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Why Is My Cat Panting in the Car? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

Elizabeth Gray

By Elizabeth Gray

Orange cat with bandana panting inside the car

Vet approved

Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore

MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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We’re all used to seeing dogs pant (and usually drool) when it’s hot, but it can be strange to see this behavior in a cat. If you take your cat on a road trip, you may notice them panting in the car and wonder if it’s normal. While it can be expected for cats to pant in the car, panting can also indicate a possible condition.

In this article, we’ll talk about why your cat could be panting in the car and offer tips to help improve your cat’s traveling experience. Since panting is also a sign of some underlying medical conditions, we’ll discuss what they are, including other signs to watch out for and what to do about them. If you have any concerns about your cat’s health and breathing please contact your veterinarian urgently for advice.

Common Reasons Cats Pant in the Car

The two most common reasons that cats pant in the car are stress or because they’re hot. If your cat never pants unless they’re in the car, one of these issues is most likely to blame.


Unlike humans, cats don’t sweat effectively to stay cool. Panting is one of the only methods they have to release heat from their bodies when they get too toasty. Car rides can be hot no matter what the weather outside feels like, and cats already have a high natural body temperature.

Combine that with their fur coat and the confined space of a poorly ventilated carrier, and you can see why a feline heats up quickly inside a vehicle. To avoid this, keep your car cool and the air flowing. Never leave your cat in the car alone, even if you park in the shade. Make sure the carrier you are using has good ventilation.

The inside of a car can quickly heat to dangerous temperatures, putting your cat at risk of heat stroke. Besides panting, other signs of heat stroke include vomiting, excessive drooling, lethargy, and red gums. If you suspect your cat is overheated, get them out of the car or into air conditioning quickly and to the vet as soon as possible.

Maine coon eyes wide open inside carrier in car
Image Credit: Lightspruch, Shutterstock


Cats may also pant in the car because they find the situation incredibly stressful. Unlike dogs that often take car rides to fun locations like hikes, parks, and the pet store for treats, cats usually only get in the car to go to the vet. They are unfamiliar with the experience of riding in the car and associate it with another often stressful location: the vet’s office.

Later in this article, we’ll give you some tips to help make car rides less stressful for your cat.

Other Reasons Your Cat May Pant

Cats can still pant from stress or heat if they aren’t in the car. And should be monitored for heat stress on hot days.

Playing Too Hard

Cats may pant if they overdo it when playing or exercising. This is especially common in kittens, who haven’t learned when enough is enough! If your cat starts panting after they’ve been playing hard, help them take a break by temporarily taking away their toys or separating them from a playmate. This type of panting should settle quickly.

a cat that feels sick and seems to vomit
Image Credit: chie hidaka, Shutterstock

Heart Problems

Cats of any age can develop heart problems, especially certain purebred kitties that may be genetically prone to such conditions as cardiomyopathy. Panting can be a sign of heart disease, along with coughing, trouble breathing, and exercise intolerance. Before buying a purebred kitten, ask if the parents were screened for heart disease before breeding.

Some of the breeds known to inherit cardiomyopathy include:
  • Ragdoll
  • Maine Coon
  • Persian
  • Himalayan
  • Sphynx
  • British Shorthair

Cats may also develop heart disease as they get older. If you notice your cat panting at home and not just in the car, talk to your veterinarian about getting them checked over. Panting and breathing difficulties should be monitored closely with the advice of your veterinarian.

Breathing Issues

Panting can also be a sign of breathing issues in cats. If your cat develops an upper respiratory issue that clogs its nose, such as an infection or a tumor, it may only be able to breathe effectively with its mouth open. Any lung issue can also lead to trouble breathing, including cancer, pneumonia, or fluid in the chest secondary to a heart condition.

Any trouble breathing can quickly become life-threatening for your cat. If you notice that they struggle to breathe, have blue or purple gums, or are breathing rapidly, get your kitty to a vet immediately.

Tips to Make Car Rides Less Stressful

Devon Rex cat is travelling on owners lap in a car
Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock

If your cat pants in the car due to stress, there are several steps you can take to try to decrease their anxiety in this scenario. One method to make car rides less stressful is to take your cat on short trips and build up their tolerance of the situation.

This helps your cat break the negative association between riding in the car and the vet’s office. Short, frequent car rides also help your cat become familiar with the experience, decreasing their stress over time.

Offer your cat a food reward every time they successfully complete one of these training trips to help form a positive association with car rides. Keep the car cool while your cat is riding in it, and play soothing music. Placing a high value food reward in the carrier and practicing this with the carrier at home too can help.

Bring a familiar blanket or toy from home in your cat’s carrier to help soothe them in the car. You could also try spraying a cat pheromone product in your vehicle or carrier to help decrease their anxiety. Your vet can also prescribe a temporary sedative or anxiety-relieving medication if your kitty doesn’t seem to relax in any other way. They may be able to offer a home visit service to replace the ride to the vets office.


Panting in the car can be a way for your cat to react to a stressful situation or a hot vehicle. However, panting can also be a sign of underlying medical conditions like heart disease, so panting should always be closely monitored. If your cat frequently pants inside the car or at home, have them checked by your vet to rule out any concerning health issues. Once they receive a clean bill of health, try our tips to make car rides less stressful for your cat, and hopefully, the panting will soon stop.

Featured Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

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