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My cat is breathing fast. Should I be worried?

My cat is breathing fast. Should I be worried?

If your cat is breathing fast, it’s easy to panic - what could be causing this, and is it an emergency? Our Raritan, Somerset County vets describe what’s considered rapid breathing, explain symptoms and potential causes, and provide insight on when to call a vet. 

Why is my cat breathing fast?

Rapid breathing in cats is also known as tachypnea. First, let’s establish what a healthy respiratory (breathing) rate for a cat is. They’d usually take between 20 to 30 breaths per minute.

To find your cat’s resting respiration rate, count the number of breaths he or she takes while resting. One breath includes inhaling (when the chest rises) and exhaling (when the chest falls). It’s important that your cat not be purring when you count their breathing rate. The sleeping rate is usually a little 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 you’ll multiply the number of breaths you counted by two to arrive at the number of breaths your cat takes in one minute.  

Causes of Fast Breathing in Cats

Fast breathing in cats may indicate a number of injuries or illnesses and should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible. Some potential causes include:

  • Emotional distress
  • Allergies
  • Exertion
  • Anemia
  • Heart disease or heart failure
  • Pain, stress or shock
  • Heat
  • Heartworm
  • Tumors in throat or chest
  • Respiratory infection
  • Low oxygen levels in the blood (hypoxemia)
  • Low levels of red blood cells (anemia)
  • Asthma
  • Pulmonary edema (lungs filling with fluid)
  • Bleeding into lungs
  • Foreign objects lodged in windpipe or other airway obstruction
  • Trauma, exposure to toxins, or injury
  • Pleural effusion (abnormal buildup of fluid in the chest cavity)

Signs of Fast Breathing in Cats

If your cat is breathing rapidly, you may notice several signs, including:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Belly and chest are both moving with each breath
  • Loud breathing
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Gagging
  • Coughing
  • 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.

Breathing rate is an indicator of 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 heart-failure. Lower rates may be no cause for concern providing your pet is otherwise behaving normally.

Also note that for some cats, your vet may consider rates lower than 30 breaths per minute as increased and abnormal - the right breathing rate for your cat should be assessed on an individual basis.

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 to Do If Your 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 symptoms along with faster sleeping breathing rate or symptoms have become worse, 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 cause, and check the color of your cat’s gums to identify whether the organs are receiving oxygen as they should.

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

Along with the steady supply of oxygen, an IV catheter may be placed so emergency drugs and fluids can be administered intravenously.

Of course, treatment 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 resolves after a few minutes, start to record details of the duration of the episode, what was happening before and after, and 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.

If your cat is breathing fast or is displaying other concerning symptoms, contact our Somerset County emergency veterinary hospital right away.

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