Can a Cat Breathe Through Its Mouth?

One fascinating aspect of cats is their ability to breathe through their noses. Unlike humans, who can breathe through both their mouths and noses, cats primarily rely on their nasal passages for breathing. However, there are certain situations where a cat may resort to breathing through its mouth. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind a cat’s breathing habits and the circumstances that may lead them to breathe through their mouths.

Why Do Cats Primarily Breathe Through Their Noses?

Cats are obligate nasal breathers, which means they mainly breathe through their noses. This is due to the unique anatomy of their respiratory system. Cats have a specialized structure called the turbinates inside their nasal passages, which are bony structures covered with a moist, mucous membrane. These turbinates help to filter, warm, and humidify the air before it reaches the lungs. Additionally, the turbinates capture particles and debris, preventing them from entering the respiratory system.

Furthermore, cats have a highly sensitive olfactory system, with an estimated 200 million olfactory receptors compared to a human’s mere 5 million. This exceptional sense of smell is crucial for hunting, identifying prey, and navigating their environment. Breathing through their noses allows cats to fully utilize their olfactory capabilities by efficiently detecting and interpreting scents.

When Do Cats Breathe Through Their Mouths?

While cats primarily breathe through their noses, there are situations where they may resort to breathing through their mouths. These instances are often indicative of underlying health issues or respiratory distress. Here are some common reasons why a cat may breathe through its mouth:

1. Nasal Obstruction

If a cat’s nasal passages become blocked due to a foreign object, mucus buildup, or nasal congestion, it may struggle to breathe through its nose. In such cases, cats instinctively switch to mouth breathing to ensure an adequate oxygen supply. Nasal obstructions can be caused by allergies, infections, tumors, or even the presence of a small object stuck in the nasal passage.

2. Respiratory Infections

Cats can develop respiratory infections, such as feline herpesvirus or feline calicivirus, which can cause inflammation and congestion in the nasal passages. This can make it difficult for cats to breathe through their noses, leading them to breathe through their mouths instead.

3. Heat or Stress

Cats may start breathing through their mouths when they are exposed to excessive heat or experiencing stress. Mouth breathing helps them cool down by panting, similar to dogs. Stressful situations, such as a visit to the veterinarian or a change in environment, can also trigger mouth breathing in cats.

4. Respiratory Distress

In severe cases, cats experiencing respiratory distress may resort to mouth breathing. Respiratory distress can be caused by various factors, including asthma, heart disease, or lung issues. If a cat is struggling to breathe and panting heavily, it is essential to seek immediate veterinary attention.

What Should You Do If Your Cat Is Breathing Through Its Mouth?

If you notice your cat breathing through its mouth, it is important to assess the situation and determine the underlying cause. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Observe: Pay attention to your cat’s behavior and breathing pattern. If the mouth breathing persists or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, consult a veterinarian.
  • Check for obstructions: Examine your cat’s nasal passages for any visible obstructions or signs of congestion. If you suspect a foreign object or excessive mucus, consult a veterinarian for further examination.
  • Monitor temperature: Ensure that your cat is not exposed to extreme heat or confined in an environment with poor ventilation. Provide a cooler space and fresh water to help them regulate their body temperature.
  • Reduce stress: Create a calm and comfortable environment for your cat, especially if you suspect stress as the cause of mouth breathing. Provide a safe space, familiar objects, and soothing interactions to help alleviate stress.
  • Seek veterinary attention: If your cat’s mouth breathing persists, is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, or if you suspect respiratory distress, consult a veterinarian. They will be able to diagnose the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment.


Can a cat breathe through its mouth when it is sleeping?

Yes, it is normal for cats to breathe through their mouths occasionally while sleeping. However, if your cat consistently breathes through its mouth during sleep or shows signs of respiratory distress, it is advisable to consult a veterinarian.

Why do cats pant like dogs?

Cats pant like dogs as a way to cool down when they are overheated. Panting helps evaporate moisture from their respiratory passages, facilitating heat loss. However, excessive panting in cats should be taken seriously and may indicate an underlying health issue.

Can a cat breathe through its mouth if it has a stuffy nose?

If a cat has a stuffy nose due to congestion or an infection, it may resort to breathing through its mouth to compensate for the blocked nasal passages. However, it is essential to address the underlying cause of the stuffy nose to ensure your cat’s respiratory health.

How can you prevent respiratory issues in cats?

To help prevent respiratory issues in cats, it is crucial to maintain a clean and stress-free environment. Regular veterinary check-ups, vaccinations, and prompt treatment of any infections or illnesses can also contribute to maintaining your cat’s respiratory health.

When should I be concerned about my cat’s breathing?

You should be concerned about your cat’s breathing if it consistently breathes through its mouth, shows signs of respiratory distress, such as rapid or labored breathing, wheezing, coughing, or if its gums or tongue appear bluish. In such cases, immediate veterinary attention is necessary.

Can cats breathe underwater?

No, cats cannot breathe underwater. Like all mammals, cats require air to breathe and cannot extract oxygen from water. They are not adapted for underwater respiration and would drown if submerged for an extended period.

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