Why Do Cats Pant in the Car?

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Most cats are not the ideal travel companions. Even the most placid kitty or the most laid-back feline can become distressed whenever it travels by car.

Some of them can even become aggressive. You can expect them to yowl, hiss, and even scratch.

The last thing you may expect is for your cat to pant.  So, why do cats pant in the car?

Why Do Cats Pant in the Car?

Why Do Cats Pant in the Car

Overheating is the main reason why cats pant in the car. Cats, like dogs, do not have an efficient sweating mechanism.

They cannot give off heat as efficiently as humans do. Panting is their only way of cooling off their bodies.

In general, cats do not have body temperature regulation issues in the house. They can always seek a cool place to relax and lower their body temperature.

Putting them in a pet carrier in your car does not offer them plenty of choices to cool down. They cannot find a nicer place to regulate their body temperature. The only thing they can do is pant.

It becomes more problematic if you place the pet carrier under direct sunlight. Not turning on your car’s air conditioning can also make your cat feel warmer.

Does Stress have Something to Do with Cats Panting in the Car?

Yes, feline stress can be a significant factor in panting. Cat owners should acknowledge the fact that cats are not known to pant as commonly as dogs. When cats pant, you can expect that they are under severe stress.

Stress can speed up your cat’s heart rate and metabolism. Increasing the metabolic rate creates heat and raises your pet’s body temperature.

Since the sweat mechanism of cats is less profound than humans’, they cannot lower their body temperature fast enough without panting.

Two things can stress cats and make them pant in the car.

First, most cats do not like traveling. They are not like dogs that love to travel by car.

Even well-trained cats will still experience some degree of stress every time they get in a car.

Second, cats are not big fans of change. Most of them do not leave the house where they feel more secure and in control. Traveling in a car can make a cat very anxious.

What Other Instances Can I Expect My Cat to Pant?

Overheating, stress, and anxiety are the most common causes of feline panting. Another reason why your cat may pant is strenuous physical activity.

You can almost always expect a cat playing vigorously for thirty minutes to pant heavily. Exercise and strenuous physical activities can increase the cat’s metabolic rate. It also raises its body temperature.

An increase in body temperature will make your cat feel uncomfortable. It needs to pant to remove some of the excess heat inside its body.

How Can I Help My Cat If It is Panting in the Car?

How Can I Help My Cat If It is Panting in the Car

You can help your panting cat by offering it plenty of water. Having a pet water dispenser in its pet carrier can help your cat lower its temperature.

You may have to train your pet how to drink from a dispenser for this technique to be effective.

You may also want to adjust the temperature of your air conditioning unit. It will help provide a more comfortable environment for your pet.

Your cat will feel more relaxed and lower its metabolic rate.

It would also help if you position your pet’s crate in an area where there is no direct sunlight. Alternatively, you can put a screen on your car’s windows to block out the sun.

Feline training also helps, especially in acclimatizing your pet to car travel. The process is long and will often require your patience and perseverance.

Successful feline training can make it more pleasant for your pet to travel with you wherever you go.

Choosing the right pet carrier can also help. Pick the right size for your pet. Add a comfortable blanket and your pet’s toys to keep it company during the travel.

Ask your veterinarian about calming agents. You can sedate your pet before you travel. There are also pheromones on the market that can help cats relax.

When is Panting Not Normal in a Cat while in the Car?

You already put fresh water into your cat’s bowl. You turned on your car’s air conditioning unit.

You made sure that the pet carrier is not under direct sunlight. Unfortunately, you still notice your pet panting heavily. Would you still consider this normal?

Dr. Danel Grimmet of the Oklahoma-based Sunset Veterinary Clinic says that heavy panting in cats can be a sign of a more serious health condition.

Stress, overheating, anxiety, and overexertion can cause severe panting in cats. However, the symptoms often subside with the correct measures.

If no action on your part seems to be working to reduce the panting, it is possible that your pet has an undiagnosed cardiovascular disease.

Young kittens can have congenital heart problems. The heart may be incapable of meeting the metabolic needs of the kitten’s body.

Compensatory mechanisms can kick in to help restore the perceived oxygen deficit. Hence, the young cat can hyperventilate.

Older cats can also have congestive heart failure. The cat’s heart loses its ability to pump blood efficiently.

Blood can backflow to the lungs and cause respiratory problems. The cat will hyperventilate to help address the problem.

The point here is for pet owners to stay vigilant. If none of the above mentioned measures is effective in reducing panting in your cat, you can always suspect something more sinister.

What Can Cause Abnormal Panting in Cats?

The following conditions can cause abnormal panting in cats.

Congestive Heart Failure

As mentioned, congestive heart failure can make it difficult for the heart to pump blood efficiently. You can look at the disease as a pump failure.

Because the heart cannot move blood forward, some of the blood flow backward. They fill the lungs and make it difficult for the cat to breathe.

The most common cause of congestive heart failure in cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Cats with HCM have thickened heart muscles that reduce the total volume of the heart chamber.

Less blood gets into the chamber, while simultaneously relaxing the heart muscles. The condition leads to a rapid heart rate, which can increase oxygen use.

As the heart attempts to meet metabolic demands, not enough oxygen reaches the heart muscle. It can lead to oxygen starvation and cell death.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is common among British Shorthair, Main Coon, Sphynx, Persian, Ragdoll, and Chartreux cat breeds.

Other potential causes of congestive heart failure include thyroid disease, high blood pressure, and congenital heart defects.

Respiratory Infections

Viruses and bacteria can cause lung inflammation in cats. The inflammation can produce swelling and increased secretions that make it more difficult for the cat to breathe.

Panting is the cat’s way of compensating for its decreased breathing ability.

Two of the most common viruses that causes feline respiratory infections are the Feline Calicivirus (FCV) and the Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR). The viruses cause more than 90 percent of respiratory infections in cats.

Chlamydophila felis and Bordetella bronchiseptica are the two bacterial species that cause respiratory infections in cats. Other microorganisms can also produce respiratory infections, including Feline Reovirus and Mycoplasma.


While uncommon, asthma can also produce severe panting in cats. You can suspect feline asthma if your cat also has wheezing and coughing together with panting. You may also notice its breathing to be faster than usual.

Asthma causes the airways to narrow. It restricts efficient airflow from the lungs through the airways. Airway constriction results from an allergic reaction.


Dogs have a higher likelihood of getting a heartworm infection than cats. However, when they do cause an infection in cats, heartworms can produce what veterinarians call Heartworm-associated Respiratory Disease or HARD.

A cat with a heartworm infection often presents with asthma-like symptoms, lack of appetite, vomiting, and excessive panting.  More serious symptoms can include seizures, difficulty walking, and excessive fluid accumulation in the cat’s abdomen.

In more severe feline heartworm infections, the sudden and unexplained collapse of the cat may be the only sign. In some cases, sudden death may occur.

What Should I Do?

If you notice heavy or unusual panting in your cat, it would be wise to bring your pet to the clinic immediately. Your veterinarian can run several tests on your cat, while also performing a thorough physical examination.

The veterinarian may have to check for asthma, cardiovascular disease, heartworm infection, respiratory infection, and other health problems that may cause the cat to pant heavily.

Depending on the findings, the vet can prescribe medications to relax your pet. He may give corticosteroids to reduce swelling of the airways. Medications can also help improve the symptoms of HCM.

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for heartworm infection. Your veterinarian can only provide supportive care.

Panting in the car is a sign your cat is overheating because of stress, anxiety, or increased physical exertion.

If the panting persists even if the cat is no longer in the car or even after the application of relief measures, it is often a sign of a more serious problem.

Rita Wagenerhttp://thepetkeepers.com
Rita is a resident paw expert at Pet Keepers. A registered & licensed dog trainer, she also has a degree in animal nutrition, and runs her own dog training course.

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