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What is a Normal Respiratory Rate For Cats? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ

Brooke Billingsley

By Brooke Billingsley

outdoor cat relaxing on a wooden patio deck

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

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Understanding your cat’s vital signs is one of the best ways to monitor your cat’s overall health. The easiest vital sign to spot is the respiratory rate, which is how quickly your cat is breathing per minute. A few factors can impact the respiratory rate, giving you insight into your cat’s health.

To better understand what your cat’s respiratory rate means, you first need to understand what’s normal. This article goes over what you need to know about your cat’s respiratory rate.

What Is a Normal Respiratory Rate for a Cat?

In a normal cat with no diseases impacting the respiratory system, the breathing rate should be between 15–30 breaths per minute. You can count this rate by watching your cat’s chest rise and fall as they breathe. If attempting to count your cat’s respiratory rate, it’s best to leave your cat alone while you do so. If you are talking to, petting, or bothering your cat, it can impact the respiratory rate. It can also cause your cat to move around or begin purring, both of which can make seeing full chest rise difficult.

This breathing rate is for a cat that is at rest or relaxed. If your cat just ran around the house, it’s normal for the breathing rate to be slightly elevated. If your cat is asleep and has a respiratory rate of 50, that is a major concern. If you’re worried about your cat’s respiratory rate, it’s a good idea to measure the rate several times to ensure you’re getting an accurate number.

What Does a Decreased Respiratory Rate Mean?

There are several possible causes for a decreased respiratory rate in a cat. If your cat’s breathing seems slow and struggling to take in breaths, this is a medical emergency. This symptom could be caused by toxin ingestion, organ failure, a neurological problem, or impending death.

If your cat’s respiratory rate seems slightly lower when at rest, it may not be an emergency, but it is worth mentioning to your vet. For example, if your sleeping cat has a respiratory rate of 12 but shows no respiratory distress and doesn’t have a decreased respiratory rate while awake, it may be normal for your cat, but also there may be an underlying health condition that needs to be evaluated by a vet. When in doubt, contact the vet about concerns to determine if your cat needs to be seen emergently or not.

cat sleeping on its back
Image Credit: Jim Black, Pixabay

What Does an Elevated Respiratory Rate Mean?

Like a decreased respiratory rate, there are multiple things that can cause an elevated respiratory rate. Heart disease and failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), organ failure, infections, anemia, and certain toxins can all cause an increased respiratory rate in cats. An increased respiratory rate indicates that your struggles to perfuse or move blood and oxygen throughout the body. This can quickly become an emergency.

If your cat is at rest and has an elevated respiratory rate, a call or visit to the vet is definitively necessary. If the elevated rate is accompanied by respiratory distress symptoms, like shallow breaths, blue gums, and anxiety, then an urgent vet visit is necessary. A cat that has been active may have a slightly elevated respiratory rate, just like you would after intense exercise, that is normal. Like with a decreased respiratory rate, an elevated respiratory rate is an excellent reason to contact your vet to ensure there is no serious problem with your cat.

a female veterinarian with cat
Image Credit: Tom Wang, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

When it comes to respiratory issues, it’s better to be safe than sorry and contact or visit the vet immediately. Respiratory conditions can rapidly go downhill, leading to a painful death for your cat. There are dozens of causes of an altered respiratory rate in a cat, from disease to poisoning. You want to know if there’s a chance your cat may have gotten into some sort of household chemical or medication. This will help your vet know how best to treat your cat.

With an understanding of a normal respiratory rate for a cat, you can better monitor your cat’s health and pick up on small changes early, potentially saving your cat’s life. Get into the habit of routinely checking your cat’s respiratory rate, you will be able to better notice when something has changed by knowing what’s normal for your cat.

Featured Image Credit: TheLazyPineapple, Shutterstock

Brooke Billingsley

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Brooke Billingsley spent nine years as a veterinary assistant before becoming a human nurse in 2013. She resides in Arkansas with her boyfriend of five years. She loves all animals and currently shares a home with three dogs, two cats, five fish, and two snails. She has a soft spot for special needs animals and has a three-legged senior dog and an internet famous cat with acromegaly and cerebellar hypoplasia. Fish keeping...Read more

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