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Cat Problems With Breathing

Updated on April 16, 2013

Cat problems with breathing can come in many forms and usually indicate problems within the respiratory system.

The most common breathing abnormality signs in felines are rapid breathing, slow breathing, panting, noisy breathing, croupy breathing, wheezing and shallow breathing.

Breathing nuances that are not necessarily an indication of a problem but could possibly be, are excessive meowing and purring. A cat who suddenly begins to meow nonstop is most probably in pain. You should attempt to determine the source of the anxiety by visiting a veterinarian. A common misconception about purring, is that it always indicates a state of pleasure. Cat's will also purr when they are hungry, upset, or in pain. They have also been known to purr just before they die.

Cat problems with breathing can be easily evaluated by counting the rate at which they inhale and exhale. In addition, you should note whether he has any difficulty breathing in or out, in which case his breathing usually will be noisy and sometimes accompanied by a forced effort. A cat at rest takes about 25 to 30 breaths per minute, which is about twice as many as a resting human. It takes about twice as long for a cat to exhale as it does to inhale. His respiratory motion should be smooth, even and unrestrained.

Rapid breathing can be caused by emotional stress, fever, overheating and pain. Other conditions to consider are shock, lung and heart disease and acid build-up. Dehydration and various toxic states will cause the cat to breath rapidly. A cat who is excited or out of breath after a workout will breath rapidly, at the rate of 60-90 breaths per minute. This is perfectly normal. An increased rate of breathing at rest indicates a disease state, and a vet should be contacted immediately.

A slow rate of breathing is found in narcotic poisoning, encephalitis, a blood clot pressing on the brain, and the late stages of shock or collapse. This usually indicates a terminal condition.

Panting is normal after exercise, and is one of the key methods by which a cat lowers his body temperature. This happens when water evaporates from the mouth, tongue, and lungs, and the cooler air is exchanged for the warm air in his lungs. Cats will also cool themselves by licking their fur and perspiring through the pads of their feet. If panting is rapid and labored with an anxious look, heat stroke should be considered.

Noisy breathing indicates obstructed breathing and is a primary sign of upper respiratory disease. A form of noisy breathing is croupy breathing, which refers to the high harsh sound caused by air passing through a narrowed voice box. When this occurs suddenly, the most likely culprit is a foreign body in the voice box or swelling in the throat.

A wheeze is a whistling sound which occurs during inhaling or exhaling. It indicates narrowing or spasm in the windpipe or bronchial tubes. Causes of wheezing are asthma, congestive heart failure, lung worms, and tumors or growths in the airways.

Shallow breathing is observed with conditions which restrict the motion of the rib cage. In most cases shallow breathing is associated with splinting. To avoid the pain of a deep breath, a cat breaths rapidly but less deeply. Pain of pleurisy and rib fracture causes splinting. Fluid in the chest (blood, pus, serum) produces restricted breathing, but without pain.

More often than not, cat problems with breathing indicate a condition that should prompt immediate veterinary attention. Pay close attention to the signs.

 References: The Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by Delbert G. Carlson, D.V.M and James M. Giffin, M.D. - First Edition

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    • hglick profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY

      A severe bacterial infection is a possibility, however the increased respirations worry me that the heart or lungs may be involved.

      petMD ( ) says:

      "Diagnosis of peripheral edema is often determined by fine-needle aspiration of an affected area, by which a fluid-sample is removed via needle for microscopic evaluation. An examination of the affected tissue samples taken by biopsy may also help determine an underlying cause for the edema. Additional diagnostic procedures may include urine analysis, chest and lung X-rays, and an electrocardiogram to measure the heart’s functionality. "

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      my cat has a dark spot in the x-ray; he is having increased respirations, no fever, looks like edema in the abdomen; already had two shots for dx of pneumonia, now looks like this is not what he had; Doc says the dark area looks like a tumor, mass. I have already spent $200, still no definitive answers, but is looking like fluid buildup; heart maybe? Cancer? My only question does anyone think this could be an infection?

    • hglick profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY

      Crazybeanrider, asthma attacks in cats are definitely scary. Asthma attacks which are due to exposure of a known allergen can be prevented by eliminating the allergen. When this can't be accomplished, cortisone may be recommended to stop repeated attacks. Usually it is given every other day to stop repeated attacks.

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 

      9 years ago from Washington MI

      Great information. I have a cat that experiences coughing spells once in awhile. I found out she has asthma. It is very scary when the attacks come. The information you provide is extremely useful.

    • hglick profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY

      lol, quicksand I have noticed cats that have a more intense purr.

    • quicksand profile image


      9 years ago

      Hi Hglick! We have a resident kitten which purrs like a Kawasaki trailer when brushed!


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