a cat huffing

Cat Huffing: What Is It & Causes

There are several reasons cats huff, or sharply exhale through their nose.

Huffing is often a way for cats to communicate their frustration about something but it can also happen when they are tired from an intense play session. 

An isolated huff is usually nothing to worry about, however, huffing can be an indication of breathing difficulties or illness, particularly if it lasts longer or is accompanied by wheezing sounds.

It’s best to observe your cat’s behaviour when they are huffing, monitor their breathing and take them to the vet if you are concerned. 

What Is Cat Huffing?

Cat huffing is when a cat quickly exhales through their nose.

These huffing sounds are often something cats do to express frustration or dissatisfaction.

Huffing is also associated with cats that are tired so your cat may huff after playing or running around simply because they have exerted themselves and are tired.

what is cat huffing

The huffing sound is different from panting or wheezing, which both tend to last longer and may be accompanied by other signs of distress or discomfort.

Listen closely for wheezing, whistling, or crackling sounds when your cat is huffing.

If the noise is accompanied by wheezing it is important to get your cat checked by a vet as they may be experiencing breathing difficulties. 

If you aren’t sure why your cat is huffing, watch them closely as their behaviour will help you figure out what they are trying to communicate. 

Why Do Cats Huff & What Does It Mean?

The most common reason for a cat huffing is to communicate they are not happy about something.

This could be because they are feeling stressed or anxious about something, they may be annoyed or frustrated, or they could be hot and tired. 

A single huff is usually not something to worry about, a cat will often huff once.

In cases where cats will huff a few times because they are tired or annoyed, they tend to stop huffing once they feel comfortable and begin to relax. 

cat wearing a mask

Top 4 Reasons Cats Huff

1. Frustration 

Huffing is often used as a way for cats to express their displeasure or frustration with something.

They may be worked up, irritated, or they could just be trying to get to something (like a toy or a treat) that is just out of reach. This will usually be a single huff used to express themselves. 

2. Stress or Anxiety 

Your cat may be huffing because they are stressed or feel anxious.

Watch your cat’s behaviour and body language to help determine if the huffing is caused by them feeling afraid or uncomfortable. 

stressed cat and dog

In this case, they may become more withdrawn, or hide away, and you may notice other changes in their behaviour too. 

Try to reduce their stress/ anxiety by figuring out what is making them feel that way and helping them become more comfortable by making changes in the home gradually, or by removing the trigger if applicable. 

3. Exhaustion 

If you see your cat huffing after some intense playtime or after having the zoomies it might just be because they are tired.

Playtime uses a lot of energy and the huffing noise can simply be the result of your cat breathing faster. 

This is not unusual after intense play but make sure your cat is not overheating and has not overworked themselves to the point of exhaustion.

Huffing after playtime is more common in overweight cats. 

4. Pain

Ongoing heavy breathing and huffing may also be caused by pain or injury.

For example, if your cat has landed awkwardly or has got into a disagreement with another cat, they may be in pain.

When the huffing is caused by pain it usually lasts longer and may continue when your cat is relaxed and laying down. 

cat in pain

Check your cat for injuries, and if you’re not sure what is causing the huffing take them to the vet. 

If your cat starts huffing for no apparent reason it is important to take time to look closely at the situation.

If the huffing continues for a long time, the noise is accompanied by wheezing, or you frequently hear your cat making a huffing noise then a check-up at the vet is worthwhile. 

Ask a Vet

If your cat’s huffing is continuing for a prolonged period we recommend you speak with a vet ASAP to help you work out what’s going on and what needs to be done. JustAnswer allows you to talk in real-time to veterinary experts for a small fee.

Should I Be Worried About My Cat’s Huffing?

More often than not, cats huff to communicate how they are feeling and it is considered normal in physically-fit cats so is nothing to worry about.

However, in some cases, huffing may be a symptom of a health problem. 

do you need to worry about your cat huffing

If your cat starts huffing suddenly without an apparent reason, take them for a check-up. It’s better to be safe as huffing may be the result of:


Cats can suffer from chronic inflammation of the air passage in the lungs (A.K.A asthma).

This can cause breathing difficulties and asthma attacks may be triggered by inhaling allergens, obesity, or heart illnesses. 

Although asthma cannot be cured, there are treatment options to help prevent asthma attacks and ensure your cat can breathe comfortably. 

Congestive Heart Failure 

Congestive heart failure is when the heart is not getting enough blood and fluid going to the lungs. 

heart failure could cause huffing in rare cases

Cats with congestive heart failure tend to be weak, lethargic, and need immediate medical attention.

CHF can be caused by a number of factors including birth defects, thickening of the heart wall, high blood pressure, blood clots, and hyperthyroidism. 

Treatment includes medication and severe cases may require hospitalisation and oxygen therapy for initial stabilisation.

Periodic tests are also recommended for monitoring the progression of the disease and the effectiveness of the treatment. 


Heartworm disease is caused by parasitic worms that live in major blood vessels of the lungs and sometimes the heart.

Breathing abnormalities such as huffing are the most common sign of heartworm disease. 

There are effective medications available that can help prevent heartworm so speak to your vet about this. Prevention is the way to go as there is currently no treatment for heartworm infection in cats. 

Feline Upper Respiratory Infection 

Your cat may be huffing because they are suffering from a cold.

Just like humans, cats may struggle to breathe when they have a cold which can result in huffing sounds.

If your cat is suffering from a feline upper respiratory infection, a vet can prescribe medication if needed. Your cat will benefit from being kept warm and being fed a nutritionally complete diet. 


Finally, your cat may huff because they are breathing more rapidly as a result of the pain. In addition to faster breathing, pain causes increased blood pressure and an increased heart rate which will contribute to the huffing. 

If you hear your cat making a huffing noise, check them for injuries to ensure the change in their breathing is not being caused by pain and discomfort. 

Is It Normal?

Cat huffing is normal and, in healthy cats, it is usually nothing to be concerned about.

In most cases, huffing is simply a way cats communicate and share their emotions.

With that said, there are times when huffing may be a sign of a health issue. 

If you don’t know why your cat is huffing, or they are huffing a lot, it’s best to take them to the vet for a health check.

Huffing usually stops when your cat is relaxing so if the huffing continues it may be a sign they are in pain or struggling to breathe normally. 

Why Is My Cat Huffing Like A Dog?

Your cat may be huffing because they are stressed, anxious, or overheating.

Usually this huffing will stop if your cat is able to relax and rest.

dog and cat hugging

Cats don’t huff or pant as much as dogs do, so it is quite unusual to see this.  

Why is My Cat Huffing When Playing?

Your cat may be huffing because they are tired, overheating or frustrated.

Huffing may be a sign for the playing to stop or slow down as your cat may need to rest.

If your cat is trying to get to a toy that is out of reach they may huff to show they are frustrated or annoyed. 

Why Does My Cat Snort At Me?

Cats don’t snort often but they may do it because they have an irritation in their nose or they have a sinus infection or virus.

If your cat is snorting often it is worth chatting to your vet about it. 

What Can Be Done To Help Wheezing Cats or Cats With Breathing Issues?

The treatment for wheezing and breathing issues in cats depends on the cause of the problem. Treatment options often include medication, surgery, or dietary changes.

The best thing to do is take your cat to the vet so diagnostic tests can be performed and the underlying cause of the wheezing and breathing issues can be determined.

Potential causes of wheezing include asthma which is inflammation of the air passage in the lungs, parasites, a respiratory infection, heart failure, or pain and discomfort.

In most cases, rest and medicine will help your cat recover from breathing problems. 

Signs of Breathing Difficulties Include: 

  • Noisy, heavy, shallow, or fast breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Pale gums
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Coughing
  • Collapse
  • Sudden death

It is important to contact the vet immediately if your cat is experiencing breathing problems. There are many potential causes and the faster your cat is treated, the better.

To help support your cat’s overall health, always ensure your cat has a nutritionally complete diet and schedule some playtime each day to support their physical and mental well-being. 

Sometimes, there are specific things you can do to help your cat, for example, if they have allergies then using an air purifier in the house may help your kitty breathe easier.