Cats' Rapid Breathing

Signs of Rapid Breathing in Cats

Tachypnea, or rapid breathing, is a sign of certain serious or even life-threatening conditions but is not an illness in and of itself. Be aware that if a cat is nervous, hot, or playing vigorously, fast breathing is normal, or at the very least not surprising. But if a cat is breathing quickly while at rest, especially if it also seems sluggish or unwell, that is abnormal. Tachypnea is a symptom that your cat is not getting enough oxygen through its system and can be an indication of a number of conditions, ranging from stress to heart problems.

Since cats typically hide indications of sickness from their carers, you must be extra watchful to spot signals like rapid breathing. You might be able to identify the source of the fast breathing or the circumstances in which it happens by being vigilant. If your cat continues to breathe fast, you should seek veterinarian care since tachypnea might be an indication of a dangerous disease.

What Is Rapid Breathing (Respiratory Rate) in a Cat?

A cat should typically breathe at a rate of 20 to 30 breaths per minute while relaxed or asleep in order to determine whether it is breathing fast. Small motions of the chest should be caused by each breath; if your cat's sides move a lot, this can be a sign of hard breathing. If your cat starts breathing strangely, be worried. That indicates either the cat is having trouble breathing or that it is moving particularly slowly, quickly, or noisily (with a high, loud, or whistling sound).

Count the breaths your cat takes while sleeping to determine its resting respiratory rate. Your cat's chest rises as it inhales and falls when it exhales throughout one breath (exhaling). Count the number of breaths that are taken over the course of 30 seconds using your phone or watch. The number of breaths in a minute is then calculated by multiplying the number of breaths you counted by two. Tachypnea is a condition when your cat breathes more than 30 times per minute while at rest.

Symptoms of Rapid Breathing in Cats

Tachypnea typically manifests with a variety of other symptoms since it is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Any breathing issues are medical emergencies that require immediate veterinarian care. You may notice:


  • Rapid rising and falling of the stomach or chest
  • Open mouth breathing (panting)
  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Breathing with the elbows sticking out from the body
  • Noisy breathing
  • Lethargy/fatigue
  • Blue color to the gums
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Exercise intolerance/reluctance to move

Tachypnea in cats is most easily recognized by the cat's rapid rising and falling of the stomach and chest, which shows that it is breathing more quickly than usual. Your cat's sides may occasionally appear to be sucking in and out with each breath. Your cat may kneel down with its head arched forward and elbows pushed out slightly from its body in an effort to calm its breathing. A cat that is genuinely having trouble breathing may frequently pant with its mouth open and may seem uneasy or even panicked.

You can hear unusual respiratory noises, such as whistling, wheezing, or groaning with each breath, depending on the reason for the fast breathing. Even your cat could sneeze or vomit. Your cat's gums may become blue if the breathing trouble is really severe, which is an indication of low oxygen levels.

Other signs of breathing problems include losing interest in play or other activities, sleeping more than normal, losing one's appetite, feeling lethargic or depressed, and becoming irritable.

Causes of Rapid Breathing in Cats

Your veterinarian should be seen right away if your cat exhibits rapid breathing since it can be a sign of many different diseases and injuries. While many causes of tachypnea are minor and manageable to cure, some are fatal if not addressed right away.

Some possible causes include:

  • : Just like humans, cats can be allergic to foods or airborne particles such as pollen.
  • Anemia: There are many causes of anemia, which is a condition where there are too few red blood cells. Since red blood cells carry oxygen, anemia can lead to rapid breathing as a way to compensate for the lowered blood oxygen levels.
  • : This breathing disorder causes the cat's airways to constrict, making breathing difficult.
  • Emotional distress: If your cat is frightened, , or angry, it will breathe more rapidly than normal. In this case, however, the respiratory rate should return to normal once the cat calms down.
  • Exertion: A cat that is playing hard, exercising, or otherwise exerting itself will breathe more rapidly than normal. However, the respiratory rate should return to normal once the cat rests.
  • : Congestive heart failure, along with other heart diseases, can cause rapid breathing due to the heart's reduced ability to move oxygenated blood throughout the cat's body.
  • Heat: If your cat is overheated, it will breathe more rapidly than normal in an attempt to cool down.
  • Pain: Cats in pain often breathe rapidly in response to stress.
  • Pleural effusion (abnormal accumulation of fluid within the chest cavity): Fluid in the chest cavity restricts the ability of the heart and lungs to work normally, leading to an increased respiratory rate and other signs of respiratory distress.
  • Pulmonary edema (lungs filling with fluid)┬áIn this condition, the lungs are unable to effectively oxygenate the cat's blood, causing an increased rate of breathing to compensate.
  • Foreign objects lodged in windpipe or other airway obstruction: If your cat swallows a toy, chunk of food, or another foreign object that blocks the airways, it will struggle to breathe in and out.
  • : Any infection in the respiratory system, such as pneumonia, can increase the cat's respiratory rate.
  • Trauma, exposure to toxins, or injury: Trauma can lead to rapid breathing in response to the shock, or due to damage to the cat's respiratory system.
  • Tumors in the chest or throat: If a tumor is large enough to impede the normal movements of the lungs and heart, or takes up space in the cat's chest, one symptom might be rapid breathing.

Diagnosis of Rapid Breathing in Cats

If your cat is breathing quickly, think about any obvious causes and take those things out of the surroundings. Heat and emotional distress are a couple of them. Get your cat out of the heat as soon as you can and make sure they have access to water if they are panting because it is hot. If your cat's breathing rapidly returns to normal, the issue was likely a momentary reaction rather than a serious health concern. However, seek veterinarian care if fast breathing persists despite eliminating the potential reason.

During the examination, the vet will watch how your cat breathes and listen to their chest for any indications of abnormalities, such as a heart murmur or fluid in the lungs. Additionally, they will examine your cat's entire body and evaluate the color of its gums to see if oxygen is reaching its organs adequately.

Your veterinarian will most likely perform blood tests to check for underlying conditions and take X-rays and/or ultrasound to examine the lungs and heart.

Treatment of Rapid Breathing in Cats

The severity of the sickness and the diagnosis determine the best course of therapy for rapid breathing, which is a sign of an underlying medical problem. The veterinarian or veterinary technician may take your pet to the treatment area as soon as they arrive if it is having trouble breathing. This will involve inserting an IV catheter to provide emergency medications and fluids as well as supplying oxygen through a mask. The veterinarian will remove any foreign objects that are stuck in the cat's airways either manually, if that is feasible, or by an emergency surgery, if that is not possible.

Thoracentesis procedures are used to drain fluid from the chest in pleural effusion instances. This helps the patient breathe better and gives the veterinarian a fluid sample for testing. Once your cat is stable, x-rays and an echocardiography of the heart will be done to assess the size and function of the heart if heart disease is a concern.

Antibiotics, allergy medications, and anti-inflammatories will be prescribed in cases of infectious or inflammatory illnesses, or if the veterinarian suspects allergies are causing the problem.

If your cat is in respiratory distress, it is best to be as calm as possible. If traveling is stressful for your cat, your veterinarian will be able to best advise you on how to transport your cat.

Keep in mind that, in most circumstances, if you see your cat breathing rapidly, there may be an emergency. The best course of action is to get your pet examined as soon as they exhibit fast breathing. Keep a log of the specifics, such as how long the fast breathing lasted, what was going on before and after, and the date, to provide to your veterinarian if your cat experiences it. This will assist your veterinarian in identifying potential triggers and minimizing probable causes.


If your cat is having trouble breathing because of an illness, allergies, or another straightforward health condition, therapy should fix the situation. The prognosis is much more cautious if the tachypnea is brought on by cardiac disease, trauma, poisoning, or a malignancy.

Prevention of Rapid Breathing in Cats

Rapid breathing in cats may be brought on by a wide variety of factors, so it is not always something you can avoid. By getting your cat frequent veterinarian examinations, eating a balanced, nutritious food, monitoring your cat's weight, and avoiding circumstances that can stress, startle, or overheat your cat, you can help prevent health problems.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.