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Do rabbits breathe fast when scared?

Why Is My Cat Panting?

You’ve probably seen a dog panting at some point, but what about cats?

The first thing to remember is that cats are not small dogs, so the same behaviors can mean different things in a cat versus a dog. It is important to be aware of some of these differences so you can help take good care of your cat and recognize when there is a medical emergency.

Cat panting is one of those differences, so it’s important to watch for in your cat. Here’s what you need to know about cat panting.

Is Cat Panting Normal?

Heat exchange in cats is not the same as humans. Cats do not sweat through their pores that are all over their bodies. Instead, they experience minor sweating through the pads on the bottom of their paws.

However, cats need to pant to release heat from their bodies because they can’t sweat enough. That being said, it is not that common to see a cat walking around panting like a dog.

Why Do Cats Pant?

Cats can pant for a variety of reasons. Here’s why cats pant and what to look for.

Cats Pant to Release Heat

Cats need to pant to regulate their body temperature by releasing heat. Cats have tiny sweat glands on their paw pads and between their toes. However, their paws are small; they cannot regulate their whole body temperature just through that small surface area.

So, if they are really hot, cats need to pant to get rid of excess heat via evaporation. This is not something you will commonly see a cat do, though. They are built for adapting to being in outdoor climates and seek shade and shelter to prevent themselves from overheating in the sun.

Contact your vet if you suspect that your cat is panting from being overheated.

Cats Pant When They Are Stressed

More commonly than heat panting, you will see a cat pant out of stress. This is an important sign to watch for so you can take action to remove your cat from the stressful situation. Most cats are not the biggest fans of being in carriers or traveling, so that may be a scenario where it’s common to see cats panting if they are stressed.

What Should You Do If Your Cat Is Panting in a Car?

Get your cat out of the car as soon as possible if they are panting. If your cat is drooling excessively or seems weak, get them in to see the veterinarian as soon as possible.

The most important way you can help your cat if they are stressed in the car is to keep them as cool as possible and try to reduce their stress.

Often, a trip to the vet’s office is the only time a cat rides in the car. If your cat is panting and struggling, call your vet on the way to ask them to help you get into a quiet room ASAP to help your cat calm down quickly.

Planning ahead is the best way to keep your cat comfortable and safe. Some cats do well with a pheromone spray, a natural calming treat, or prescription calming medication before a car ride.

Open the windows or turn on the air conditioning before placing your cat and their carrier in the car. Position the front of the carrier near the air conditioning vents to make sure the cat is feeling some cooling airflow.

Cat Panting Can Be a Sign of a Heart Issue

Cats can have underlying heart issues, even at a young age. Cardiomyopathy (a structural disease of the heart muscle) is a common condition that can be genetic in cats and is more common in certain breeds.

According to the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, the cat breeds that have been shown to be more genetically prone to cardiomyopathy include:

Kittens can be born with the condition and develop symptoms at some point in their lives. Senior cats can be more prone to developing heart problems as they age, especially secondary to hyperthyroidism.

If your cat is panting, especially if they are a senior cat, talk to your vet about possible heart issues.

Cat Panting Can Be Caused by Respiratory Diseases

Cats can also develop respiratory diseases in the upper respiratory tract where the nasal cavity is the issue. Common causes of this are viral infections (including the herpes virus, which is one of the things we vaccinate for), and nasal polyps and tumors (more common in older cats).

If a cat’s nose is congested or has a blockage, they may need to breathe out of their mouth. This is not a natural thing for cats, so it can be distressing to them.

Cats also can suffer from asthma. Asthma in cats can be caused by heartworm disease or by inflammation and allergies. If their airways are constricted and they are not getting enough oxygen, they may need to do open-mouth breathing to try to get enough air into their lungs.

Cats can also develop infection in the lung or fluid in the lung. This can restrict their ability to breathe, and they may have to open their mouth to suck air in. It’s not comfortable for a cat to be in this position; it’s considered respiratory distress.

If you think that your cat could be in respiratory distress, contact your vet immediately.

Cats Can Pant From Overexertion

Cats can start panting during play if they are exerting themselves. This is much more common in kittens. If you see your cat or kitten panting, encourage them to calm down and stop playing.

If they are wrestling with or running around with another pet, try to separate them calmly. Pet them or leave them alone to catch their breath. If they are perky and calm down within a couple of minutes and there is no more panting, then it’s okay to just monitor them when they play vigorously.

If they do not stop panting after several minutes or are staggering or weak, seek medical attention for your cat.

When Is Cat Panting an Emergency?

Cat panting can turn into an emergency if your cat is struggling to breathe or not getting enough oxygen. If your cat’s tongue ever turns a blue or purple, this is a dire emergency.

Watch the sides of your cat’s belly to see how fast they are pushing air into their lungs. If they are lying down, not wanting to move around a lot, and forcing the air by moving their belly muscles in and out at a rate of more than 40 breaths per minute, this is a sign of respiratory distress.

If panting continues for more than 5 minutes after the stressful event is over, seek veterinary attention.

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My dog is scared of fireworks, what do I do?

There is no escaping fireworks at certain times of year. They are an integral part of Bonfire Night and New Years Eve, and are becoming increasingly popular at smaller celebrations like birthdays.

But while we might enjoy watching the colours fill the night sky, our dogs are often left terrified by the seemingly never-ending booms and flashes. Many dog owners know that this can be a very stressful time for their pets and their priority is keeping them safe and calm during fireworks.

If you’re worried about how fireworks affect your dog you can video chat with our vets every day between 8am and 11pm for some advice and peace of mind. Find out more about our video vet service and how to book an online consultation here.

Why are dogs scared of fireworks?

Dogs and fireworks generally don’t mix. While some don’t appear to be fazed by fireworks, it’s natural for dogs to be afraid of the loud bangs. After all, we humans know where these booming, unpredictable sounds are coming from but our four-legged friends don’t understand. Fear and anxiety are natural reactions to something that could be seen as a threat to their survival.

Want to video chat with our vet?

Book an appointment to talk through your concerns.

Why are dogs and fireworks such a dangerous combination?

Some dogs get so scared of fireworks they run off, and every year our emergency vets see hundreds of pets who have been involved in road traffic accidents after being spooked by loud bangs. Thousands more need medication for stress and dog anxiety attacks as a result of fireworks.

If your dog becomes afraid during fireworks and ends up hurting themselves, make sure to contact your vet immediately. If it is out-of-hours and your vet is closed, find your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic.

How do I know if my dog is scared of fireworks?

Signs that your dog is scared of fireworks can include shaking, pacing up and down or panting heavily. They may also bark more than normal, tremble, hide or drool. Other signs of distress include destructiveness and soiling unexpectedly.

However, keep in mind that even if your dog isn’t shaking or whimpering, this doesn’t mean they aren’t distressed, they may express their anxiety in a different way.

Why do dogs bark at fireworks?

Barking at fireworks might seem like a strange reaction for your dog to have but barking is a natural expression of fear or anxiety.

Dog staring at fireworks for Vets Now article on dangers of fireworks to pets

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How can I help prepare my dog for fireworks?

Before the fireworks begin, you should:

  • Take your dog for his usual walk before the fireworks are set off and ensure he’s kept on a lead at all times as the noise of fireworks may cause him to bolt
  • Feed him a good meal well before the fireworks are due to start
  • Ensure your pet is wearing ID so that if he does run away there’s a greater chance of him being returned to you
  • Ensure your dog is microchipped and wears a collar and tag – these are both legal requirements
  • Get your dog used to loud noises. You can do this using sound therapy, which gradually exposes your dog to noises over time. There are many products available, including free sound-based treatment programmes from Dog’s Trust.

Don’ts when dealing with fireworks and dogs

Regardless of your dog’s reaction to fireworks, you should NEVER do any of the following:

  • Tie your dog up outside if fireworks are being set off
  • Let them off the lead near a fireworks display
  • Leave your dog alone if he’s suffering from firework anxiety – just like us, our pets seek comfort in numbers, so your presence will help reassure him
  • Shout at your dog if he’s destructive as a result of distress – this will only upset him more

My dog is terrified of fireworks, what can I do?

If you’re really concerned about your dog’s fear of fireworks, it’s worth chatting with a vet to see what options are available. You can book an online video consult with our vets to talk through your concerns from the comfort of your home. Learn more about our video vet service here.

You may also want to rule out other conditions that might be causing their behaviour, such as poisoning, brain or thyroid disease.

If your dog has been injured or you think their condition might be life-threatening, contact your vet or for emergency out-of-hours treatment, find your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic.

What can I give my dog for fireworks anxiety?

There are medications that your vet can give to dogs to help with anxiety, although these are generally only prescribed as a last resort. Speak to your vet in advance and they will be able to discuss the best options for your pet.

There are also over-the-counter products, such as calming collars and plugins, which claim to send calming messages to help your dog feel calm during periods of high stress or anxiety.

Studies have shown that “thundershirts”, or pressure vests, may have a calming effect by providing consistent pressure on your dog’s core.

Image of two dogs watching fireworks for Vets Now page on fireworks and pets

Can I take my dog to a fireworks display?

You should never take your dog to a fireworks display or walk your dog while fireworks are being set off. Just because a dog isn’t showing signs of firework anxiety doesn’t mean they aren’t quietly terrified of the loud, unfamiliar and potentially dangerous situation they have been put in.

The law and fireworks

It’s illegal to buy “adult” fireworks if you’re under 18, set off fireworks between 11pm and 7am, except on bonfire night, when the cut off is midnight, and New Year’s Eve, Diwali and Chinese New Year, when the cut off is 1am. It’s also against the law to set off or throw fireworks, including sparklers, in the street or other public places.

Read how our senior vets are calling for a ban on the widespread sale of fireworks.

When are fireworks on sale?

You can only buy fireworks, including sparklers, from registered sellers for private use between October 15 and November 10, December 26 and 31, and three days before Diwali and Chinese New Year.

At all other times, you can only buy fireworks from licensed shops. Check with your council to find out about any local rules for setting off fireworks and remember, you can be fined up to £5,000 and imprisoned for up to six months for selling or using fireworks illegally. You could also get an on-the-spot fine of £90.

About the Author

Vets Now Team Member

Our emergency vets, vet nurses and support staff are all encouraged to provide insightful, evidence-based advice and content for our website. This article is one of many written by a member of our frontline team.

About the Article

First Published 11th October 2019 Last Updated 17th February 2022

Vets Now assumes no liability for the content of this page. This advice is not a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a guide. Please contact your local veterinary practice for advice or treatment immediately if you are worried about your pet’s health — even if they are closed, they will always have an out-of-hours service available. Find out more about what to do in an emergency.

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