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Cat Panting After Playing – Why? & What Now?

If your cat is panting after playing you may be concerned, wondering why and what to do next…

Why does my cat pant after playing?

Cats can get a little exhausted from play, just like the rest of us, and mild panting is to be expected about a bout of heavy play or play when it’s a little hot inside. Cats may also pant if excited or stressed, however, so context is going to be really important in determining the cause.

If your cat is panting heavily, however, then a vet visit is a good idea. It could be an early warning sign of asthma, heartworm, allergies, or even a lung infection that you want to get a handle on quickly.

Bring your cat in for a checkup and your vet should be able to swiftly rule out any health issues with your cat’s panting.

Is it natural for your cat to pant after playing, sometimes?

Cat on bed next to its owner.

Cat on bed next to its owner.

Sometimes, yes, your cat is going to pant after a lot of play. These little creatures move quite fast, after all, not to mention the acrobatics when your cat jumps up and twists to try to catch that ball or the laser pointer that you’ve been teasing them with.

If it’s warm inside, take plenty of play breaks, and make sure that your cat has some cool water available. Provided that the panting is mild, your cat might well just be having a normal physical reaction to heavy exertion.

What is dyspnea in cats?

Cats will pant naturally to help in the regulation of their body heat, but when their breathing sounds abnormal to the point that your cat seems to have difficulty inhaling and exhaling, then your cat might be suffering from dyspnea.

Dyspnea is not a disease, but rather a collective term for respiratory distress symptoms. Signs that fall under dyspnea include the following:

  • Heavy or difficult breathing
  • Opened-mouth breathing
  • Flared nostrils
  • Discolored gums (typically pale)
  • Leaning and panting

You may also notice other symptoms, such as a decreased frequency in urination or even a ‘bedraggled’ appearance. If you see any of these symptoms, then be sure to bring your cat in to the vet right away for some testing to further investigate the issue.

What can cause a cat to pant?

There are a number of reasons why your cat might be panting and if it’s mild then it could be simple exertion. There are other scenarios, however, which can and do occur and you should be aware of them so that you can better manage these situations. Let’s take a look at the most common, which are overheating, too much excitement, and stress-related anxiety.

Too much heat

Too much heat is one of the most common, so you want to make sure that if it’s warm inside that you consider lowering the thermostat, and you should also have some cool water handy, and maybe even an icepack wrapped in a towel for a makeshift-cool ‘kitty recharge point’.

Over excited

Sometimes cats get ultra-focused in play, and panting will be a result of this. Look for your cat fixating on something with their eyes while they are panting, as this is a telltale sign of overexcitement.

At this point, the best thing to do is to distract your kitty with a treat and to let them wind-down a bit before you start up play again. Simply put, let your kitty calm down a little!

Anxiety & Stress

This is most commonly a result of being forced to play, often by children who don’t know any better. When a cat is pushed to play by poking them or forcing them to stay in one area, then this is stressful and can even lead to anxiety if it happens too much.

This can cause a cat to become distressed or antisocial, sometimes hiding under the bed in another room for hours, or simply avoiding people by darting away as soon as they see them. Some cats will even become aggressive, and if children are the cause of the stress then someone might get scratched or bitten.

If you have kids and a cat, try to supervise visits and teach your kids to give the kitty space and not to force play or force picking them up. If your cat still shows signs of stress after they’ve been given a day or two of stress, then it’s best to check with your vet for the next steps.

They may be able to give you some good tips or even some medications that can help until your kitty feels safe and happy again.

What can cause abnormal panting in cats?

Abnormal breathing and heavy panting may be signs of more serious conditions that will definitely warrant the assistance of your local vet. Let’s take a look at some possibly causes or abnormal panting in cats so that you can get an idea of what might be happening in a worse-case scenario.


Respiratory and other infections can weaken your cat’s immune system and cause difficulty in breathing. Common symptoms include lethargy, buildup up mucus in the nose, and mouth breathing. These can be quite dangerous for your cat if untreated, so if you suspect a respiratory issue then you should bring your cat to the vet right away.

Heartworm (HARD)

Heartworm-associated respiratory distress, also known as ‘hard’, is another condition that you need to be on the lookout for.

With regular deworming, this is less likely to occur, but symptoms such as weight loss, loss in appetite, and what seems like asthma attacks are all quite common with cats that have been infected by parasites such as heartworms.

While there is no ‘officially approved’ treatment for heartworm, there are medications which can help with the systems, so it’s important to get your vet involved early to have the best chances of treatment for your cat.


Panting, wheezing, and coughing occurring commonly can also be signs of feline asthma. Just as humans can have this, so can cats, but this is quite manageable with bronchodilators and steroidal treatments prescribed from your vet.

Heart problems

Heart issues are another possibility and these often manifest as a combination of respiratory symptoms, such as mouth breathing and panting, along with mobility issues such as your cat only moving small distances at a time before requiring a rest.

Treatments are available which can help to get dilate the blood vessels and get rid of excess fluids that your cat needs removed, you just need to bring in your cat so that the vet can confirm that it’s a heart problem and being treatment right away.

What should I do if my cat is panting abnormally?

With respiratory distress such as abnormal panting, it is best to simply get your cat to the vet right away for further testing. There are a number of conditions that you could be dealing with, some as simple as allergies, while it could also be a respiratory infection or even heart disease.

Your vet is better equipped to get to the bottom of the issue and can do this very quickly, as otherwise your only option is going to be consistent monitoring of your cat. As you can’t watch them 24-7, if they are having trouble breathing then you want to get vet assistance right away before it gets worse.

When should you contact a vet for cat panting?

Whenever your cat’s panting or breathing difficulties don’t go away in a few minutes, then it is time to bring in some veterinary input and assistance into the equation. This is especially true if your cat is also coughing, seems sluggish, or is relying more on mouth breathing than breathing through their nose.

These are all red flags that something health-related is afoot and you want to get a handle on this as soon as possible. So, at the very least you should call your vet right away to get their advice – odds are you will need to bring them to the vet right away if they are having trouble breathing, as this is potentially very, very serious.

What can I do to keep my cat in good health?

There are a few proactive things that you can do to help ensure that your cat is in good health. First and foremost, you want to make a deworming schedule. For kittens, they should be dewormed every 2 weeks until they are 8 weeks of age and with adult cats, every 3 months is ideal.

If your cat spends a lot of time outside and tends to get into trash and other ‘dirty’ sorts of trouble outside, then you might even consider every 2 months for deworming, but check with your vet for recommendations.

Worms are a huge contributor to cases of heart disease and respiratory distress issues so this step alone can go a long way towards keeping your cat healthy. Aside from this big first step, regular vet visits are a good idea, and also simply keeping an eye on your cat’s temperature can help.

Make sure that they have plenty of cool water and make the AC a bit colder before play so that your cat can cool down a little more quickly. Remember, they’re always wearing a fur coat, so it’s a little hotter for your cat than it is for you!

How do I know when my cat is tired of playing?

Grey cat on the floor looking crazy.

Grey cat on the floor looking crazy.

Sometimes your cat has simply had enough for one play session and you should learn to look for the signs of this to help keep your cat less stressed and to avoid a potential scratch or nip if you push for play and your cat gets really annoyed.

If your cat looks angry or seems stressed from play, then give them a little space. Cats will often simply walk away if they want to stop playing and you should respect this.

Pushing it might result in more play, but an angry cat will be stressed and more likely to bite or scratch you – it’s better to let them come to you when they want play.

How can I calm my cat from panting?

If your cat is panting, the first thing that you need to do is to take in the context to understand why they are panting. Is your cat overexerted, for instance, or do they look like they are overheating?

If it is overexertion at home, simply leaving them alone can help them to recuperate, though if you are sharing a hike outside then it might be time to put your furry friend in the open backpack for a little ride.

If your cat is panting in the car, it’s probably heat related, and some water can help them to cool down and you could also wrap up an icepack in a thin towel so that your kitty has a cool place to sit.

This works at home as well as in the car, and don’t forget the air conditioner either – a few degrees lower can make a lot of difference for your fur-coat wearing buddy.

Lindsey Browlingdon