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Why Do Cats Pant?

A grey tabby cat with mouth open as if they are about to pant

(This blog is for entertainment purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice. If you have concerns about the medical or emotional well-being of your cat you are advised to consult a verteranarian.) 

Everyone knows dogs pant more than cats. Take your dog to the dog park, throw them the ball and next thing you know their tongues are hanging out the side of their mouth and they're happily looking up at you panting away. It simply means they are warmed up and are panting to cool down.

But what about cats? Why do cats pant? And is it normal for cats to pant? According to scientists and cat experts who have studied the topic, it is far more unusual to see a cat pant but it is normal. Cats’ style tends to be a bit more discreet and self-contained. So, it can be harder to determine why a cat is panting.

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

In this blog, we’ll take a look at the best available information to explain the multiple and complex reasons why your cat pants.

There are five common reasons.

Cats Pant When They Overheat

Cat with big eyes panting

Just like dogs, cats can overheat, too. 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 little sweat glands on their paw pads and between their toes, so if it’s really hot, that’s simply not enough to help them regulate their body temperature.

Of course, our feline friends are clever, and will seek shelter and shade and cool surfaces, but if that fails or if it’s insufficient, they will pant to cool down. You can help your cat by giving them water and moving them to a more appropriate location.

Just in case, you might also want to watch for signs of trouble: restlessness, lethargy, rapid heart rate, nausea, refusing food or drink or stumbling. Those could be symptoms of a heatstroke, heat exhaustion, or dehydration, and if that happens, a veterinarian should examine your cat.

Overheating is something that most animals have to deal with and 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 while others will 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, it keeps their mind stimulated and for kittens it is a way to learn about the world. And we humans, of course, also 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. It would 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 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 bit of a break in that play session.

As with all indicators and behaviors displayed by cats, you’ll want to keep an eye out for behaviors or reactions that are either 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. But as any cat companion knows we like to make life as stress-free for our feline friends as we can. But we can’t control everything.

A new cat in the neighborhood, a squirrel that keeps sitting just outside the window or maybe even a new pet introduced into the home, can all trigger stress in our cats. As Trudell Animal Health points out, sometimes rescue cats who have experienced abusive environments in the past are nervous and also need calming during the transition to your and their new home.

Studies have shown that stress can also be a reason why cats pant. Luckily, in most cases there is a simple solution, which is to simply remove your cat from whatever it is that’s causing them stress. Place them somewhere quiet, familiar and away from the noisy intruders, for example.

Orange tabby cat inside Kitty Jungle Cardboard Cat House
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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 in cats, such as overgrooming, hissing, hiding or urination outside of the litter box.

Cats Sometimes Pant as a Result of Medical Issues

Panting in cats can also indicate various 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 continues to progress. According to the Veterinary Emergency Group, heart failure in cats can even be related to heartworm. So this is something you’ll definitely want to pay attention to. .

These veteran professionals 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 like lots of play or being in a hot room, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Cats Sometimes Pant When They Are 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 “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 does change when they are 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 also 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 with 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.

Conclusion

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 and love our cats well. So just keep an eye out for panting and take the action the panting and the cat seem to indicate it wants and needs.

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 overheated or stressed. If you let them cool down and or eleminate the stress then they should stop panting. But always monitor and see vet if the panting doesn't resolve.

Do cats pant from stress?

Yes, cats do 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 their are circumstances in which panting helps a cat calm themselves or cool down. And it is normal for them to do so.

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