Newborn kittens are interesting animals, and they have many behaviors that are not shared with cats that are further along in their development.
Sometimes, newborn kittens may exhibit signs of panting. This can be completely harmless, but more often than not, it can be a sign of a life-threatening medical condition.
Read on to learn more about why newborn kittens may pant, how to identify when panting in newborns becomes a concern, and what to do if your kitten is panting.
Why Newborn Kittens May Pant? (6 Causes)
Kittens typically pant as a sign of stress, with some causes being more serious than others. Among these less serious causes are environmental disturbances that can make your newborn kittens feel unsafe.
Environmental disturbances that are known to affect newborn kittens include loud environments, bright rooms, and being in busy areas of the home.
Newborn kittens are susceptible, so providing a consistently calm environment while they develop is key. Dogs, young children, and other visitors should be kept away from your kittens until they are older.
Kittens may also become stressed if they are not adequately fed. This can happen if the mother refuses to feed them, has issues producing milk, or has an exceptionally large litter.
On rare occasions, cats and even kittens may pant when they get overheated. This is usually not the cause of newborn kitten panting, but it could be possible if they are in an extremely hot environment.
Although cats are well-adapted to living in warm environments, newborn kittens have less tolerance to the elements because they are still developing.
Hot climates can also cause dehydration-related stresses, which increases the likelihood of panting.
Newborn kittens are mostly very sleepy creatures, but sometimes they may get a burst of energy and act rambunctious.
After a period of playfulness or doing other activities like exploring or trying to climb things, your kitten can become fatigued.
Fatigue, in this example, is harmless and simply means that your kitten has exerted more energy than it can sustain at a young age.
When your kitten is tired, they may pant and breathe heavily for a short period of time as they try to catch their breath.
Choking among newborn kittens is a more severe cause of panting. This issue typically only happens when kittens are bottle-fed with kitten formula.
When the formula is given incorrectly, it may enter the kitten’s airways in a condition known as aspiration.
At this age, kittens lack the lung capacity to adequately cough out the liquid that may enter the lungs.
Because newborn kittens are very small, aspirating a tiny amount of liquid can be deadly. We recommend seeking emergency veterinarian care if you suspect your kitten is choking.
#5 Lung or Respiratory Illness
As newborn kittens have fairly weak lungs, they risk developing lung and respiratory illnesses more than older cats.
Additionally, newborn kittens have underdeveloped immune systems that can struggle to fight off even more simple infections.
Panting can occur in sick kittens that are unable to cough or are otherwise struggling to breathe due to an illness.
If the mother cat or any other cats near the kittens have an illness, your newborn kittens are highly likely to become infected.
The likelihood of lung or respiratory illnesses developing in your newborn kittens is also increased by air pollution, especially smoke from indoor sources such as cigarettes, cooking, or burning incense.
A wide variety of bacteria and viruses can cause your kitten to develop an upper respiratory illness.
Because newborn kittens may be unable to overcome this type of illness on their own, we recommend reaching out to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
#6 Heart Problems
While it is rarer than a lung or upper respiratory illness, heart problems can sometimes cause newborn kittens to pant. Heart problems include sudden heart failure and other related conditions.
Some of these heart conditions are caused by parasites such as heartworms, which may be treatable if caught early.
If you suspect your kitten has heart problems, immediately take them to a licensed veterinarian for a diagnostic test.
When Is Panting A Concern?
Panting Vs. Hissing
Sometimes, what many cat owners think is panting is actually your newborn kitten attempting to hiss. The noise, if any is made, sounds nothing like the hiss of an older cat due to the kitten’s undeveloped body.
Because newborn kittens are mostly blind and deaf, they rely largely on their sense of smell during the first few days of their lives.
Any smells registered by your newborn kittens other than the smell of their mother or siblings can trigger fear in them.
Instinctually, they try to hiss in response to this fear, completely unaware that they aren’t capable of being very frightening.
When newborn kittens try to hiss, this is often mistaken for panting. Attempts to hiss may look like gasping, and are often made repetitively.
Although hissing can sometimes be a more prolonged episode, it is unlikely that your kitten would keep trying to hiss consistently for 1-2 minutes or more.
Extended periods of these behaviors are more likely to be a sign of panting.
During panting, your kitten will huff in and out continuously. Their mouth will likely stay open, and their tongue may be extended slightly outwards.
Your kitten’s chest and belly area will be moving rapidly, and they are unlikely to try to move around at all if they experience panting.
When Panting Becomes A Concern
Panting has a few causes that can be pretty harmless, but these are more rare. These harmless cases often resolve on their own in a very short time; usually, in less than a couple of minutes, a kitten will catch its breath if it can.
If your kitten does not catch its breath in a short minute or two, it is likely a sign of a much more severe health condition.
Panting in newborn kittens is considered an emergency, and professional veterinarian care should be sought as soon as possible.
What to Do If Your Kitten Is Panting?
If your kitten has been panting consistently for longer than two minutes, veterinarian care is absolutely vital for their survival and cannot be substituted for at-home solutions.
However, suppose your kitten has experienced much shorter episodes of panting that they quickly recovered from on their own.
In that case, you may want to review our recommended solutions for minimizing the less severe causes of panting.
Provide A Cooler Environment
If you suspect that your kittens are overheating, provide them with a cooler environment. If applicable, you should turn on air conditioning and avoid putting too many blankets or cushions near the kittens’ nesting area.
You may also opt to turn on a fan near the nesting area, but this should never be pointed directly toward the cats as it will cause them stress.
Whether your cats are indoors or outdoors, they should be provided with shade, so they are not in direct sunlight. This is especially important for kittens, which can have difficulty regulating their body temperatures.
If your cats are outdoors, keep your kitten’s nesting and play area away from any patches of hot concrete or similar surfaces.
Wiping your kittens gently with a damp cloth can be an excellent way to cool them down. The moisture you apply to their fur will slowly evaporate like sweat does in humans, cooling down their bodies.
This approach should be taken with caution as many newborn kittens can respond poorly to human interaction in their first two weeks of life.
Reduce Environmental Stress
If you think that your kittens may be exposed to too much environmental stress, there are a few steps you can take to eliminate it.
First, you will want to reduce background noise as much as possible. If you live in an urban area, this may be difficult, but even keeping your TV at a lower volume for a few days will be much appreciated by your cats.
Newborn kittens also have very sensitive eyes. For this reason, a dimly lit room away from direct sunlight is an ideal location for your cat’s nesting area.
Moving the nesting area after kittens have been born should be avoided at all costs. Instead, make other changes to the area to make it more suitable, such as adding temporary curtains.
Keep other pets and any human children away from newborn kittens completely. Newborn kittens should not be handled unless necessary to provide them care or transport them to a vet.
Attempts to socialize kittens while they are too young will permanently compromise your kittens’ sense of safety and security.
Take Your Kitten to The Vet
As previously mentioned, continuous panting that lasts longer than two minutes is considered a medical emergency.
Most of the time, panting is a sign of a life-threatening condition that will not improve on its own.
If your kitten is panting, it is vital to get in touch with your veterinarian as soon as possible to try to save your kitten’s life.