Asking how many breaths a cat takes per minute means one of two things: you’re playing a Trivial Pursuit game, or (more likely) you’re worried about your cat.
If your cat’s breathing seems abnormal, they might be struggling with a condition called tachypnea. But how fast do cats breathe normally?
Cats typically take between 20 and 30 breaths per second. These breaths are rhythmic and barely noticeable to the naked eye. Yet, cats can sometimes take more breaths when they’re hot or stressed. If the rapid breathing continues after calming your cat, take them to the vet for evaluation.
The rest of this article will explain:
- Normal breath rates
- How to determine your cat’s breath rate
- Possible causes for elevated breath rates
What Are Normal Breath Rates in Cats?
Before you can determine if there is an issue, you need to know the cat’s regular breathing rate. According to VCA Hospitals, when resting, cats generally take between 20 and 30 smooth breaths per minute. Cats taking more than 30 breaths per minute should be seen by a veterinarian.
Determining the cat’s breath rate is easiest when the cat is sleeping, but whenever you check the rate, the cat must not be purring. VCA instructs that owners watch the cat’s chest. One breath cycle occurs when the chest rises and then falls. Count chest movement for 30 seconds, using your watch or phone clock for accuracy, then multiply the count by 2.
What Causes an Elevated Breath Rate in Cats?
Few animal lovers give much thought to the number of times their furry friend breathes in a minute–until the rate of breaths per minute changes drastically enough to catch our attention.
Once we see the stomach moving with each breath, the cat panting, or see it go into the “air hunger” position, we want to know why. Although the symptom is the same–an elevated breath rate–the reasons range from simple to complex and may be benign or a cause for alarm.
- Heart disease
The most straightforward case to resolve is when the cat is breathing too quickly because it’s excited, scared, or stressed for some other reason.
Cats are both rhythmic and habitual animals, so something as simple as rearranging their schedule or changing their environment may cause this stress as quickly as having a visitor in the home that the cat doesn’t know can.
Regardless of the reason for the stress, the apparent first step is to help the cat settle. The first thing to try is to cuddle with your cat. If gently hugging and petting the cat doesn’t alleviate the situation, try talking and singing to the cat while you hold it.
If none of those stressors mentioned above are there, the cat may be uncomfortably hot and therefore trying to cool itself.
Much like dogs, cats will pant when they’re hot, but this panting is so rare that many pet owners are concerned when they see it.
It’s important to note that long-haired breeds are more susceptible to heat and, therefore, pant more frequently than short-haired breeds. But even long-haired cats shouldn’t pant often.
Another cause for this elevated respiration rate may be obesity. Much like humans, when a cat carries additional weight, simple things like walking to the litter pan, playing with a cat toy, or going to eat can cause temporarily high respirations.
If you haven’t weighed your cat recently, and are concerned about its breathing, now is an excellent time to do so.
According to Pets.Webmd, a domesticated adult cat should weigh around 10 pounds (4.54 kg), though some breeds, such as a Maine Coon or the Himalayan, could weigh as much as 25 pounds (11.34 kg). Of course, if obesity is causing an elevated breath rate, the cat’s breathing should return to normal once they rest.
If you find the breathing issue is due to weight, speak with your veterinarian about weight control food such as Hill’s Science Diet Dry Cat Food. Although we love to spoil our animals with extra food and treats, if their breathing is labored while doing ordinary activities, we’ll do them and ourselves a favor by helping them control their weight.
Possible Respiratory Issues
- A sinus infection
- A cold
- Blood clots
While respiratory issues are serious, there are ways to determine if the breathing rate will be short-lived:
- Look for nasal discharge. If it’s clear or only comes from one nostril, you may be dealing with simple allergies. In this case, placing the cat in the bathroom for ten or fifteen minutes up to three times a day while a hot shower is running may help clear the build-up.
- Look for yellow or mucus-filled discharge that comes from both nostrils. If this discharge is present, your cat likely has an infection that may need antibiotics.
- Check for a nose blockage. Something lodged in the cat’s nose may cause elevated breaths per minute. If you see dried dirt or dried mucus covering the nostrils, use a moistened cotton ball or Paws & Pals Pet Grooming Wipes to remove the debris.
There are times when fast or labored breathing is a cause for serious concern and immediate action. Conditions such as pneumonia, blood clots, or cancer will require a licensed veterinarian’s diagnosis and treatment.
Sometimes, it’s best to take a “wait and see” approach when things go wrong with our cats, but not when the symptom could be an early warning to something more serious. As with the human body, when conditions are diagnosed early, there’s a better chance that the cat can recover.
Check Your Cat’s Temperature
If the cat is at a healthy weight, owners must investigate other causes. The critical thing to do is determine precisely what you’re working with, and the first thing you can do at home is to check your cat’s temperature with a thermometer such as the Advanced Monitors PT-300 to see if they’re sick.
According to the veterinarians at VCA, a cat’s average body temperature ranges between 101 and 102.5°F (38.33 and 39.17°C).
While it is normal to have a slight variant in this body temperature, having a body temperature of below 99°F (37.22°C) or greater than 104°F (40°C) is a reason to take your cat to see the veterinarian.
However, it’s still no cause for great alarm. The temperature may be a simple cold symptom, but determining if there’s a temperature is an excellent first step in determining the rapid breathing trigger.
Knowing that you need to take the cat’s temperature and then actually getting the temperature will be a two-person task, whether the temperature is checked with a rectal thermometer like the AURYNNS Pet Thermometer or with an ear thermometer.
How To Check Your Cat’s Temperature
One person will hug the cat securely while the other takes the temperature. If you don’t have another person to help you, a SHUNAI Mesh Restraint Bag used to bathe cats may be required, but you can take your cat to the veterinary office without knowing their temperature.
If you can take their temperature and find that it’s too high or too low, repeat the process, as you may have placed the thermometer incorrectly. If the temperature is still high the second time, and first aid measures, such as cooling or warming the cat’s paws fail to bring down the temperature, seek veterinary help immediately. Your cat may be sick.
Cat owners are protective of their fur babies and are generally in tune with their habits, including how they eat, sleep, use the litter pan, and how they breathe. It may seem silly to some, but cats who have owners like this are fortunate because they are likely to receive the care they need before the situation becomes more serious.
In the case of how many breaths a cat takes per minute, it makes sense to call a veterinarian whenever this increased breathing rate cannot be linked to a benign issue such as stress or heat.