Why Is My Cat Panting?

CatChannel veterinary expert Arnold Plotnick, DVM, discusses reasons for panting.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM | Posted: December 18, 2009, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: My 9-month-old male altered cat will pant after lots of play or when anxious (like when being taken to the vet).  The vet said he probably had heart trouble, but this is the healthiest, most active young cat you’ve ever seen. He is never ill, rarely slows down and is very affectionate and happy. It’s hard to believe he could be ill.  Don’t cats just pant because of activity or stress? I know I’ve had others that did & they lived long lives.

Q: In Dec. 2008, we adopted two black female cats from our humane society.  They will be 1 year old in July. When they play hard for a few minutes they open-mouth pant.  They do not show signs otherwise of respiratory distress. 
I have taken them to our vet and she noted inflamed gums, thought that there could be a viral infection and started them on lysine supplements twice a day.  I have never really understood how the lysine will benefit them. What do you think? They have good appetites, are playful, active and otherwise seem healthy. I'd appreciate any insight. 
A: I received both of your letters about panting on the same day, so I thought I’d answer you both.

Labored breathing can be a sign of cardiac or pulmonary disease, but panting is different. Panting is usually just a sign of overheating or excitement, whether from playing too hard, or from stress and excitement (for example, a veterinary visit, like you said.)

The fact that your cats do this only after playing or when anxious certainly makes it sound like a case of simple panting, and not something more serious. If no heart murmur was heard on physical exam, and your cats are doing OK, I’d hold off on doing diagnostics such as chest X-rays or cardiac ultrasound for now. 

If, however, the breathing seems labored, or if the panting occurs when the cats have not exerted themselves and are totally at rest, I would have the cats evaluated by your vet. 

As for the lysine supplementation: Lysine is an amino acid that causes the feline herpesvirus to go dormant quicker.  Herpesvirus infections are common causes of upper respiratory disease in cats. I do not know why your vet prescribed the lysine for inflamed gums.  If your cat does not have signs of upper respiratory viral infection, you can probably discontinue the lysine. 

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Reader Comments

sol    san francisco, CA

9/18/2014 11:17:59 PM

My cat will not play with his toys or drink enough water. Dry food gives him UTI's but I have figured out a way around this.

I split his meals into half dry food and half wet food. I take the dry food and toss (piece by piece) it across the floor like a skipping rock and he runs after it and hunts it. I do this with each piece until it is done.

This tires him out and sometimes he starts panting. Then I take the half of the portion of reserved wet food and dilute it in a good amount of water so it looks like a broth, then I put the rest of the food in it.

My cat drinks it all, so he gets his water intake and exercise.

Be careful not to overfeed the cat. This is how I do it twice a day:

I take half of 1/4 of a cup of kibble for him to hunt

Then I take only half of a 2.9oz can of wet food, dilute half of that in water and throw in the other half. Basically it is a quarter diluted into broth and the other quarter thrown in.

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

7/9/2013 9:39:42 AM

Yes it sounds like your cat is getting overheated. British Shorthair cats have very dense, thick fur with an undercoat and might get too warm in hot climates.

You can use a strong grooming tool like a Furminator to remove some of this undercoat. This kind of brush is typically not recommended because it's so strong and can take out the undercoat, but in your case it might help ease the overheating.

Of course, the best person to offer advice is your vet. Talk to him or her to find their suggestion.

LoZLover    International

7/8/2013 11:56:32 AM

I live in an island called Cyprus where the weather is very hot. In May, I adopted a British Shorthair kitten who is very healthy. After rough play, she starts to pant and when she gets anxious. But, she sometimes starts to randomly pant & her paws get very hot too. I am very worried. Is it because she isn't drinking too much water? Plus, before you suggest anything, I have tried dampening her with a moist towel, giving her icecubes in her water, putting her under the fan, avoiding any play. Please, help me out. I'm afraid she might fall into a coma one hot afternoon and pass away. Much help appreciated, LoZLover

Hope    Campbellton, NB

1/21/2013 2:01:54 PM

thank you arnold. this is SO helpful

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