Breathing problems and difficulties in cats

Breathing difficulties can affect cats of any breed or age, and the problem can quickly become life threatening. If your cat is having problems breathing, this can be a life-threatening emergency and it is important to have your cat seen by a vet as soon as possible.

Difficulty or laboured breathing is termed dyspnoea and excessively fast breathing is termed tachypnea.


What will I see if my cat is having breathing difficulties?

  • The belly moving as well as the chest moving with each breathimage of a cat
  • Nostrils flaring open
  • Breathing with an open mouth or panting like a dog
  • Breathing with the elbows sticking out from the body
  • Neck and head are held low and out in front of the body (extended)
  • Noisy breathing (stridor)
  • Rapid breathing rate
  • Shallow breaths
  • Coughing

Why is my cat having breathing difficulties?

There are many different reasons your cat may be struggling to breathe and these include:

  • Infection (bacterial, viral, parasitic)
  • Trauma
  • Bleeding
  • Foreign objects
  • Heart failure
  • Asthma
  • Anaemia
  • Allergies
  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Diseases that make the belly enlarged or bloated (such as enlarged liver or fluid in the belly)
  • Medications
  • Tumours
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Diagnosis and treatment

Your vet will ask you about your cat’s health, an onset of signs, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition.  During the examination, your vet will carefully observe how your cat breathes and will listen to his chest for evidence of a heart murmur or fluid in the lungs. Your cat’s gum colour will be evaluated, as this can indicate whether oxygen is being delivered to the organs effectively, or if it there is a low red blood cell count (anaemia).  If your cat is having extreme difficulty breathing, the vet or nurse may take your cat straight out to the back area to enable them to give your cat oxygen to help him breathe and settle down before doing any more examinations or tests.

Most cases will require blood tests to check for underlying disease conditions and X-rays or ultrasound to examine the lungs and heart.

Treatment will depend on the diagnosis your vet makes for your cat’s breathing problems. Most breathing problems require admittance into the hospital until your cat’s breathing has significantly improved.