Breathing Problems In Cats (Dyspnea) – Everything You Need to Know

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Shortness of breath, or dyspnoea, means that the cat has difficulty breathing or has difficulty breathing.

Dyspnoea can affect all cats regardless of age and breed, but is more common in cats with short noses and narrow airways such as Persian cats.


Mild dyspnoea is not always easy to detect. Symptoms may include increased use of the abdominal muscles during breathing, decreased tolerance for exertion, depression, decreased appetite and the cat going into hiding. In more severe dyspnea, the cat breathes with its mouth open, breathes with clear help from the abdominal muscles and may prefer to sit or stand up rather than lie down.

Cats with acute or severe dyspnoea are often affected, and the worst worsening of the condition can be life-threatening in the worst case. In that case, handle the cat calmly and carefully, and see an animal hospital as soon as possible!


Once the cat has been diagnosed with dyspnoea, the veterinarian will try to determine if the breathing problems are most pronounced in connection with inhalation or exhalation, and if the underlying cause is in the upper or lower respiratory tract.

There are many causes of dyspnoea, such as the following:

  • Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
  • Fluid around the lungs (hydrothorax)
  • Obstacles in the upper respiratory tract (eg foreign objects, paralysis)
  • Pneumonia
  • Severe obesity
  • Increased blood pressure in the lungs
  • Pulmonary hemorrhage
  • Fluid in the abdominal cavity (ascites)
  • Compensation for (pathologically) altered metabolism
  • Tumors in the chest cavity
  • Nervousness

Sometimes the veterinarian can make a diagnosis based on knowledge of race, medical history and clinical examination, but often X-rays of the lungs and blood samples are required. Depending on the suspicion of illness, additional sampling may be relevant:

  • Examination of the blood’s ability to coagulate (coagulation test)
  • Examination of cells from the airways
  • Look down into the airways using a so-called endoscope (bronchoscopy)
  • Look into the nasal cavity (rhinoscopy)
  • Ultrasound examination of the heart
  • CT examination of the thoracic or nasal cavity


The treatment is determined by what is the underlying cause of the dyspnoea.

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