Breathing problems & difficulties in cats

breathing-problems-catsBreathing 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?

If your cat is having difficulty breathing you may see 

  • The belly moving as well as the chest moving with each breath
  • 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


Your vet will ask you about your cat's health, 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 xrays or ultrasound to examine the lungs and heart.

Treatment of breathing problems

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.

Please note:
Vets Now assumes no liability for the content of this page. This advice is not
a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a
guide. Please contact your local veterinary practice for advice or treatment
immediately if you are worried about your pet’s health - even if they are
closed, they will always have an out of hours service available. Find out more
about what to do in an out of hours emergency.