Why Is My Cat Panting In The Car?

It’s not always for the reason you’d expect 🙀

cat panting in car

When you’ve got your cat in the car, you want him to be relaxed and comfortable.

And since your cat’s not a dog, it might freak you out to catch your cat panting in the car. You might wonder, “Is a little cat panting worth taking a detour to the vet?”

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Crista Coppola, a certified cat behaviorist for SeniorTailWaggers.com, to find out what it means if your cat’s panting while traveling in the car.

Why do cats pant in the car?

Cats pant for different reasons than you might expect.

Most people don't realize that cats don't pant for the same reasons that dogs do,” Dr. Coppola told The Dodo. “Dogs will pant when excited or slightly warm. For cats, panting is a sign of distress.”

This can include a few different types of distress, like:

  • Psychological stress or anxiety
  • Illness (this could be an underlying medical condition, like respiratory infection or heart failure)
  • Heat distress

If you’re in the car with your cat, though, one reason is much more common than the others.

“In the car environment, the most likely reason for a cat to pant would be stress,” Dr. Coppola said. “Unless the cat has been left in a hot car, their panting behavior is less likely to be caused by heat stress.”

Car sickness in cats is likewise often brought on by your pet’s anxiety about the car’s movements.

How to help your panting cat

The main way to help your panting cat is to remove him from the situation.

“If they have already begun panting, it may help to stop the car (if the painting was caused by the movement),” Dr. Coppola said. “Otherwise, the best recommendation is to get them out of the car environment as soon as possible.”

It also helps if you try to make your cat’s car ride feel safe and comfortable even before he starts panting by using a cat carrier.

“Sometimes placing a cat in a carrier for the car ride will help mitigate stress and prevent the panting,” Dr. Coppola said.

The good news is that since panting in the car is typically an indication that your cat’s stressed out, calming him down should make it stop.

You could do this with portable cat calming aids, like calming collars or pheromone sprays.

Try this Feliway travel calming spray from Chewy for $13.99

Or this Sentry calming collar from Chewy for $7.65

However, make sure to reach out to your vet if it seems like your cat’s been panting for a while.

“If a cat's open-mouth breathing does not resolve within a few minutes, they should be seen by a veterinarian right away,” Dr. Coppola said.

Your vet will be able to determine whether or not your cat’s panting is actually a symptom of a medical condition or if he needs a little extra help getting his anxiety under control.

“If you already know your cat becomes stressed in the car, talk with your DVM about the possible use of drug therapy for when car rides are necessary,” Dr. Coppola said.

So if your cat’s panting in the car, don’t panic. Instead, just try to calm him down. And if the panting doesn’t stop, reach out to your vet to figure out how to make your BFF feel safe and settled.

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