Cats often pant in the car because, for an untrained cat, it’s incredibly stressful! I’ve found that the movement, in particular, tends to upset cats unfamiliar with the experience.
In this article, we’ll discuss why cats pant in the car and how to stop it from happening.
Table of Contents:
Why is my Cat Panting in the Car?
Unlike people, cats cannot sweat. If they’re too hot, they cool down by panting. Stress and elevated heart rate can also cause a cat to pant.
Normal panting occurs when it’s hot in the car and can be solved by creating a cross-breeze with the windows open or turning on the air conditioning.
Make sure your cat drinks plenty of water and never leave them in a hot car by themselves. Consider putting ice in their water to further cool them down, putting an ice pack in the carrier, or feeding wet food during the trip, so your cat gets extra moisture.
Panting from stress is also normal but usually avoidable. Train your cat so that they’re used to the car and their carrier before trips, especially if they’ll be in the car for extended periods.
You can do this by bringing your cat into the parked car for about five minutes at a time. Let them roam around, sniff, and scent mark by rubbing their cheeks and tail on objects in the vehicle.
Offer them pets, play, treats, and food to keep the experience positive.
Slowly build up to longer periods, then introduce your cat to staying in the carrier in the car, the sound of the car turning on, and short car rides around the block.
Leave the carrier open inside the house before using it so your cat can sniff it and crawl inside. Feeding food or treats inside the open carrier can help build positive associations as well.
All of this can decrease your cat’s anxiety surrounding the car so that your cat can confidently go on road trips without panting from stress.
Call the closest emergency veterinarian if your cat shows other symptoms alongside their panting, such as drooling heavily, darkened gums, vomiting, or convulsing.
Is it Okay if my Cat Pants in the Car?
It’s not ideal if your cat is panting in the car, and you shouldn’t ignore it—but on its own, it’s not an indicator that something is wrong.
They might be stressed about a vet appointment or panting because of the summer heat.
If it’s a short trip and your cat is stressed, they’ll likely be okay so long as the panting isn’t accompanied by other symptoms. (If it is, you should get them to the veterinarian ASAP!)
If it’s hot, try your best to cool the car down as much as you can—even if it’s just opening windows to get a breeze flowing. Just make sure your cat is contained and can’t escape the car before opening the windows!
On longer trips, you’re going to have to address your cat’s stress or heat more seriously. You can’t let them continue to pant as they might overheat or become sick.
Follow the advice below to stop your cat from panting in the car.
How do I get my Cat to Stop Panting in the Car?
You don’t want your cat to pant for prolonged periods. Not only is it indicative of stress, but it can lead to more serious problems like heatstroke if you don’t address it!
First, you’ll want to know why your cat is panting. Is it hot in the car? Are you sweating yourself?
Or perhaps they’re not used to being in the car and are feeling stressed.
Here are some tips for keeping your cat cool in the car:
- Keep them hydrated. Cats don’t drink a lot because they’re built to get most of their water from their prey. Keep fresh water handy, but also bring along wet food. Add a bit of water to give it even more moisture.
- Turn on the air or open the windows. Lowering the temperature of the car is the best way to go!
- Use ice. Add an ice pack to your cat’s carrier or put ice cubes in their water. You can even wrap a bag of ice in a towel and hold it against the back of your cat’s neck for a short period or place an ice pack beneath their bedding to cool them down.
- Never leave your cat in a hot car. Cars accumulate heat very quickly. Just like you shouldn’t leave a baby or dog in a hot vehicle, you should never leave your cat inside one either.
And here are some tips to keep them calm:
- Take a break. If you’re already in the car, the best thing you can do for your cat is to take a break. Pull into a parking lot, climb into the back seat, and soothe your cat. Speak to them in a comforting voice and pet them.
If you’re sure you can get the cat back into the carrier and all of the windows are closed, let your cat come out and stretch their legs. A cat on a harness and leash can be brought outside. (Just make sure this doesn’t create more stress!)
- Get them out of the car as soon as possible. Too much stress or heat can hurt your cat, and it’s important to get them out of the situation as soon as you can. For example, if you’re going to the veterinarian, call ahead and ask if you can bring your cat right in to calm down rather than waiting in the car for your appointment.
- Train them before your trip. The best thing you can do for your cat is to get them used to the car and their carrier before you leave. New experiences are scary, and being thrown into an hours-long road trip all at once is going to cause stress!
- Use pheromone calming products. These products are sold at most pet stores and come in sprays, wipes, and collars.
- Compression. Products like the Thundershirt are weighted, compressing your cat’s body to reduce stress.
- Anxiety medication. Talk to your veterinarian about anxiety medication if your cat is very anxious in the car. They’ll likely be able to prescribe it or offer other tips for keeping your kitty calm.
Cat Panting and Drooling in the Car
If your cat is drooling heavily, is weak, or convulsing, call the closest emergency veterinarian. It’s important to always have a plan in place when you bring your cat away from home.
This should include saving the numbers of regular and emergency veterinary clinics to your phone or writing them down. For long trips, research clinics along the way as well as the ones local to your destination.
Dr. Stephanie Lantry notes that cat panting is an emergency if your cat is struggling to breathe or their tongue turns blue or purple. She also recommends calling your veterinarian if your cat is still panting for over five minutes after getting out of the car.
Panting and drooling can also indicate heat stroke. The symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Blood in vomit or stool
- Dark red, dry, and sticky gums
- Fast, thread pulse
- Glazed-over eyes
- Staggering or collapse
- Unresponsiveness, confusion
- Bruising of the skin or gums