It's very upsetting when your precious furball's breathing isn't right. Rapid, shallow breathing describes what vets call tachypnea, and this is a symptom of underlying conditions. But don't panic, because vets can successfully treat the conditions that cause your kitty to breathe like this.
By far the most common underlying cause of tachypnea are problems with your cat's heart. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a condition where the heart muscle thickens, making it harder for blood to leave the heart. Shortness of breath is one of the symptoms of this. However, if your furball is an older cat and has only recently started to breathe rapidly, then a more likely cause is heartworm. Your vet will perform a range of tests for this, including blood count, an antigen and antibody study, plus an ultrasound and X-ray, as this condition is difficult to diagnose.
It seems logical that changes in breathing should be linked to a respiratory disease, such as asthma or bronchitis. When tachypnea is a result of asthma, then it's likely that you'll only notice her breathing rapidly during the time of an asthma attack. Episodic tachypnea is a possible indication that asthma or bronchitis are the source of the problem, but your vet may want to consider other possible causes of rapid breathing if there are other symptoms that don't fit with a straightforward respiratory disease.
Vets see other causes of tachypnea less frequently, such as anemia. Your cat may also be breathing rapidly because she's in pain. Hyperthyroidism, which is an overactive thyroid gland, is another possible cause, especially if your cat is over 5 years old. It is very rare to find it in cats younger than this, according to VetInfo.
Generally, tachypnea resolves itself when the underlying condition is treated. In the case of asthma, your vet will probably treat your furball with corticosteroids and bronchial dilators. These successfully manage your cat's asthma throughout his life. If your furry friend has heartworm disease, your vet will monitor him at regular intervals. There isn't a cure for this condition, but she may give him prednisone, which is also given to cats with respiratory diseases. Cats with hypertrophic myocardiopathy are often given beta-blockers to relieve the tachypnea along with other symptoms.
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.