Should I Be Able To Hear My Cat Breathing While Sleeping?

Can You Hear Your Cat Breathing While Asleep?

As cat owners, many of us enjoy watching our furry friends snooze. It’s common to see their sides slowly rise and fall as they breathe in their sleep. But should you actually be able to hear your cat’s breathing while they’re sleeping? Is it normal or a cause for concern if a sleeping cat’s breathing is audible?

The short answer is that it’s quite normal for sleeping cats’ breathing to be audible. In fact, you should be able to hear and see the calm, rhythmic pattern of your cat’s breathing when they are in a deep sleep. However, if your cat’s breathing seems excessively noisy, fast, or labored, that could signify an underlying health issue.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about observing your cat’s breathing patterns and what to look out for. With some key information, you’ll be able to assess if your cat’s breathing sounds while asleep are normal or if a trip to the vet is needed.

Normal Cat Breathing

A normal resting or sleeping respiratory rate for cats is between 16 to 40 breaths per minute, with an average of 24 breaths per minute (1). Breathing rates under 16 or over 40 breaths per minute while a cat is resting or asleep may be a sign of an underlying medical issue.

Cats generally breathe quietly while resting or sleeping. Their breathing should be relatively quiet, steady, and effortless. You may hear a very soft sound of inhaling and exhaling with each breath if you listen closely, but loud or labored breathing noises are abnormal (2). The chest area should rise and fall gently with each breath as well.

It’s normal not to see or hear every single breath if you just glance at a resting cat. But upon closer observation for a minute or two, a healthy cat’s gentle breathing rhythm and motion should be discernible.



When to Be Concerned

There are several signs of abnormal breathing in cats that warrant concern. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, you should contact your veterinarian if your cat is showing any signs of breathing difficulty, including:

  • Open mouth breathing
  • Abdomen heaves with every breath
  • Fast, short breaths (hyperventilating)
  • Noisy breathing
  • Breathing with an extended neck to maximize airway patency
  • Blue tinge to tongue or gums

Maddie’s Fund also notes some other signs of labored breathing that indicate illness, including breathing with the elbows sticking out, wheezing or making whistling noises, or a pronounced abdominal component to breathing.

Any of these signs suggest your cat may be struggling to get enough air into their lungs and require veterinary attention. Difficulty breathing can arise from respiratory infections, heart conditions, asthma, anxiety, or other underlying problems. Don’t wait to see if it resolves on its own – contact your vet promptly if your cat shows abnormal breathing behaviors.

Common Causes

There are several common health issues that can affect a cat’s breathing and cause noisy breathing while asleep:

Respiratory Infections – Upper respiratory infections are very common in cats and can cause congestion, runny nose, coughing, and noisy breathing. The most common culprits are feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus. Treatment usually involves antibiotics. (source)

Heart Conditions – Some heart conditions like heart failure or heart muscle disease can cause fluid buildup in the lungs. This results in noisy, labored breathing especially when lying down. Medications can help remove excess fluid. (source)

Asthma – Asthma causes inflammation and narrowing of airways. A cat with asthma may breathe noisily and cough. Inhalers and other medications can provide relief. Environmental controls help reduce asthma flare-ups. (source)

Anxiety – Stress and anxiety can also lead to breathing issues in cats. The shallow, rapid breathing during anxious moments may persist even when the cat is asleep. Reducing environmental stressors and pheromone therapy can help. (source)

Respiratory Infections

Upper respiratory infections are common in cats and are typically caused by viral or bacterial pathogens. The most common pathogens are feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, Chlamydophila, and Bordetella bronchiseptica (according to Feline Upper Respiratory Infection – VCA Animal Hospitals). These infections often spread rapidly between cats in multi-cat households or shelters.

Symptoms of upper respiratory infections include sneezing, nasal discharge, congestion, coughing, fever, eye discharge, reduced appetite, and lethargy. In some cases, ulcers may develop on the tongue, hard palate, nose, or eyelids. Young kittens, senior cats, and cats with weakened immune systems are most susceptible (according to Respiratory Infections – Cornell Feline Health Center).

Treatment usually involves antibiotics, antivirals, and supportive care. Keeping the cat’s living space clean, warm, and stress-free can help recovery. In severe cases, hospitalization may be required for oxygen therapy and fluid support. Prognosis is generally good if treatment starts promptly, but some cats may experience lingering effects or repeat infections.

Prevention includes vaccination, limiting exposure to infected cats, reducing stress, feeding a nutritious diet, and maintaining a clean litter box area. Cats adopted from shelters should be screened and isolated until any infection is resolved.

Heart Conditions

Heart diseases like cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure can impact a cat’s breathing. As the heart becomes weaker and less efficient, it struggles to pump blood effectively. This causes fluid buildup in the lungs which makes breathing more difficult. Congestive heart failure is a common heart condition in cats that leads to pulmonary edema and shortness of breath (Animal Care Center).

Fluid in or around the lungs puts pressure on the airways, causing loud or raspy breathing sounds like wheezing or crackles. Cats may breath rapidly or heavily and seem short of breath. Severe congestive heart failure can require hospitalization and oxygen therapy (Merck Vet Manual). So heart conditions like cardiomyopathy have a major impact on feline breathing.


Asthma is a common respiratory condition in cats that can cause episodes of wheezing, coughing, and labored breathing. It is caused by inflammation and narrowing of the airways. Asthma attacks are often triggered by allergens, respiratory infections, smoke, stress, or other irritants. Some cats are genetically predisposed to developing asthma.

Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and reducing airway inflammation. Vets may prescribe inhalers such as steroids, bronchodilators, or oral medications. Avoiding triggers, managing stress levels, and keeping your home well ventilated can also help control asthma flare-ups. With proper care, most cats with asthma can live happy and comfortable lives.

According to Trudell Animal Health, asthma is a common cause of wheezing and coughing in cats. The chronic inflammatory disease causes intermittent narrowing of the bronchi and bronchioles. This obstruction makes breathing difficult and produces audible wheezing or whistling sounds as the cat struggles to inhale (Trudell).

The underlying cause of feline asthma is not well understood. Possible contributing factors include allergies, respiratory infections, air pollution, and other irritants. Obesity and stress can also exacerbate symptoms. Cats may experience sudden asthma attacks or chronic, persistent wheezing and labored breathing (Trudell).

There is no cure for feline asthma, but symptoms can be controlled through medical treatment and management of triggers. Vets often prescribe oral or inhaled medications like steroids, bronchodilators, and anti-inflammatories. Home treatment includes avoiding smoke, keeping stress low, using air purifiers, and maintaining a healthy weight (Westpark).


Anxiety can cause rapid breathing in cats. Cats are easily stressed by changes in their environment and routine. This can cause them to become anxious which leads to physical symptoms like rapid breathing, panting, trembling, and hiding. Stressful events like moving homes, introductions to new people or animals, loud noises, or negative experiences at the vet can induce anxiety and rapid breathing.

When cats are anxious, their sympathetic nervous system activates, releasing stress hormones like adrenaline. This prepares their body for the “fight or flight” response. One effect is an increase in respiration as the body takes in more oxygen in preparation for impending activity. While this evolutionary response was useful in the wild, domestic cats can experience it in non-life threatening situations. The excess oxygen intake through rapid breathing is unnecessary and indicates underlying anxiety.

To help an anxious cat with rapid breathing, removing or minimizing environmental stressors is key. Providing hiding spots, keeping them in a quiet room, using pheromone diffusers, and administering anti-anxiety medication prescribed by a vet can also be beneficial. As cats relax and their anxiety is reduced, their respiration rate should return to normal.

When to See the Vet

Some breathing changes in cats may resolve on their own, but others require prompt veterinary attention. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, any cat showing signs of breathing difficulty is at high risk of dying if not treated quickly.

You should take your cat to the vet right away if you notice any of the following signs (Source):

  • Labored breathing or panting
  • Wheezing or coughing
  • Blue gums or tongue
  • Sudden breathing trouble after a trauma like being hit by a car
  • Inability to breathe when lying down
  • Chest congestion

Breathing problems that arise suddenly, seem severe, or are accompanied by other symptoms like lethargy or collapse warrant an emergency vet visit. Call your vet with any concerns about changes in your cat’s breathing. Early treatment can help prevent a minor issue from becoming life-threatening.


In summary, it is normal for cats to have slow, relaxed breathing with some pauses when sleeping. Their breathing rate should be under 30 breaths per minute while resting. However, rapid breathing, panting, wheezing, coughing, or breathing with an open mouth can indicate potential health issues. Some common causes include respiratory infections, heart conditions, asthma, and anxiety. If your cat is showing abnormal breathing patterns, take note of any other symptoms and contact your veterinarian, especially if breathing issues persist for more than a day. With prompt diagnosis and treatment from your vet, many underlying conditions can be managed to help your cat breathe easy.

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