Why Do Cats Pant?

A grey tabby cat with mouth open to illustrate why cats pant

Cats like to think of themselves as refined and sophisticated. They don't go around panting and slobbering. Or do they? Many cat owners are surprised to learn that their cats do pant.

So Why Do Cats Pant?

Scientists, experts and veterinarians who have studied the question say the reasons cats pant vary from too much activity, to stress to medical issues. They all agree it is natural for cats to pant. So this blog provides exact answers to the question of why cats pant.

Cats Pant When They Overheat

Orange cat that is panting

Cats’ style tends to be more discreet and self-contained. So, it can be harder to determine why a cat is panting.

The panting behavior in cats may look similar to dogs, but the reasons for it can be very different from a dog and range from harmless to something that requires an emergency trip to the vet.

Just like dogs, cats can overheat. Humans have pores all over our bodies that let us sweat out body heat to keep us at a safe internal temperature. As PetMd points out, cats don’t have that same system. They do sweat, but they only have tiny sweat glands on their paw pads and between their toes. So if it’s really hot, those small sweat glands aren't sufficient to regulate their body temperature.

If you've ever wondered why cats pant in the car, the answer could be because of the heat. Cars with the windows up can get very hot in the summer and be a challenge for cats. Cars can also trigger stress in cats. And stress can lead to panting.

Of course, our feline friends are clever, and will seek shade and cool surfaces. But it those aren't enough to lower their temperature, cats will pant to cool down. You can help by giving your cat water and moving them to a more appropriate location.

You might also want to watch for warning signs, such as restlessness, lethargy, rapid heart rate, nausea, refusing food or drink or stumbling. Those could be symptoms of a heatstroke, heat exhaustion or dehydration. Those are often conditions requiring attention from a veterinarian.

Overheating is something that most animals have to deal with and each have adapted unique methods to manage.

Horses, for example, are very much like humans. They have sweat glands around their body and will actually sweat when they are hot just like their human companions. Elephants and jackrabbits also have a unique way of dealing with the heat. Heat radiates out of the ears of elephants and jackrabbits, so both hold their ears away from their bodies when they are hot to allow that heat to escape.

Other animals go into a very deep sleep-like state called dormancy during hot weather to avoid overheating. Other animals burrow deep into the cool ground. And some animals will even take a dip in nice cool water, just like people.

But panting remains one way that cats and dogs, as well as other animals, such as, birds try to cool off.

So if you see your cat panting, there is a chance that they need to get out of the heat and cool down for a while.

Cats Pant During Active Play

Gray cat panting while playing

Almost all cats like to play. It’s natural, keeps their mind stimulated and for kittens it's a way to learn about the world. And we humans, of course, love to play with cats. It’s a great way to bond with them and tire them out so they don’t wake us up at night. There really is no downside to playing with your cat.

But, very vigorous play, particularly in kittens, can sometimes trigger a panting response. A cat can get overly excited, and they will pant as they calm down. If that happens, Daily Paws recommends a break. That would be time for a nice, calm rest to let your cat’s system relax and reset. The panting should stop soon after.

A little bit of panting with their mouth open after play isn’t a reason not to play with your cat. But it is something that can indicate it might be time for a little rest.

As with all behaviors displayed by cats, you’ll want to keep an eye out for behaviors or reactions that are excessive or out of the norm for your cat. But generally speaking, a little excitement isn’t a bad thing.

Cats Pant When They Are Stressed
A cat showing stress by panting

No one likes to be stressed out. Life is full of stressors for humans. Cat owners like to make things as stress free for our cats as we can, but we can't control everything.

A new cat in the neighborhood, a squirrel that sits just outside the window or even a new pet in the home can trigger stress in our cats. As Trudell Animal Health points out, sometimes rescue cats who have experienced abusive environments can be particularly stressed as they transition to a new home.

Studies have shown that stress can also be a reason why cats pant. Luckily, in most cases there is a simple solution. Simply remove your cat from whatever it is that’s causing them stress. Place them somewhere quiet, familiar and away from whatever is triggering their stress.

Orange tabby cat inside Kitty Jungle Cardboard Cat House
Cat Box Classics new cat-safe and eco-friendly Cardboard Cat Houses provide the perfect environment for your cat to take a little break and to feel safe and secure. Our cat houses include scratching pads and scratching is one way cats relieve stress.


However, if the panting doesn’t stop when the stressful element is removed, it might be a good idea to consult a veterinarian. This is particularly true if the stress-related panting is also accompanied by other indicators of stress and anxiety, such as overgrooming, hissing, hiding or urination outside their litter box.

Cats Sometimes Pant as a Result of Medical Conditions

Panting in cats can also indicate medical conditions, such as cardiovascular or respiratory problems, including asthma. Panting can also indicate chronic pain in your cat. Other conditions which can be indicated by panting, according to the Animal Emergency Center of Memphis, include abdominal enlargement, trauma, neurological disorders, heartworm disease and anemia.

In cats with congestive heart failure, panting can also increase in frequency as that disease progresses. According to the Veterinary Emergency Group, heart failure in cats can also be related to heartworm. So this is something you’ll definitely want to pay attention to.

Veterinary professions also note that panting can indicate an object that is partially blocking your cat’s throat and ability to breathe. If they have inhaled or ingested something that is caught in the throat but still allows them to breathe, panting can indicate that they are having a difficult time getting enough air.

Asthma in cats, like humans, can also make it difficult to breathe. Similar to an obstruction, cats with asthma who are able to breathe a little bit but are having difficulty because of inflammation in the lungs may also pant as a result.

It is recommended to consult a vet promptly for all of these conditions.

Of course, it doesn’t mean you should suspect a serious illness immediately. But if your fur baby is panting and there’s no obvious explanation, such as lots of play or being in a hot room, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Cats Sometimes Pant When They're In Pain

Cat with possible medical issues panting

All animals feel pain and different animals have unique ways of showing it. For example, when rabbits are in pain, their eyes will often narrow, their ears will be pushed back and their whiskers will stiffen. According to National Geographic, scientists have even developed a “grimaces scale” to measure pain in horses, mice, rabbits and other animals.

The trouble with cats in pain is that they often seek to hide it. The good news is their behavior often changes when they're in pain. They might meow loudly even though they don’t normally do so, show mood changes, hide, refuse to eat or lick a certain spot excessively.

And one of the behavior changes shown in cats when they are in pain can be open-mouth panting. You want to pay particularly close attention when sudden, unexplained or consistent panting accompanies other signs of pain in cats. Other ongoing signs of pain in cats can include sudden and unexplained lethargy, a reduction in appetite, suddenly becoming sensitive to touch on parts of their body they previously enjoyed being petted and decreased interest in normally fun activities, such as playing or exploring.

Watch your beloved feline, and if there’s sudden panting or panting that doesn’t stop, plus other unusual behavior, call the vet, just in case.


Cats sleeping after relaxing and stopping panting

As you can see, the answer to why cats pant is complex. Cats pant for a variety of reasons. They don’t all indicate a significant problem or medical issue. Sometimes it can just mean your cat needs a little break to rest, calm and cool down. But excessive panting is something that can be concerning.

We all know our cats well. So just keep an eye out for panting and be sure to take appropriate action.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it rare for cats to pant?

Panting is more rare in cats than dogs. But cats do pant. They will pant when they are overheated or stressed. The panting should stop if you let them cool down or eliminate the stress that triggered the panting. But always monitor and see a veterinarian if the panting doesn't resolve.

Do cats pant from stress?

Yes, cats pant from stress. Some experts say that cats pant more from stress than from heat. But you should always be conscious of both factors. If you eliminate what is causing stress in your cat, the panting should stop.

Do cats pant when hot?

Yes, cats sometimes pant when they are too hot. Panting in response to overheating is much more common in dogs, but it is also a way some cats respond to too much heat. If you see this behavior, it might be a good idea to give your cat a break from the heat and put them in a cooler environment.

Is it normal for cats to pant?

Yes, it is normal for cats to pant. Panting is more often associated with dogs. And dogs and other animals do pant more than cats. But there are circumstances in which panting helps a cat calm themselves or cool down. And it is normal for them to do so.