If you’ve ever taken your feline to the vet, you have probably noticed some strange behavior. Stress and anxiety is totally normal in such a scenario. But why do cats pant in the car?
If you’ve noticed your cat panting more often than usual, it make be time to consider a trip to the vet. Prolonged panting over the course of days and weeks could be caused by an underlying health issue. But we’ll talk more about that later. First, lets look at the common explanations as to why your cat is panting.
Why Cats Pant in the Car
When trying to determine the cause of your cat panting, the first thing to consider is the temperature of their environment. Heavy breathing can be simply explained by your cat being too hot. If your cat is hyperventilating in the car, crank up the air conditioning to make her more comfortable. Additionally, make sure your cat carrier is out of the sun. Covering the carrier with a blanket or towel will also help keep your feline cool.
While cats are attracted to warmth- like a radiator- too much heat can cause discomfort and thus lead to panting. Usually cats don’t have issues regulating their own body temperature by finding cold spots in your house. But if they’re stuck in their carrier in the car that makes things a bit more difficult.
Also, if you’re planning a long distance trip with your cat, make sure you have plenty of cool water.
As a general rule, cats hate car rides. As with everything, there are exceptions to the rule, but it’s fair to say most cats dislike travel in general. There are different reasons for this, but a lot it has to do with their ancestry. Cats were not domesticated in the same way dogs were.
In fact, a study of cat DNA has shown that even to this day domestic cats are nearly identical to their wild counterparts. And it’s pretty hard to imagine ANY wild animal enjoying a car ride, isn’t it?
On top of their genome, the reason why cats pant in the car is because they are creatures of habit. Just like wild cats, domestic felines thrive on routine. Any wrench thrown into that routine is going to cause some stress.
A panting cat is not nearly as common as a panting dog. So, understandably, cat parents may get a bit nervous the first time it happens.
When your cat is anxious their heart rate shoots up. When traveling, this anxiety is brought on by the sudden change of environment. That’s because most cats hate change and don’t often leave the house, so anything outside it is alien and unnerving.
If you want to reduce your cats anxiety in the car, bring on the change slowly. For the best way to do this, check out one of our previous posts on how to calm down a cat in the car.
Just like canines, felines may start to pant after they’ve overexerted themselves. So it is perfectly OK for your cat to pant after playing for a while. All you have to do here is make sure their water bowl is full and give them time to cool off. Make sure the temperature isn’t too hot and find your cat a cool place to chill out.
Here’s an example of normal panting after a long playtime:
When Panting is Not Normal
The reasons above are the normal explanations why your cat is panting in the car. But maybe you’ve noticed excess panting outside these explanations. Or that after playtime your furball seems to pant way longer than normal. Well, the cause of this may be an underlying medical issue you need to address.
“Panting has been shown to be associated with an underlying cardiovascular disease with panting being the cat equivalent of shortness of breath,” says Dr. Danel Grimmett, DVM, a veterinarian with Sunset Veterinary Clinic in Oklahoma. “Even in a young kitten, panting can be a sign of problems like an underlying congenital heart problem.”
Older cats who pant may be suffering from congestive heart failure, normally as a result of heart disease. Conversely, excessive panting in middle aged and younger cats is often associated with some respiratory disorder.
Regardless of your cat’s age, it’s important to stay vigilant and consult your vet if you notice anything abnormal.
Causes of Abnormal Cat Panting
Congestive heart failure
Congestive heart failure occurs when a cat’s lungs fill up with fluid and their heart can’t pump enough blood to the body. Things such as thyroid disease, birth defects, high blood pressure and various other conditions can cause congestive heart failure. However, the most common cause is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
It you notice panting, coughing, wheezing or an increased respiratory rate, than you cat may have asthma. Asthma occurs when particles are inhaled that cause an allergic reaction. Luckily, only about 1 to 5% of cats are affected. The medications bronchodilators and corticosteroids are used as effective treatments.
Another explanation for why your cat is panting could be respiratory infection. As you may have guessed, these types of infections make it difficult for your cat to breathe. In addition to panting, sneezing, conjunctives, and nasal congestion are common symptoms.
Also called feline upper respiratory infection (URI), the infection can be caused by one or more viral and bacterial agents that are capable of causing disease in cats. Uncomplicated infections of this nature typically last for 7-21 days, depending on the disease agent.
Dogs are more likely to get heartworm disease, but it’s not uncommon in cats. It also infects cats differently than canines. The disease is caused by an infestation of a parasitic organism; the severity of which depends on the duration of the infestation, how many worms are present and how the feline’s body responds. As with asthma, corticosteroids are a common treatment to reduce inflammation.
To recap: stress, overheating, anxiety or exercise are all common reasons why cats pant in the car. If you’re having trouble traveling with your anxious feline than you may want to consider medicine that keeps cats calm while traveling.
Remember that wheezing, open mouth breathing, increased respiratory rate or labored breathing are other signs that your cat is having difficulty breathing. Regardless of the reason, talk to your vet for advice about the need for evaluation or treatment. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your furry friend’s health.