Picture this. You just played a laser pointer game with your cat for the first time. Both of you enjoyed the moment as your furry friend pulled off some amazing aerial stunts chasing that alluring little beam of light. But, all of a sudden, your cat starts shaking and panting with his tongue out. This leaves you wondering – could something be wrong?
Seeing your cat breathing heavily can be alarming because cats do not typically breathe through their mouths. Occasionally, however, games that involve lots of running and jumping may eventually exhaust a cat and cause panting behavior.
The good news is that panting after playing hard is usually nothing to worry about. Heavy breathing should only be a serious concern if other symptoms of respiratory distress are present. So, if you notice your cat frequently panting for short bursts and then for a longer time with no clear reason, then a visit to the vet should not be delayed to rule out any underlying health problems.
Is it normal for cats to pant after playing?
In the same way that you feel short of breath after a jog or a vigorous bout of exercise, your four-legged companion can feel the same.
Unlike dogs, cats do not normally pant, even after play. But when they do, it is due to exhaustion from a bigger-than-usual play session. Games that involve cardio exercise, when played for a long time, cause elevated body temperature in cats and may even lead to overheating.
This kind of panting behavior should not be a source of concern if the kitty has been playing hard. Just allow him to calm down and his breathing should resolve on its own.
Are laser pointers stressful for cats?
In a nutshell, yes.
Have you noticed your cat suddenly getting over-excited when he sees that bright, wiggly dot? That is because the moving laser dot awakens his natural predatory instinct. And, for a curious cat, nothing matters more at that moment than catching that dot. Because there is actually nothing there to catch, your cat is left frustrated.
As you continue to move the pointer around, your cat may eventually exhaust all his energy as he frantically dashes around trying to catch the tiny intruder. So, it is no surprise if you see your poor kitty, a little later, panting and trying to catch his breath.
Laser games have their pros and cons. The most obvious benefits are improved cardio health and enhanced mental focus. However, the fact that the game is unwinnable can also be very stressful for cats, even if it appears that they are enjoying the chase. Out in the wild, natural hunters like cats should be able to catch their targets. In a laser game, there is no way of catching that tiny red dot despite all the chasing and pouncing.
Overall, playing with lasers is a great exercise for your cat, but overdoing it may lead to exhaustion and stress. Instead, let your cat enjoy a variety of games that include tangible rewards. And, most importantly, keep an eye on your cat’s behavior. If you need to slow down a bit, do so. If your cat looks exhausted, stop the game and let him cool down.
Stress and exhaustion
Overheating after a big game, such as playing with laser pointers, may be a normal reaction for cats. That is because they do not have the benefit of sweating like humans do. When their body temperature rises after a good cardio workout, felines may instead drool and pant. An overheated cat may also sweat from its paw pads as a way of cooling down.
If your cat has not played any physical games prior to his panting, then something is not right. Your cat may be scared, anxious, or stressed for some other reason, in which case he should be back to normal when he feels safer and relaxed.
When to worry about panting
Panting in cats becomes a serious concern when it is not related to physical exertion, overheating, or anxiety. If your feline friend occasionally experiences breathing problems for no clear reason, then a trip to your vet should help to clarify the underlying cause.
1. Feline asthma
Just like humans, cats can also be susceptible to asthma. Symptoms often manifest due to stress and allergens that cause the lungs to become inflamed. When this happens, your cat may experience coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing and panting.
Heartworm is a parasitic infection that attacks the hearts and lungs of cats. Although rare and not generally fatal, these tiny creatures can be problematic for your cat’s respiratory health as they trigger a condition called a heartworm-associated respiratory disease or HARD. This disease can progress to a serious condition if not managed at an early stage.
Since the parasite attacks the heart and lungs, the obvious symptoms of heartworm disease in cats include respiratory distress such as panting, shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.
3. Heart failure
Since cats are masters of hiding pain and discomfort, feline heart failure is often difficult to diagnose until it has progressed to a serious stage. Congestive heart failure in cats can restrict breathing capacity as fluid accumulates around the lungs. If your feline is showing symptoms like shallow breathing, panting, and pale or blue-tinged gums, it is best to seek immediate veterinary care.
4. Respiratory infections
Symptoms like coughing, sneezing, and wheezing can be precursors to respiratory infections. Conditions such as cat flu are common and usually manifest like the human cold or flu.
If you suspect that your feline has got cat flu, make sure to contact your vet for proper medications to avoid serious complications.
Panting is generally not a core symptom in diabetic cats, but it could be possible for felines to experience panting or rapid breathing when their sugar levels drop. Along with elevated heart rates, a diabetic cat entering the hypoglycemic stage may eventually lose consciousness or become disoriented.
If your pet is diabetic, talk to your vet for the appropriate supportive care.
When to go to the emergency room
A panting cat showing any other symptoms is an emergency. Take your cat to the vet right away if you notice these symptoms:
- Wheezing or rapid breathing
- Sudden aggression
- Difficulty breathing or shallow breathing
- Panting becomes rapid and loud
- Blue-tinged gums
- Loss of appetite
- Laborious panting
Remember that this is not a comprehensive list of all symptoms. Monitor your cat’s activities and body temperature. Any sign of labored breathing, such as large movements on your cat’s sides, requires immediate veterinary care.
Wrapping it up
Laser points can be an exciting game and a great exercise for your feline. But, if your cat is showing signs of panting or heavy breathing, it might be that the chase is too exhausting. Panting after playing hard should not be a cause for concern, since this is perfectly normal for healthy cats.
However, you should not be too complacent if your feline is showing other signs of respiratory distress. In this case, call your vet right away for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Image: istockphoto.com / borzywoj