Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing

Why is my cat breathing so fast?

It can be frightening to see your cat breathing fast, especially if you don't know what's going on. In this post, our Seattle vets explain the causes of fast and rapid breathing in cats and when you should call a vet. 

Heavy Breathing in Cats

When cats breathe rapidly, it is called tachypnea. A healthy respiratory (breathing) rate for a cat is usually between 20 and 30 breaths per minute.

To determine what your cat’s resting respiration rate is, count the number of breaths they take while they are resting. One breath includes inhaling (when the chest rises) and exhaling (when the chest falls). Your cat mustn’t be purring when you count their breathing rate. The sleeping rate is usually a little lower than their resting breathing rate.

Time them on your phone or a watch to count how many breaths happen in those 30 seconds. Then you’ll multiply the number of breaths you counted by two to arrive at the number of breaths your cat takes in one minute.

Why is my cat breathing so fast?

Fast breathing in cats could be a sign of various injuries or illnesses and should be assessed by your veterinarian as quickly as possible. Some potential causes of rapid breathing in cats include:

  • Heat
  • Exertion
  • Allergies
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain, stress, or shock
  • Heartworm
  • Anemia
  • Tumors in the throat or chest
  • Heart disease or heart failure
  • Asthma 
  • Respiratory infection
  • Foreign object lodged in the windpipe or other airway obstruction
  • Low oxygen levels in the blood (hypoxemia)
  • Trauma, exposure to toxins, or injury
  • Low levels of red blood cells (anemia)
  • Bleeding in lungs
  • Pleural effusion (abnormal buildup of fluid in the chest cavity)
  • Pulmonary edema (lungs filling with fluid) 

Signs Your Cat is Breathing Rapidly

If your cat is breathing quickly, you may notice several signs, including:

  • Their belly and chest are both moving with each breath
  • Loud breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Gagging
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Rapidly rising and falling stomach or chest
  • Nostrils flaring
  • Panting or breathing with an open mouth (like a dog)
  • Coughing
  • Blue-colored gums

If your cat is breathing fast but is otherwise normal, it may be due to stress, excitement, or overheating. However, if this behavior continues or is accompanied by other symptoms such as lethargy or loss of appetite, it is important to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues. 

If your cat is breathing fast and not eating, it could be a sign of a serious medical issue such as an infection or respiratory problem. It is important to take your cat to the vet as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Breathing rate is an indicator of overall health. If your cat is suddenly breathing fast while sleeping (consistently more than 30 breaths per minute), this could be an early clinical sign of heart failure. Lower rates may be no cause for concern if your pet is behaving normally otherwise.

What You Should Do If Your Cat is Breathing Fast and Shallow

If you find that your cat’s breathing is consistently fast after monitoring it for a couple of hours, call your veterinarian as quickly as possible, so they can recommend the next steps you should take. Your cat might just require an adjustment in medications.

If you see other symptoms in addition to a faster sleeping breathing rate or symptoms have become worse, this could be a medical emergency. In this situation, your vet may evaluate your cat’s medical situation during your call and will likely tell you to bring your kitty in to see them or to take them to an emergency animal hospital.

Diagnosing Cats That Are Breathing Fast

Your vet will assess the stage and severity of your cat’s rapid breathing, listen to their chest for evidence of a heart murmur, fluid in the lungs, or other causes, and check the color of your cat’s gums to identify whether the organs are receiving oxygen as they should.

Your kitty will also be stabilized with a steady supply of oxygen. Blood tests will be conducted to check for underlying illnesses or diseases, then X-rays and/or ultrasounds will be taken to examine the lungs and heart. At our Seattle animal hospital, we use in-house diagnostic tools to provide the most accurate diagnosis for medical conditions and customize treatment plans to meet the needs of your furry friend.

Treating Cats That are Breathing Rapidly

In addition to a steady supply of oxygen, an IV catheter may be placed so emergency drugs and fluids can be administered intravenously.

Of course, treatment will be determined by the underlying cause of your cat's condition. Fluid from the chest will be removed and analyzed to detect pleural effusions. If heart disease is suspected, the heart may be examined with an echocardiogram and X-rays. These can reveal the heart's size and function.

If your cat is in respiratory distress, stay as calm as possible. If your cat finds traveling stressful, your vet can provide you with some transportation tips.

If you think your cat is breathing rapidly, this can be an emergency. Always have your cat evaluated by a trained veterinarian at the first sign of rapid breathing.

If the rapid breathing resolves after a few minutes, start to record details of the duration of the episode, what was happening before and after, and the date these occurred to share with your veterinarian. These keen observations can help narrow down potential causes and define triggers.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Contact our Seattle vets immediately if your cat is breathing quickly or showing other concerning symptoms.

Looking for a vet in Seattle?

Our vets are passionate about caring for Seattle companion cats and dogs. Get in touch today to request an appointment for your pet.

Contact Us

(206) 525-6666 Contact