My Cat Is Breathing Fast: What Should I Do?

Last updated: Oct 12, 2018 @ 11:21 am

Your cat’s health is of the utmost importance, and at some point, most owners are faced with a confusing medical issue they must confront.

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 article:

  • What is Tachypnea?
  • Main Symptoms & Causes
  • What to Do if Your Cat is Breathing Fast

Sometimes deciphering between a serious situation and a temporary ailment can be incredibly difficult. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 tongue out of the mouth
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Blue coloring of gums (due to lack of oxygen)
  • Loss of appetite

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 look out for anything that seems out of place with your cat’s normal behavior.

This is because, if left alone, it can soon turn into a respiratory issue far more dangerous.

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.

My Cat Is Breathing Fast: What Should I Do?

Possible Causes

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

Heartworm

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.

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
  • Heat stroke

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. If traveling is stressful for your cat, your vet will be able to advise you on how best to transport your pet.


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.

My Cat Is Breathing Fast: What Should I Do? | Fluffy Kitty

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 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.

17 Comments

  1. Dan said:

    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.

    October 11, 2018
    Reply
    • 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!

      October 12, 2018
      Reply
  2. louise trujillo said:

    Did you receive my previous question…… he’s breathing quickly…

    August 30, 2018
    Reply
  3. louise trujillo said:

    Took my 13 year old snowshoe Boss …who is always inside…to 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

    August 30, 2018
    Reply
    • 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

      August 30, 2018
      Reply
  4. Farhood said:

    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. . .

    August 16, 2018
    Reply
    • 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.

      August 19, 2018
      Reply
      • Farhood said:

        thank you so much for the reply,she does pant sometimes, i will follow your guides and try to keep her cool.

        August 19, 2018
        Reply
  5. Hazel said:

    Re: Rapid breathing. My cat is always panting. When he’s relaxed the breathing is still fast. He can’t even sleep well, but he’s still active, playful cat. He still has a lot of appetite and drinks a lot of water. what do you think is the underlying issue about his breathing fast and panting?

    May 9, 2018
    Reply
    • Hi Hazel,

      We can only recommend you to take your kitty to the vet. It seems like s/he still has an appetite, which is a good sign, but panting might be an indicator for something else. Are there any other signs of discomfort? Salivating or does s/he have blue gums? Whether yes or no, you might want to go get a check-up to make sure everything is safe. A veterinarian will know how to guide you and recommend treatment if there is an underlying medical issue. Best of luck!

      May 9, 2018
      Reply
  6. Re. rapid breathing by a cat. You said that heartworm can be easily treated which is not true in cats. They have treatment for dogs but not for cats so heartworm can cause death in a cat and often does.

    February 6, 2018
    Reply
    • Hi Claudia, thanks for your insights 🙂 Indeed, there’s no drug remedy for treating heartworm in cats, but it can be treated with thorough veterinary care. Cats are more resistant to heartworm than dogs, and signs often appear too late. Unfortunately heartworm is fatal even for cats who seem healthy on the outside:( Thanks for stopping by and reading FK.

      February 11, 2018
      Reply
  7. Karen Riddell said:

    My cat was scratching to the point whete he was getting open sores, i got a cone and put it on him for a few days when i took it off he does not seem the same. I am wondering if having the cone on could have stressed him.

    December 23, 2017
    Reply
    • Hi there Karen,
      Sorry to hear your kitty is scratching like that! Does he show any signs of skin infections, fleas, mites, wounds from other cats? The cone could have stressed him further, yes, if he was scratching already because of tension/anxiety. Open sores can get infected, especially when left untreated and scratched further. We would recommend taking your kitty to the vet for a diagnosis. They will be able to provide you the advice and medication your kitty might need. Best wishes!

      December 29, 2017
      Reply
  8. Taha said:

    My cat is not feeling good but I can’t take her to any hospital or any service because it is very far away is there something I can do in home

    October 15, 2017
    Reply
    • Brittany, Paul, and Yoda =^^= said:

      Hello Taha, thanks for reaching out. We’d love to help you more but you should probably call a vet to ask for advice. Be as specific as possible when describing your cat’s symptoms. We hope your kitty feels better soon! Take care!

      October 17, 2017
      Reply

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