Diagnosing Cat Breathing Problems

Cat breathing problems can occur due to conditions ranging from mild and passing infections to long-term underlying disease. This labored breathing can be caused by parasites, asthma, allergies, injuries or upper respiratory infection, which is a secondary symptom of many other diseases. Because of the severity of many of the causes, there are a number of signs and symptoms that may help with diagnosing cat breathing problems. 

Diagnosing Cat Breathing Problems

When attempting to diagnose cat breathing problems, it is imperative to discover the origin of symptoms. One of the first determinations that should be made is whether symptoms are non-respiratory, pleural (the space surrounding the lungs), upper respiratory or lower respiratory. Many symptoms will be common amongst all of these, but there are signs to look for that can determine the origin of infection.


Asthma is common in cats. While early symptoms of asthma may be very similar to signs of a hairball, once the disease progresses, cat breathing problems due to asthma will become more severe. Cats may open their mouths to get as much air as possible, while the abdomen seems to be laboring much harder than usual. You may see a cat in the praying position while it attempts to catch its breath. Other symptoms will be present, such as coughing, wheezing and possibly vomiting of a liquid mucus substance.


A parasitic infection, such as that of heartworms or roundworms can cause cat breathing problems. Most worm infestations have a cycle which passes through the lungs. As the worms pass, trouble with breathing and coughing can persist. Heartworms are difficult to detect as the symptoms are general and can be caused by many different diseases or infections. A heartworm infection may cause weight loss, vomiting, coughing and rapid breathing. Roundworms are easier to diagnose, especially when a worm is expelled in the vomit or feces. Cats may become pot-bellied or have diarrhea as well. Roundworms actually ingest food and nutrients before cats get a chance to digest.

Upper Respiratory Infections

Upper respiratory infection in cats are caused when a virus infects the nose or throat. Cat breathing problems and coughing will accompany sneezing, sniffling and possibly a fever. Your cat may sound hoarse when it meows. These infections are generally secondary to another more severe infection or disease. Feline herpes and calcivirus commonly lead to upper respiratory infections in cats. Cats with strong immune systems can usually fight off upper respiratory infection, so it is common to seek out underlying issues if viruses such as these are suspected.


Allergies can cause intermittent symptoms in cats that can lead to severe breathing issues. The easiest way to diagnose allergies in cats is to attempt to remove all allergens from the cat's environment. Substances such as smoke, perfumes, dust, scented air fresheners or candles, kitty litter dust and aerosol sprays can give a cat asthmatic symptoms from allergies. In addition to coughing and breathing problems, cats may also experience skin reactions when suffering from inhalant allergies. Pustules may form scabs and ulcerations on the skin leading to scratching, biting, itching, hair loss and secondary bacterial infections.