Panting is a behavior we most often associate with dogs, not cats. Although dogs of all sizes pant, it is often more common in large dogs that they pant with their tongues sticking out. By comparison, a cat sticking its tongue out and panting isn’t something we associate as much with cats. When we see a cat panting like a dog, we can think that something is wrong. Although a cat can pant due to environmental factors, there are some diseases and conditions that have panting as a symptom.
In this article we help you understand when this is normal behavior and when it could be a sign that they need veterinary help.
Normal panting in cats
If you see your cat panting like a dog, there are times when this is considered normal. Panting is dyspnea (difficulty) and excessive breathing that requires the mouth to be open. Cats breathe rapidly when they pant, usually with their tongues sticking out. Cats normally breathe through their noses, which means that normal panting is usually due to one of the following causes:
- Excitement or exercise.
- High temperatures.
- Fear or stress.
Why is my cat panting like a dog?
If your cat is panting like a dog, that is, panting a lot, it may be cause for concern. Not only can they be affected by the acute problems noted above, but it could possibly be a symptom of a certain disease. Often these illnesses are respiratory and cause shortness of breath, but not all of them do. Anemia, heart disease, hormonal imbalance, and endocrine disorders are some others.
One of the most common respiratory illnesses that cause panting in kitties is feline asthma. You may notice this first by other symptoms, such as wheezing when breathing. Asthma symptoms are due to constriction of the lower respiratory tract that makes it difficult for air to pass through. The cat will pant as a means of opening its airway.
Asthma isn’t the only respiratory disease that can cause dog-like panting. Pleural effusion is an accumulation of fluid in the space between the lung and its covering membrane, known as the ‘pleura’. This fluid can be blood (hemothorax), water (hydrothorax), or lymphatic fluid (chylothorax). It can be the result of high blood pressure, infectious peritonitis, or other causes.
Cats can suffer from various types of anemia, some of which are very serious. They reduce the hematocrit (percentage of red blood cells in the cat’s blood volume) and cause poor oxygenation of the tissues by the blood cells. Signs associated with anemia in cats are tachycardia, increased respiratory rate, panting, weakness, and pale mucous membranes.
Heart disease is another clear cause of pathological panting in cats. Among them, congestive heart failure stands out. It is often caused by a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, sometimes related to feline hyperthyroidism or restrictive cardiomyopathy.
Some drugs, foods or plants that are toxic to cats can affect the animal’s respiratory center. This affects the correct lung expansion for gas exchange and causes respiratory distress (dyspnea). Panting like a dog is the result of this distress.
Cats may also pant when the thoracic space for lung expansion is reduced by the presence of abdominal viscera in the thoracic cavity, such as occurs with a diaphragmatic hernia. In diaphragmatic hernias, there is a discontinuity of the diaphragm, a structure that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest cavity. This can cause viscera such as the stomach, spleen, liver, or intestine to enter the wrong cavity, causing gasping.
What to do if my cat is panting a lot?
When the cat has a pathological problem whose symptom is panting like a dog, the treatment will correspond to this problem. However, there are ways we can help the cat avoid panting due to various environmental and physiological factors. They include:
- Keep your cat hydrated.
- Avoid ingesting toxic substances.
- Control your weight.
- Regular appointments with the veterinarian.
We are experts in respiratory problems, so we encourage you to take your pet to the vet if he suffers from any condition or pain, whatever its origin. In case of any doubt, we are here to help you.