The Mystery of the Loud Breather. Why Does My Cat Snore So Loud?


Loud breathing in cats is characterized by unusually noisy or labored breathing. It is sometimes described as wheezing, snorting, grunting, or similar. Loud breathing can be caused by narrowing of the airways, fluid buildup, or other obstructions during breathing. It is a common concern among cat owners, as it can indicate potentially serious underlying health conditions.

Reasons for Labored Breathing

There are several potential causes for a cat to develop loud or labored breathing. Some of the most common include:

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections like the common cold can cause congestion, inflammation, and excess mucus production in a cat’s nasal passages and throat. This can obstruct normal airflow and cause noisy breathing sounds. Upper respiratory infections are a very common reason for cats to develop loud or raspy breathing temporarily (Source).

Heart Disease

Feline heart disease like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can cause a buildup of fluid in or around a cat’s lungs. This fluid can make it more difficult for the lungs to expand properly, resulting in wheezing or crackling lung sounds as the cat struggles to breathe (Source).


Anemia, or a reduced number of red blood cells, means the blood cannot carry enough oxygen to the body and lungs. A cat may compensate with faster or more labored breathing. Anemia can be caused by diseases, parasites, or nutritional deficiencies (Source).


Feline asthma is an allergic response where the airways become swollen and filled with mucus. This narrows the airways and obstructs normal breathing. A cat having an asthma attack will often wheeze, cough, and struggle for air. Asthma attacks can be triggered by dust, smoke, pollen, and other irritants.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are common causes of labored breathing in cats.
Some common upper respiratory infections include herpesvirus, calicivirus, and feline bordetella bronchiseptica, which can cause congestion, breathing difficulties, and noisy breathing sounds.1

Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, can also lead to noisy breathing. Pneumonia is usually caused by a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. Symptoms include fever, lethargy, nasal discharge, and congested or wheezy breathing. Pneumonia requires veterinary treatment with antibiotics, oxygen therapy, and possibly hospitalization.2

In general, respiratory infections in cats cause symptoms like sneezing, nasal discharge, watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, and labored breathing. Veterinary care is needed to properly diagnose and treat respiratory infections in cats.

Heart Disease

Heart disease, also known as cardiomyopathy, is a common cause of loud breathing in cats. The most common form is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which causes a thickening of the heart muscle. This results in the heart having to work harder to pump blood effectively. According to the International Cat Care group, the most commonly seen sign of heart failure in cats is the development of labored breathing (dyspnoea) and rapid breathing (tachypnea) (

Another symptom of heart disease is heart murmurs. A heart murmur is an abnormal heart sound that can be heard with a stethoscope. They are often the result of turbulent blood flow within the heart. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, heart murmurs are common in cats with HCM (

Additional symptoms of heart disease in cats include difficulty walking, paralysis in the hind legs, coughing, fainting, and more. According to the ASPCA, the two most significant symptoms are labored breathing and difficulty walking (

Treatment depends on the type and severity of heart disease. Medications to help control heart rate and blood pressure may be prescribed. In more advanced cases, oxygen therapy and diuretics to eliminate fluid buildup may be needed. Regular veterinary visits are essential to monitor disease progression and adjust treatment as needed.


Anemia is a condition where cats have a reduced number of red blood cells or hemoglobin that can result in labored breathing. According to Anaemia in Cats – International Cat Care, common causes of anemia in cats include:

  • Blood loss from trauma or parasites like fleas
  • Diseases where the immune system destroys red blood cells
  • Infections such as feline leukemia virus that affect red blood cell production
  • Kidney disease leading to decreased erythropoietin production
  • Cancer like leukemia that crowds out healthy red blood cells
  • Toxins like onions that can damage red blood cells

According to Signs & Causes of Anemia in Cats – Veterinary Medical and Surgical Group, symptoms of anemia in cats may include:

  • Pale gums
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Poor appetite

Treatment depends on the underlying cause but may include iron supplements, vitamin B12, steroids, blood transfusions for severe anemia, and medications to increase red blood cell production.


Asthma is another common cause of labored breathing in cats. It is an inflammatory condition of the airways that can make it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs. Asthma is often triggered by allergens, viruses, smoke, dust, and other irritants.

According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, the most common symptoms of feline asthma include coughing, wheezing, rapid breathing, and open-mouth breathing (source). Cats may also exhibit vomiting or bluish gums due to lack of oxygen.

Asthma is typically treated with steroids like prednisolone to reduce inflammation and bronchodilators like terbutaline to open up the airways. Inhaled medications delivered via an aeresol chamber may also be prescribed. Limiting exposure to triggers, managing weight, and avoiding stress can help prevent asthma flare-ups. In severe cases, oxygen therapy may be necessary (source).

When to See the Vet

If your cat’s loud or labored breathing persists or seems to worsen, it’s important to have them examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible. According to PetMD, cats with severe breathing difficulties may be nearing collapse, so urgent veterinary care is crucial (Source).

There are several emergency signs that require immediate veterinary attention. These include open-mouth breathing, breathing with an abnormally fast rate or effort, pale or blue gums, weakness or collapse, and loss of consciousness. If your cat is struggling for air, seems unable to get enough oxygen, or has gums or tongue that turn blue, get them to the vet right away as this indicates a life-threatening situation. Cats experiencing respiratory distress are at risk of their condition deteriorating quickly, so fast action is essential.

It’s also important to monitor for any worsening of symptoms overnight. Cats can compensate for respiratory infections during the day but may struggle more at night. If your cat’s breathing seems louder, faster, more labored, or distressing during the night, emergency veterinary assessment is warranted.


To diagnose the cause of your cat’s loud breathing, the vet will first take a complete medical history and perform a thorough physical exam. They will listen closely to your cat’s breathing sounds using a stethoscope and feel for any abnormalities in the airways or chest. The vet will also check vital signs like temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate.

Diagnostic tests commonly used to evaluate breathing difficulties in cats include:

  • Chest x-rays – to check for fluid in the lungs, pneumonia, heart enlargement, or masses.
  • Bloodwork – a complete blood count and biochemistry panel can identify infection, anemia, or other systemic issues.
  • Heart tests – like an ECG or cardiac ultrasound to evaluate heart function and disease.
  • Airway scoping – using an endoscope to visually exam the nasal passages, throat, and airways.
  • Rhinoscopy or bronchoscopy – to take samples and biopsy polyps or masses.
  • Barium swallow study – having the cat swallow barium dye to highlight blockages on x-ray.

These diagnostic tests help the vet pinpoint the specific cause of your cat’s breathing abnormalities and determine the best treatment plan.


The treatment for loud breathing in cats depends on the underlying cause. Some treatments may include:

Addressing the Underlying Cause

Identifying and treating the root cause of loud breathing is crucial. Respiratory infections can usually be treated with antibiotics, asthma may require inhalers or other medications, heart conditions can sometimes be managed with drugs or dietary changes, and so on. Treating the underlying problem often resolves the loud breathing.

Oxygen Therapy

Supplemental oxygen may be given to improve oxygen levels in the blood and reduce the work of breathing. This can be accomplished with an oxygen cage, mask, or nasal cannula. Oxygen therapy helps cats breathe easier while also allowing time to treat the underlying condition.[1]


Certain medications may help relieve noisy breathing, such as:

  • Bronchodilators to open airways
  • Steroids to reduce inflammation
  • Antibiotics for infections
  • Diuretics to reduce fluid buildup in lungs

The right medication depends on the specific cause of the breathing issues. The vet will prescribe appropriate drugs to help the cat breathe easier while also treating the underlying condition.


There are some steps cat owners can take to help prevent or reduce noisy breathing in their cats:

Reduce risk factors – Keeping your cat at a healthy weight, avoiding exposure to irritants like smoke, and reducing stress can help prevent respiratory disease. Annual vet visits allow early detection of conditions like heart disease.

According to PetMD, annual veterinary checkups are important for identifying potential issues early on. Wellness exams and routine bloodwork can uncover underlying conditions before they progress.

Your vet will listen to your cat’s breathing and may recommend chest X-rays or other diagnostics if needed. With early detection, many conditions can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes.

Scroll to Top