Panting is a behavior you usually attribute to dogs—a dog sprints around the yard or plays a long game of fetch, and suddenly he’s lying on the ground and panting to cool himself off. But when cats—arguably some of the laziest creatures around—begin panting, it’s a bit worrisome. So why do cats pant with their mouths open?
Cats may pant to cool themselves off after tiring play sessions or if they’re overheated. Some cats pant if they’re stressed or anxious about long travels, too many guests, or interactions with an unfamiliar cat. Panting can also be a sign of a severe medical issue like pneumonia or heart failure.
While a panting cat is an unusual (and rare) sight, it’s not always a cause for concern and goes away shortly. Do you know why your cat is panting like a dog? To learn about all of the possible reasons your cat may be panting, read on!
Do Cats Pant to Cool Themselves Off?
Sweating is a cat’s first line of defense when she feels overheated. It’s not usual for a cat to sweat after she takes a nap in the sun, tires herself out during a 15-minute play session, or spends her days outside in the 90°F heat. Your cat will instinctively begin to sweat if her body temperature rises above the usual 101°F. The evaporation of this sweat will cool your cat’s skin and lower her internal body temperature.
But while cats have sweat glands just like humans, there aren’t nearly as many (humans have upwards of four million), and they’re limited to only the hairless areas of your cat’s body—her chin, nose, lips, and paws—instead of head to tail.
In other words: Sweating isn’t the most effective way to cool an overheating cat.
An overheating cat may also lick herself—just like the evaporation of sweat will cool a cat down, so will her saliva’s evaporation—or relax on a cold tile floor. A cat nearing heat exhaustion or an internal body temperature of 104°F may begin to pant as a last resort. Panting allows a cat to breathe in cold air, remove the warm water from her lungs and mouth, and slowly lower her body temperature to a normal level.
Cats do pant to cool themselves down, but it’s not very common!
Is Panting a Sign of Stress in Cats?
While your cat doesn’t have to worry about paying the mortgage or getting to work on time, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel stress and anxiety just like you. And if your kitty is facing an immense amount of stress, her body’s response may be to pant.
The reason behind this panting is simple. When your cat feels stressed or anxious, her pulse and heart rate go through the roof—well past the usual 160-180 beats per minute. This increased heart rate can make your kitty feel “out of breath,” leading her to pant as a way to catch her breath and normalize her breathing. Fortunately, this panting will typically resolve itself after removing your cat from her trigger and allowing her time to calm herself.
Interestingly, what causes one cat enough stress to begin panting could be another cat’s favorite activity. Some possible events triggering stress-related panting in cats include:
- Long car rides (or being confined to a cage for too long)
- Introduction to a new, unfamiliar cat
- Too many guests inside the house (for timid cats)
- Prolonged loud noises
- A stressed human (research shows stress can rub off on dogs)
- A visit to the vet, kennel, or pet store
- New food, furniture, or litter
- Moving to a brand new home
Many times, your cat’s panting as a response to stress will begin to fade over time as she becomes accustomed to the new change. Your cat will eventually get used to the new cat in your household or the new house after some time, and this panting will stop or become less frequent as a result.
Cats don’t only pant when they’re stressed. To learn about the other crucial signs that your cat is feeling stressed, watch the video below!
Why Does a Kitten Pant?
Kittens are far more likely to pant than adult cats but for less concerning reasons. Most cases of kittens panting stem from high-energy play sessions full of immense excitement and your kitty not understanding her physical limits. She doesn’t realize that chasing the mouse toy for 15+ minutes is exhausting until she can’t catch her breath. A kitten will pant for a few moments to cool herself off before jumping right back into the play session.
However, a kitten who struggles to breathe and pants heavily without a long play session preceding this response may have trouble with her respiratory system. Bring your kitten to the vet immediately if it seems like your kitten is having trouble catching her breath without a justifiable cause—like playtime or hot weather.
Your kitten may be panting because there’s an object stuck in her throat, or she has an infection, pneumonia, or an allergic reaction.
How to Stop Your Cat From Panting
Your cat’s panting is “normal” in the sense that it’s her body’s automatic response to stress or high heats. But panting can also be a sign that your cat is facing a serious medical issue or that she’s nearing the point of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Here’s what you need to do if you notice your cat panting:
- If you’re playing with your cat, stop immediately and give her a chance to rest.
- Remove your cat from the source of stress—the loud sound, other cats, or people.
- Take your cat inside into a cool room that’s in the shade.
- Give your cat access to cold water and wipe her down with a damp washcloth.
- Bring your cat to the vet if the panting doesn’t seem to be slowing.
Most importantly, identify what triggered your cat’s panting episode and do what you can to shelter her from this trigger in the future. You don’t want to confuse your cat’s panting due to a medical condition with her panting to cool herself off in the summer—this can be a missed vet visit that costs your cat her life!
When Your Cat’s Panting Becomes Concerning
Your cat’s panting may have a very innocent explanation, but there are a few instances where it becomes concerning. It’s essential to know the difference between panting after an exhausting play session and panting because your cat has a severe case of asthma.
Take your cat to the vet if your cat’s panting is accompanied by:
- Pale gums (a possible sign of anemia, shock, or heart failure)
- Sudden onset of panting (no preceding play session or stress trigger)
- Gasping for air (your cat is visibly having trouble breathing)
- Vomiting, lethargy, weakness, or weight loss
When your cat’s panting comes with other concerning signs and symptoms, it could clue you into which medical condition your cat is facing—a respiratory infection, heart failure, heartworm, asthma, fluid build-up in the lungs, or cancer, to name a few.
When a cat pants like a dog, it can be very concerning. But this panting may be your cat’s way of cooling herself off or catching her breath when it’s sweltering outside, or you put her through a tiresome play session. In some cases, your cat is panting from stress or anxiety (like a new home or a stressful dog encounter).
Yet, there are instances where your cat’s panting is concerning. Take your cat to the vet as soon as possible if you notice that her panting is unusual and there’s no apparent cause.
- PetMD: How Do Cats Sweat?
- Temperature: Physiology of sweat gland function: The roles of sweating and sweat composition in human health
- Hill’s Pet: What’s a Normal Cat Temperature? Tips for Checking Your Cat’s Vitals
- Science Magazine: Is your stress rubbing off on your dog?
- Royal Canin: How to recognize stress in cats
- PetMD: Common Emergencies for Kittens