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Why Do Cats Pant In The Car?

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While some cats can learn to appreciate traveling and outdoor excursions, most cats prefer the predictability of a set routine and feel most comfortable in the safety of their home.

Since cats can’t speak our language, it can be difficult to know what would make our cats more comfortable during a car ride. We have to rely on and make sense of their mewing and body language instead.

For instance, why do cats pant in the car?

Cats will usually pant when they’re stressed, and if it’s really hot inside the car your cat might start panting to release heat since they can’t properly sweat. However, if your cat is excessively panting, and drooling, you need to take them to the vet.

Let’s see if panting like a dog is a normal behavior for cats and the ways you can deal with cat panting during car rides and in general!

Why Do Cats Pant In The Car?

Car rides can be extremely stressful for your cat, both physically and emotionally, and can result in panting, so let’s take a closer look at this odd phenomenon.

Reason 1: They’re Overheating

Panting is a behavior that is mainly associated with dogs and it’s something they do to keep themselves cool during hot weather or when they’re dehydrated.

Similarly, cats can also use this technique to cool down.

According to RSPCA “cats and dogs cannot respond to heat in the same way that us humans do. We have sweat glands all over our bodies that help us regulate our temperature, but dogs and cats only have a few in their feet and around their noses.”

While cats are usually good at keeping themselves cool, there are situations like traveling, where cats more so than dogs can find it difficult to deal with the heat and can easily overheat and suffer from a heatstroke.

Obviously, overheating is less likely to happen in the safety of your home, because houses are usually built to stay cooler during the warmer months. They’re also equipped with fans, or some other form of A/C, and there are lots of dark and cool spots where our cats can hide.

Unfortunately, a car doesn’t always provide the same heat protection. I live in Greece and traveling during the summer with my cats is the worst experience.

Even if you turn on the A/C in your car, it can take a few minutes for the car to cool down, and that can be enough for your kitty to start panting.

If you accidentally left the carrier on the sunny side, the carrier will quickly turn into a furnace that your kitty will be unable to escape.

Some cats might start mewing and pacing inside their carrier and that’s when you might notice them panting excessively.

Knowing your cat’s heat sensitivity is important and panting is a useful sign that will help you regulate the car temperature according to your cat’s needs.

Reason 2: They’re Stressed

When it comes to cats, panting could be associated with stress more than with being too hot.

I think we can also agree that traveling in a car is a stressful enough experience for most cats and panting can be a normal reaction, that usually occurs when their heartbeat is elevated.

This is something you may expect if your cat rarely leaves the house and deals with change or vet visits in a very negative and fearful way.

If your kitty is an anxious traveler, you’ll also notice that once they’re back home they’ll stop panting.

Of course, it’s best to keep an eye on your feline companion and make sure the panting actually stops once they’re out of the car and carrier and they’re back being their calm furry self.

I also want to mention that your cat might be panting because they’re both stressed and overheating in the car. So, you will have to be more mindful of the car’s temperature and at the same time train them to feel more comfortable staying in their carrier during both short and long travels.

Reason 3: They’re Nauseous

Just like motion sickness can affect humans, cats can also experience nausea, even though in their case Tammy Hunter, DVM, suggests that “it’s mostly caused by the stress and anxiety associated with travel.”

If your kitty is panting because they’re nauseous you might also notice other signs like excessive vocalization and pacing. They might start drooling or constantly licking their lips and, in some cases, there might be some vomiting and diarrhea.

Since these signs can be the result of a serious condition, it’s best to contact your cat’s vet and even pay them a visit to make sure your kitty isn’t actually sick.

What Else Can Cause Cat Panting?

I’ve only seen my cats panting in the car, and the few times that happened it had to do more with the hot weather and the stress of the journey.

But of course, panting doesn’t have to happen inside a moving vehicle or only for the above reasons, so let’s take a look at other possible reasons that your kitty might be breathing like a dog.

Reason 4: Overexertion During Play

Some of you may have seen your cat panting after a long play session, and young cats are usually the ones that can overexert themselves through exercise or if they get the zoomies.

When my cats play with each other they can spend more than half an hour running up and down the house, and climbing up their cat trees and bookcases until they become tired.

When one of them goes to drink some water, that’s when I know that their games are over. Your kitty might be the same, but instead of immediately hydrating themselves they start panting.

While this is definitely a normal behavior, it’s still worth monitoring your kitty closely. Because if they keep panting after every activity then they might be affected by one of the following conditions.

Reason 5: Respiratory Diseases

Panting isn’t always linked to stress or high temperatures, but instead, it can be a sign of something more serious, like a respiratory infection which can make breathing difficult.

According to Malcolm Weir, DVM, “the infection may be caused by one or more viral and bacterial agents capable of causing disease in cats.” He also adds that “FVR (feline viral rhinotracheitis) and FCV (feline calicivirus) are responsible for approximately 90% of all feline upper respiratory infections.”

Along with possible panting, you may notice your cat sneezing, there might be inflammation of the membranes lining the eyelids, a blocked nose, and discharge from the nose or eyes.

You may also observe behavioral changes, like lethargy, loss of appetite, possible squinting, and difficulty in breathing.

If you notice that your kitty is suddenly panting and that they’re not their usual self, then it’s best to take them for a vet check-up where they can be properly treated.

Reason 6: Feline Asthma

Another reason your kitty could have breathing difficulties that may result in panting is feline asthma.

To be more precise, Cornell University states that “cats suffering from asthma may show signs of difficulty breathing, wheezing, rapid breathing, coughing or hacking, open-mouthed breathing, or vomiting.

Usually, feline asthma is caused by an allergic reaction and between 1 and 5% of cats suffer from this disease.

Each cat can show different signs, the intensity of their breathing difficulties may differ and during an allergic reaction, they could get an asthma attack.

As cats grow older feline asthma can become more intense, and it’s not a condition that can necessarily be cured. Nevertheless, it’s really important to take your kitty to the vet to alleviate their discomfort and help find other underlying conditions that may be causing or aggravating your cat’s asthma.

You’ll also need to learn to monitor your kitty and to be on the lookout for panting and coughing, so you can give them the appropriate medication in time, that can help them live a happy life.

Reason 7: Heart Issues

Seeing your kitty panting in the car could be attributed to their stress, but persistent and excessive panting could be something more serious.

According to Debra Horwitz, DVM, “cats may hyperventilate, breathing both rapidly and deeply, or pant from either stress or disease, creating difficulty differentiating cardiac or respiratory compromise from stress.”

That’s why panting isn’t something a cat parent should ignore, especially when it can be a sign of heart disease.

The Animal Medical Center of Chicago, explains that heart disease in cats is a life-threatening condition  and it can be a “silent killer.”

Diseases of the heart muscle are the most common and it can be difficult to detect early signs. But heart murmurs may be present, as well as arrhythmia. You may notice weight loss as your kitty stops eating as they used to, and they can become lethargic.

CVMA also states that cats with Congestive Heart Failure, “often breathe with an open mouth, may struggle for breath, and have a blue tinged gums.

Dr. Bill Tyrrell also adds that “Maine Coons, Rag Dolls, Bengals, Sphinxes, and American Short Hair breeds tend to be most affected with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy”, but of course, this doesn’t mean this is always the case, and other breeds can be equally affected.

If you notice your kitty panting or breathing heavy you should consult your vet immediately, so they can check your cat’s heart and possibly prevent serious future complications.

Reason 8: Heartworm Disease

Feline heartworm disease is a dangerous condition that occurs when a parasitic worm (Dirofilaria Immitis) gets into your cat’s system through a mosquito bite.

“Between 60 and 100 days after the initial infection,” Dwight Bowman, DVM says, “you can start to see signs of pathology in an affected animal’s body, even though the parasite has not yet reached maturity.”

The most common signs that your kitty has been infected by the heartworm are rapid and difficult breathing, coughing, and gagging. They might have diarrhea and they may also be vomiting and you may detect blood.

Because heartworm can be fatal, once you notice your cat panting excessively, it’s important to take your kitty to your vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment. However, feline heartworm is quite rare.

What Should You Do If Your Cat Is Panting In The Car?

Once you notice that your feline companion is panting or breathing heavily in their carrier, you need to figure out what could be causing this reaction.

Panting can be a normal response to stress at the start of the journey, but if it’s persisting then it could be something more serious.

So, it’s important that you address panting accordingly.

Give Them Water

Since panting can be the result of overheating and dehydration you should try to give your kitty some water throughout the car journey.

Whenever I travel with my cats I make sure to have a bottle of water ready in case I see them panting or complaining in any way.

You can get a pet bowl suitable for traveling, like the Agecash collapsible bowl that you can check on Amazon. It also comes with a waste bag dispenser that you can use to change your cat’s litter in case you’re going on a long car journey.

Turn On The A/C

Depending on the weather outside or what hour of the day you’re traveling with your cat make sure to keep the car temperature cat-appropriate.

If it’s really hot outside, or you’ve left your car parked on the sunny side of the street, it’s best to turn on the A/C and let the whole car cool down first before you bring in your cat.

Carriers, especially those made of soft material can quickly overheat, so you might want to use a larger plastic carrier that has good ventilation.

Remember if you’re feeling hot then your feline companion will most likely feel even hotter. Not only are they traveling in a small carrier, but on top of that, they also have a heavy coat of fur that, unless you own a hairless Sphynx kitty.

Take A Car Break

During long car travels pet experts recommend that “you should stop every two hours to allow your dog or cat to relieve itself and stretch its legs.

This is an opportunity to offer them their litter box, some water, and possibly food or treats that can calm them down.

You could also take a few minutes to talk to your kitty, pet them and perhaps remove them from the carrier to cuddle or to let them properly stretch. However, this might be a bad idea if your kitty is really anxious, because constantly taking them in and out of their carrier can increase their stress.

Even if you can’t let your kitty out, make sure to put your hand inside their carrier and feel the temperature. if your cat feels too warm or the atmosphere inside the carrier, then you might have to turn up the A/C.

Remember that you should never leave a cat or any pet unattended in a car. Even if you think you’ll be gone for a couple of minutes, this might be enough to make your kitty overheat or feel abandoned and anxious, even with the A/C on.

Leaving your pet alone in the car can also be considered illegal in certain states of the U.S. and possibly in other countries of the E.U.

Take Them To The Vet

Last, but definitely not least you’ll need to be observant of your kitty’s behavior the moment you notice them panting.

While panting could be a brief reaction to the heat or it could be the result of your cat’s nervousness, it could also be a sign of something more serious.

Along with the few examples we already gave, panting can be caused by other health conditions, trauma, and extreme pain.

So, if the panting persists or you notice your cat drooling, pacing anxiously, or looking weak and lethargic during or after the drive make sure to take them to the vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

How To Reduce Cat Panting During Car Rides?

Seeing your cat panting on the way to the vet could be a one-time thing, and for some of you, it might be a regular occurrence that is basically triggered by traveling itself and not a medical issue.

In those cases, there are a few things you can actually do to prepare your kitty for the journey to come, to reduce their stress and make them feel as comfortable as possible.

Pick The Right Carrier

One of the first things you might want to do in order to make your cat’s journey as stress-free as possible is to select the right carrier.

ASPCA states that a cat carrier should be a comfortable space for your kitty to be able to stand, sit, lie and turn around.

The VCA Canada, if your cat dreads going into the small confines of a carrier, consider getting an over-sized, top-loading cat carrier so your cat doesn’t need to squeeze through a narrow door.

While larger carriers work best for larger cat breeds like the Maine Coon, and larger cats overall, they are also great for long-distance car travel for the average sized-kitty.

By clicking here you can actually find our top 8 carriers for car travel. In our reviews, we’ve taken into consideration the size, material, ventilation, portability, and safety features among other things.

Carrier Train Your Cat

While cats can experience a lot of stress when traveling, Tammy Hunter, DVM, reassures us that “cats can be very lively travel companions if we take the time to create a positive experience for them.”

The best way to reduce panting is to decrease the stress that’s causing this reaction by slowly introducing them to the carrier way before the scheduled car trip.

In fact, it’s best to carrier train your cat as early as possible, by conditioning them to believe that a carrier is a safe place. You can do that by turning the carrier into a cat bed, and by placing it in a social area.

Don’t forget to enhance this feeling of familiarity with their favorite scents, their favorite blanket, their toys, and even some catnip.

I understand that for some storing away a carrier saves space, in this case, you should help your kitty adjust to the carrier a few days or weeks prior to the big trip.

Use treats or their favorite toy to lure your kitty in and praise them whenever they do so until they’re completely comfortable staying inside even with the door closed.

Reduce Their Motion Sickness

Your cat could also be panting when they feel nauseous, that is why Tammy Hunter, DVM, suggests that “on the day of travel, withhold breakfast from your cat. Traveling on an empty stomach minimizes the risk of nausea and vomiting.

You might also want to line the carrier with an absorbent pad, in case your kitty starts vomiting due to stress and motion sickness.

You’ll also need to take breaks and offer your kitty some water to keep them hydrated and reduce the panting.

I also suggest you properly secure the carrier to the seat to keep the carrier from sliding or moving too much.

Prepare Your Cat Beforehand

If you’re planning on traveling a long-distance trip with your feline companion, you should take them for a test drive a couple of times before the trip.

This way you can monitor their reaction. If you notice that your kitty starts panting you can adjust the temperature to find which one suits them best, or you can use treats and catnip to reduce their stress.

While traveling with a cat without their carrier is strictly prohibited you can let your kitty explore your car with the engine off before the trip.

This way your cat will have the opportunity to smell all the unfamiliar smells up close and they will be able to mark the car with their own scent and turn it into a familiar area.

Remember to pack all your cat’s essentials that can reduce their panting, and that includes water, food, their litter box, as well as additional blankets and toys.

Before the trip itself, you could play with your kitty to help them release all of their energy. This could help them spend most of their traveling time sleeping instead of worrying.

Choose The Right Time To Travel

Since panting during car rides can be closely associated with hot weather you need to make sure you’re not traveling on a very hot day, if possible.

When taking your kitty to the vet try to choose an evening appointment, so you don’t have to drive during the day, when the sun is at its peak harshness.

If you’re traveling with your cat because you want to take them for a walk on a leash, I’d advise you to reschedule and pick a day or a month when the weather is much cooler.

Of course, things don’t always happen the way we want them to, and if you have no choice but to travel on the hottest day, of the hottest month, at the hottest hour then you still can make your cat feel comfortable and not pant with the following steps:

  • Cool your car down before you put your kitty inside.
  • Use car blinds that you can stick to the door windows on both sides to reduce the incoming sunlight.
  • Keep the carrier away from the sunny side.
  • Try to take breaks to move the carrier as the sun’s placement changes throughout the day.
  • You should check on your kitty periodically to see if they’re still panting.

If your cat is still panting even after you’ve adjusted the temperature and done the above steps then you should consider taking your cat to the vet.

Hydration Is Important

Your kitty might not need water if you’re taking them for a short trip to the vet’s office, but if you’re planning on moving or traveling a long distance then you need to make sure they’re drinking water.

If you’re traveling with a companion, you can ask them to offer your cat some water in a collapsible bowl or small dish. But for those of you who are traveling by yourself, try to take breaks to hydrate your kitty.

If your kitty refuses to drink water you can add some soft food to the mix or use homemade bone broth for cats. Whenever I have to travel with my cats, I add the sauce from their favorite cat food into the water to motivate them to drink, and thankfully it works quite well for both of my fluffy lordlings.

Help Them Relax

Finally, you also need to think about your cat’s emotional wellbeing during the car ride. Some cats pant because of stress, so keeping them calm during your travels can help reduce their behavior.

In some cases, if your kitty has extreme anxiety calming clothes could help alleviate their stress, or you could use cat pheromones instead.

According to Dr. Tynes these pheromones, “send a specific comforting message to the pet, such as ‘you are safe here’ or ‘you belong here.”

You could use the Feliway Classic Spray that’s available on Amazon. It could help reduce your cat’s panting if they’re feeling stressed and make their overall traveling experience more positive.

Cats also need our attention and love when they feel scared so, try to take breaks to pet your kitty.

You can also talk to them throughout the ride and play some music that uses soothing frequencies for cats to help them relax and sleep.

Both of my cats enjoy this playlist and to be honest I tend to doze off to it as well!

Closing Thoughts

Traveling in a carrier on a moving vehicle is definitely a crazy experience for most kitties. So, it’s not surprising that the high levels of stress will affect their breathing and cause some panting.

Perhaps turning on the A/C or driving your cat to the vet during the later hours of the day will help them feel more comfortable, thus reducing the panting.

But if your kitty has never breathed with their mouths open like a dog, then it’s best that you take them for a quick check-up.

It could be nothing, or it could be something that you happened to notice just in time to save their precious little life.

Have you ever seen your fluffy overlord pant or do they avoid any dog-related behavior?