Why Do Cats Pant in the Car? (Or In General)

By Phil / October 6, 2020
Why Do Cats Pant in the Car

Cats pant in cars as a stress response. Oftentimes, this may be due to being hot. But it can also be a sign of anxiety and irritation too. 

If you leave a cat in a car on a hot summer day and it’s very likely going to pant in order to try and regulate its body temperature and cool itself down.

Just like dogs, the panting will often resolve on its own. Especially when the car becomes mobile again.

Observing your cat’s behavior, however, especially when it comes to anything surrounding the way it breathes, is important.

Knowing why cats pant and when, as well as what it indicates, can help you differentiate a harmless action from one potentially more lethal.

And we all want to be good cat owners who look after our pets!

Is It Normal for a Cat To Pant?

Panting is as normal a physiological response in a cat as it is in any other mammal. It occurs in short, sharp patterns of breath, designed to bring more oxygen to the cells of the body.

This ensures the body functions correctly and that no further damage or impairment occurs.

You’ll know when your cat is panting when you see it breathing heavier than usual. The tell-tale sign here is observing the rib cage expanding and contracting faster than it normally would.

You might also see your cat’s tongue hanging out its mouth slightly (a response that allows more air to pass into the airways).

What you need to look for is when your cat begins panting. As explained before, caught in the confines of a hot car where oxygen pressure is decreasing, it’s almost expected any animal, let alone cats, would begin to pant in that environment.

The trick is to notice whether it occurs in the normal day-to-day activity of your cat. If it does, that could be a sign of some other underlying health problem.

These can include:

  • Obesity: fat is constricting the lungs (less fatty treats like this!)
  • Heart problems: enlarged heart or poor blood flow
  • Asthma or other respiratory disorders: allergies can cause rapid breathing
  • General trauma: caused by falls, fights, or pressure impact
  • Other valvular disorders: embolisms or blockages

So it pays to be vigilant in response to monitoring your cats’ panting.

Is Panting a Sign of Stress in Cats?

How Can I Calm My Cat Down in the Car

Although cats might begin panting after hard play on a hot day, it’s generally a sign of physical stress in cats rather than emotional.

Generally, cats display signs of stress by other means. The most common indications include the following:

  • Running nose or cloudy eyes: general flu-like symptoms in a cat
  • GI issues: diarrhea, foul-smelling bowel movements
  • Fatigue and lethargy: your cat appears much less energetic than usual
  • Weight gain or weight loss: changes in appetite and eating habits
  • Coat condition: hair loss, patches, and irregular thinning 

Panting is not usually on this list of physical factors. It’s only something that results as a very short-lived response to an irritant or stressor. 

It’s also worth mentioning that stress can manifest in the behavior of your cat too. Especially if you notice they’re being more aggressive, dependent, or unresponsive than normal.

How Can I Calm My Cat Down in the Car?

The best way to calm your cat down in a car and stop it from panting when feeling stressed is to place it in a suitable carrier.

Ideally, your cat should be familiar with this carrier already and used to its scent if possible.

While a car is in motion there are also a few things you can do to calm down a cat. Medication is one option but can be a little bit overkill.

Another option is to play with your cat before a long journey in the hope it gets tired out and prefers to sleep. 

Obviously, you can tailor your approach based on short practice runs with your cat in a car too.

Related – Check out natural solutions for calming cats; valerian root for example.

Why Do Cats Hate Riding in Cars?

Cats, unlike dogs, are very domesticated pets that dislike disruptions in their routine. They aren’t known to enjoy car rides given this fact.

They’re also fairly averse to road-noise, movement, and being taken away from their familiar territory – and who can blame them!

According to an article in National Geographic, cats have evolved a lot differently to other common house pets and still remain independent and reluctant to be moved around.

This could be one reason why they don’t like being inside cars! While on the topic, here is an article about traveling with your cat if you don’t have a carrier.

In Summary

Discovering why cats might pant in cars was the aim of this article. After diving a little deeper however, we’ve also looked into what cats panting outside of cars might broadly indicate too.

As owners, it pays to be aware of the reasons behind this behavior. Judging whether it’s a normal response or not it helps us better look after and care for our cats long term.

Resources

Image credits – Photos by Deziree Dufresne and Tolga Ahmetler on Unsplash

Cats domesticated themselves – NationalGeographic

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