It's understandable to get worried if you see your cat breathing fast. Is this a veterinary emergency? Today, our Chino Hills veterinarians describe what’s considered rapid breathing, explain symptoms and potential causes, and provide insight on when to call a vet.
What Counts As Fast Breathing In Cats?
Rapid breathing (tachypnea) describes a respiratory rate above the norm. A healthy resting breathing rate for cats is between 20 to 30 breaths per minute.
To find your cat’s resting respiration rate, count the number of breaths they take while at rest (relaxed). One breath includes inhaling (rising chest) and exhaling (falling chest). It’s important that your cat not be purring when you count their breathing rate, and keep in mind that the sleeping rate is usually slightly lower than their resting breathing rate.
Time them on your phone or a watch to count how many breaths happen in that 30-second period. Then, multiply the number of breaths you counted by two to arrive at the number of breaths your cat takes each minute.
Why Is My Cat Breathing Fast?
Tachypnea in cats could be a sign of a number of injuries or illnesses and should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible. Some potential causes include:
- Emotional distress
- Heart disease or heart failure
- Pain, stress or shock
- Tumors in throat or chest
- Infection of lungs or respiratory system
- Low blood oxygen
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Fluid filling lungs
- Internal bleeding into lungs
- Foreign objects or other airway obstruction
- Trauma, exposure to toxins, or injury
- Pleural effusion (abnormal buildup of fluid in the chest cavity)
What Are The Signs Of Breathing Fast In Cats?
If your cat is breathing rapidly, you may notice several signs, including:
- Having a hard time breathing
- Belly and chest both moving with each breath
- Loud breathing
- Fatigue or lethargy
- Panting or breathing with open mouth (like a dog)
- Nostrils flaring
- Rapidly rising and falling stomach or chest
- Blue-colored gums
If your cat seems to be breathing faster than normal, look for any factors that may be contributing to the condition and remove them. For example, if your cat has been outside in the hot sun, or if emotional distress or anxiety are factors, move him to a cooler, quieter spot immediately. Ensure he has lots of water to drink.
Your cat's breathing rate is a clue to their overall health. If your cat is suddenly breathing fast while sleeping (consistently more than 30 breaths per minute), this could be an early clinical sign of a serious condition like heart failure. Lower rates may be no cause for concern providing your pet is otherwise behaving normally.
Each cat is different, though - depending on your pet's individual case, your vet could consider rates lower than 30 breaths per minute as increased and abnormal.
Your vigilant observations can help limit how ill your pet gets, reduce his or her chance of needing overnight hospital stays and help reduce costs related to the treatment of heart failure.
What Should I Do If My Cat Is Breathing Fast?
If you find that your cat’s breathing is consistently fast after keeping an eye on it for a couple of hours, contact our veterinarian as soon as possible, so they can recommend the next steps to take. Your cat may simply need an adjustment in medications.
If you see other signs along with a faster breathing rate during sleep, or worsening symptoms this may be a medical emergency. In this case, your vet may assess your cat’s medical situation during your call and will likely tell you to bring the cat to AnimERge or another hospital.
Diagnosis of Fast Breathing in Cats
Your vet will assess the stage and severity of your cat’s rapid breathing, listen to their chest for evidence of a heart murmur, fluid in the lungs or other issues, and look at the color of your cat’s gums to determine if the organs are being properly oxygenated.
Your kitty will also be stabilized provided with a steady supply of oxygen. Blood tests will be performed to check for underlying illnesses or diseases, then x-rays and/or ultrasounds will be done to examine the heart and lungs. At our hospital, we use in-house diagnostic tools to provide the most accurate diagnosis of medical conditions and customize treatment plants to the needs of your pet.
Treatment of Fast Breathing in Cats
Your cat could be provided with steady oxygen and an IV to ensure they can be administered any emergency fluids or medications can be given intravenously.
The exact treatment that your vet recommends will depend on the issues your cat is experiencing. For pleural effusion, fluid will be removed from the chest and analyzed. An echocardiogram and x-rays may be taken of the heart if heart disease is a concern. These can reveal the size of the heart and how it’s functioning.
If your cat is in respiratory distress, remain as calm as possible. If your cat finds traveling stressful, your vet can give some tips on transportation.
If you think your cat is breathing rapidly, this can be an emergency. Always have your cat evaluated by a trained veterinarian at the first sign of rapid breathing.
If the rapid breathing eases up after a few minutes, note down details of the duration of the episode, what was happening before and after, and the date these occurred to share with your veterinarian. These keen observations can help narrow down potential causes and define triggers.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.