Why Is My Cat Wheezing?

Wheezing and breathing heavy on a regular basis by your cat could indicate a health concern.

Why Is My Cat Wheezing?

Get more information about the possible causes and treatments of feline breathing problems.

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Hearing your cat or kitten wheezing when they breathe can be distressing for both you and your cat. If you notice your cat is wheezing and breathing heavy on a regular basis, it’s important to take note—it could indicate a health concern that needs to be addressed.

Keep reading to learn why your cat could be wheezing, what causes a cat to wheeze, what to do if your cat is wheezing, and available treatments.

What Does Wheezing In Cats Sound Like?

Wheezing differs from a coughing or choking sound, and can look different as well.

Wheezing in cats sounds similar to wheezing in humans or similar to just before your cat coughs up a hairball. It usually sounds like a huffing or whistling noise as they inhale or exhale or a slight rattling of the breath. Heavy breathing could also be involved depending on the cause of the wheeze.

In terms of posture, your cat may hunch their shoulders and stretch their neck to help elongate their airways.

What Causes A Cat To Wheeze?

What is causing your cat to wheeze can range from mild irritation of the airways from allergies or dust they inhaled to serious, sometimes life-threatening, infections or blockages.

Some common causes that can result in your cat wheezing include:

1. Asthma

Asthma is a surprisingly common condition in felines and other mammals and can be the cause of wheezing in your cat or kitten.1 Prolonged wheezing could mean that they’re having an asthma attack, so keep a close eye on them to see if it’s severe enough that they need medical intervention.

Read our resource on cat asthma to learn more, including the symptoms, causes, and treatment.

2. Hairballs

Wheezing sounds can also be a result of your cat trying to cough out built up hair that has made its way into their stomach. The wheezing sound can come when the hairball is on its way out of the esophagus. Your cat or kitten will often make wheezing, retching, or gagging noises as well until the hairball is finally expelled.2

If you notice your cat keeps wheezing and no hairball is being produced, it could be a sign of a more serious issue, including a respiratory issue like asthma.

3. Allergies

Just like humans, your cat or kitten can suffer from allergies. Pollen, mold, even cigarette smoke can irritate your kitty’s airways causing wheezing among other symptoms. 3

Pay attention to what’s happening around your cat or kitten when a wheezing fit happens to help determine what they may be allergic to and effectively consult with your veterinarian about potential causes of the wheezing.

4. Foreign Objects

An object being stuck in your cat or kitten’s respiratory system can cause them to wheeze due to reduced airflow around the object.4 The severity of the wheezing depends on the severity of the blockage.

If you suspect your cat has a blockage causing breathing issues, take them to the vet immediately.

5. Stress

Cats can feel stress just like humans, and can experience breathing issues like wheezing linked to their current situation and/or mental state. Every cat has different triggers so it’s important to be aware of environments and activity around your cat that could potentially be triggering stress-related wheezing.

Unfamiliar guests, being in an unfamiliar place, loud and active children, and even sudden noises can trigger a stress response in your cat or kitten like panting or wheezing 1.

6. Respiratory Infections

If your can has developed an upper respiratory infection (also known as cat flu), they may experience similar symptoms to the human cold. Cats and kittens can develop conditions like pneumonia and the most common symptoms are coughing, wheezing, and other signs of respiratory distress.5

7. Heartworms

Heartworms are tiny parasites that make their home in the blood vessels of the lungs and heart. These creatures cause a condition called Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD) that can cause your cat to wheeze or cough.6

HARD is a serious health concern and can progressively get worse over time, so watch for behaviours like lethargy, lack of appetite, wheezing, or coughing and consult your veterinarian.

When Should You Be Concerned About Your Cat’s Wheezing?

Wheezing can be caused by a number of different issues, some less concerning than others. To ensure you’re taking the precautions necessary to keep your cat healthy, pay attention to why your cat is wheezing or note other symptoms. Seek your vet out immediately if you notice the following symptoms:

 A cat experiencing difficulty breathing which could show as wheezing.

 

  • Coughing or choking sounds accompany the wheezing
  • There is no hairball expelled and your cat continues to wheeze
  • Mild wheezing continues for a longer period of time
  • Wheezing becomes more severe over a shorter period of time
  • Lethargy, not eating or drinking 7
  • Blue tint to the gums 8
  • Heavy or rapid breathing 5

 

What To Do If Your Cat Is Wheezing

If your cat is continually wheezing or exhibiting any of the accompanying symptoms above, it’s important you consult with your veterinarian. The severity of the wheezing will determine whether it will be a scheduled check up or an emergency visit. If other sounds and symptoms accompany the wheezing or your cat has an underlying health condition, call your vet right away.

If the wheezing continues or worsens, contact your vet immediately as there could be an underlying health concern.

Do not brush wheezing off as unimportant as there are many serious health conditions that can cause wheezing. If you’re ever unsure, always check with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Treatment For A Wheezing Cat

Since wheezing can be caused by many things, it’s important to work with your vet to determine the cause so an appropriate treatment plan can be made.

While diagnosing your cat or kitten, your vet will ask you a series of questions and conduct a physical exam to rule out allergies, foreign objects, and hairballs. Once those are ruled out, they will move on to chronic or infection-related conditions to determine how best to treat your cat.

Depending on the underlying cause, treatment may range from medication to lifestyle changes.

This may include:

  • Asthma inhalers or other medications
  • Allergy medication
  • Surgery in the case of respiratory blockage
  • Treatment for aspiration or infectious pneumonia
  • Preventative grooming to reduce hairballs

If you suspect the wheezing is from stress, remove your cat or kitten from the cause and give them plenty of affection until they calm down or let them hide and calm down themselves depending on your cat’s personality. If they’re a hider, make sure to check on them frequently to make sure they are alright.

Treating Cat Asthma & Respiratory Infections

Feline asthma is relatively common, with many treatments for cat asthma available. Most respiratory infections can be treated with antibiotic inhalers but some infections may need more aggressive intervention depending on the severity and progression of the infection. The key is to catch respiratory conditions early so they don’t endanger your cat’s health further and get progressively worse beyond treatment. As always, work with your veterinarian to determine the cause and best treatment for your feline friend.

Learn more about cat asthma treatment options, including different medications available, their efficacy, and potential side effects.

 

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1 “Cat Panting: Why It Happens and What to Do About It” PetMD. Accessed March 19, 2020 (https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/cat-panting-why-it-happens-and…)

2 “A Hairy Dilemma” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Accessed March 19, 2020 (https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-…)

3 “Allergies in Cats: Symptoms and Triggers” WebMD. Accessed March 19, 2020 (https://pets.webmd.com/cats/cat-allergy-symptoms-triggers#1)

4 “Why is my cat struggling to breathe? Signs of cat breathing problems” Vets Now. Accessed March 19, 2020 (https://www.vets-now.com/pet-care-advice/breathing-difficulties-cats/)

5 “Cat Asthma: What It Is, Symptoms To Look For, And How To Treat It” Trudell Medical. International Accessed March 19, 2020 (https://www.tmimd.com/cat-asthma-symptoms-causes-treatments/)

6 “Pneumonia” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Accessed March 19, 2020 (https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-…)

7 “Heartworm Basics” American Heartworm Society. Accessed March 20, 2020 (https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/heartworm-basics)

8 “Cyanosis in Cats” VCA Hospitals, Robin Downing, DVM. Accessed March 20, 2020 (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/cyanosis-in-cats)

9 “Pneumonia In Cats” Merck Veterinary Manual, Ned F. Kuehn , DVM. Accessed on March 20, 2020 https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/lung-and-airway-disorders-of-…

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