depends on the cause and severity of the condition. Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications to treat your cat depending on the type of infection. At home, you can also provide supportive care, including wiping the nose and eyes and putting your kitty in a steam-filled room. The cost of treatment is usually $100-500, but may be higher sometimes.

    Pain

    Cats in pain may pant to help relieve stress. If you also notice:

    • Aggressive behavior
    • Excessive crying or purring
    • Rapid pulse
    • Changes in mobility
    • Changes in eating habits

    The cost and type of treatment will depend on the underlying of your cat’s pain.

    My cat is panting with a wide-open mouth – is it serious?

    The seriousness of your cat’s panting depends on what’s causing the behavior. If it’s a response to excitement, there’s little reason to worry. But if it’s caused by a medical condition, you should be concerned. Watch for signs like:

    • Panting on a regular basis
    • Panting for prolonged time periods
    • Continued panting after overheating – this may indicate heat exhaustion or heat stroke, so you should call your vet immediately
    • Coughing, sneezing, or wheezing
    • Rapid breathing
    • Pale or blue-tinged gums – if you see this sign, it’s an emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention
    • Loss of appetite
    • Reluctance to stand up
    • Vomiting or diarrhea
    • Drooling
    • Struggling to breathe – this is an emergency that requires immediate care

    When is panting not a concern?

    • Panting following vigorous exercise
    • Panting while lying in the sun or outside on a hot day
    • Panting in response to a stressful situation like a car ride or veterinary checkup

    If you can identify one of these causes, and your cat’s panting behavior resolves quickly after the trigger is gone, there’s no cause for concern.

    Examples of cats panting with an open mouth

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liv0rkViQ2M&t=30s

    In this video, the cat is panting because she is in active labor, so this is not a cause of concern. The queen is resting and vocalizing and not showing other signs of distress.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Udj0wpsT2kE

    This video starts with a cat playing. When it rests, you can see open mouth panting. The kitty looks alert and content, and the panting resolves quickly.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5iC510LmuI

    Notice the coughing and wheezing in this cat. Here, the kitty is panting because of an asthma attack. Breathing is moderately labored, and the cat appears uncomfortable.

    Will my cat’s panting resolve on its own or with treatment at home?

    It depends on the cause of the panting. Some cats will recover in a matter of minutes with little to no intervention. In other cases, veterinary care is needed.

    Overexertion

    If your kitty is panting due to overexertion, it should resolve on its own soon after she stops running around. You can help the recovery by putting your cat in a quiet, safe place to encourage resting.

    Overheating

    When your cat is in the sun or in a hot environment for too long, he can easily become overheated and start panting. As soon as you notice the behavior, move your kitty to a shaded, cool environment. You can also turn on a fan or air conditioning to aid the cooling process.

    If your kitty doesn’t stop panting in a few minutes, contact your veterinarian. She may suffer from heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

    Stress

    Cats that pant due to a stressful situation should recover quickly when you remove the situation that’s causing anxiety.

    Tips to help your cat at home

    If you notice your cat panting, there are some things you can do to help them recover and to prevent a recurrence.

    Immediate actions

    #1: Understand why your kitty is panting – You need to figure out what’s causing the behavior.

    #2: Take action to reverse the trigger effect

    • If your cat is hot, move him to a cool, shaded area and offer him fresh water.
    • If your kitty played too hard and overexerted herself, provide her with a safe resting place and take steps to cool her off.
    • If your feline is stressed out, you need to remain calm. Remove your kitty from the trigger situation and reassure her.

    #3: Cool your kitty down – Cats have a hard time self-regulating heat. No matter the reason for panting, move your kitty to a cool, quiet environment to help. Provide a fan or air conditioning and offer her fresh water.

    Preventative measures

    Before you make any changes or add supplements to your cat’s diet, it’s best to talk with your veterinarian to confirm which substances may be helpful. The doctor can also help you determine a safe dosage for different supplements.

    #1: Help your cat lose weight: If your kitty is overweight, switch to wet food to help him trim down. Excess fat around the heart and lungs can make it harder to get enough oxygen and cause your cat to pant more readily.

    #2: Put your cat on supplements that support heart health

    • Essential fatty acid supplement – Essential fatty acids from fish oil support heart health, and that can impact your cat’s ability to get oxygen to the tissues.
    • Coenzyme q – Coenzyme Q can help encourage normal cardiac function and prevent respiratory difficulty that causes panting.

    #3: Use a natural diuretic: If your feline friend has a condition that causes fluid build-up around the heart and lungs, you can try giving them a natural diuretic, such as dandelion root.

    #4: Minimize triggers – If your cat suffers from asthma, you may reduce the risk of an asthma attack by reducing triggers.

    • Remove potential allergens
    • Invest in an air purifier
    • Keep your home smoke-free

    When to call your veterinarian

    There are several reasons you should call your vet as soon as possible if your cat’s panting doesn’t resolve within a few minutes of the trigger event or if the episodes are repetitive.

    You should contact your vet if they have any of the following symptoms:

    • Not eating
    • Lethargy
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Wheezing, coughing, or sneezing
    • Pale or blue gums
    • Drooling

    If your cat is struggling to breathe, this is an emergency that requires immediate attention.

    How the vet can help

    Examination and diagnosis

    When you bring your kitty in for panting, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam to determine the underlying cause. He’ll observe your kitty’s behavior and listen to the heart and lungs for any abnormal sounds. Diagnostic tests may include:

    • Blood work to look for anemia or heartworm
    • Chest x-rays to check for lung or heart issues

    Immediate care

    If your kitty is still panting when you come to the vet, they may need to stabilize him. Immediate supportive care may include:

    • Oxygen
    • IV fluids
    • Anti-inflammatory medications

    Treatment plan

    The ongoing treatment plan for your cat will depend on the underlying cause of panting. We already discussed medications and cost estimates when we listed the different reasons for panting above. The outcome and prognosis depend on the severity of underlying conditions.

    What you should know before the vet visit

    Your veterinarian will want to know:

    • What signs you have observed in your cat?
    • When the panting started?
    • Is this a repetitive problem?
    • How long does it take your cat to recover?
    • What was happening when your cat started panting?

    Be prepared to recount the events leading up to and following any panting events.

    FAQ with the vet

    Are certain breeds more likely to have panting problems?

    Some breeds are more prone to developing cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that can cause panting. These breeds include:

    • Maine coon
    • Ragdoll
    • Persian
    • Sphynx
    • British shorthair

    What if my cat is only panting after heavy exercise?

    Panting after exercise can occur if your kitty is overexerted. However, it can also mean there’s an underlying condition that’s triggering the behavior. You should talk to your vet about the abnormal behavior.

    Is panting a sign of stress in cats?

    Some cats may pant in stressful situations. Here, your kitty should stop panting when the stressful event is over.

    Are there any home treatments for panting in cats?

    Depending on the cause of your cat’s panting, you may use natural remedies to help relieve inflammation or fluid accumulation around the heart and lungs.

    Author

    • Dr. Elizabeth Guise (DVM) graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. She worked as a veterinarian in private practice for over two years before going to work with the USDA as a veterinary medical officer for 14 years.