Cat Wheezing: When is it Considered an Emergency?

If you’ve ever heard your cat wheeze, you may have been alarmed by the sound. Wheezing isn’t common in cats, and when cats wheeze, it usually signifies that something is wrong. However, some causes of cat wheezing are more serious than others, and some should be treated as an emergency.

Cat wheezing

Below, you’ll find out more about different causes of wheezing in cats and when this symptom may signify an emergency. You can use this information to choose when it’s time to see a regular vet and when to go to the emergency vet instead.

Mild Causes

The common causes of cat wheezing can be put into 3 different categories: mild, moderate and severe. These categories help determine whether your cat needs emergency care or not. It’s important to know in which category your cat falls so that you can get her the care she needs.

Some mild causes of cat wheezing are:


One of the most common and mildest causes of wheezing in cats is hairball. If your cat is trying to cough up a hairball, she may start wheezing and may develop a hacking cough until she is able to spit it up.

Once she gets rid of the hairball, she should go back to her normal self within a few minutes, with no more signs of wheezing. This underlying cause of wheezing in cats does not require a trip to the regular vet or to the emergency vet.


Some cats are more prone to developing allergies than others. If your cat has known allergies, such as pollen or cigarette smoke, you do not have to take her to the regular vet or the emergency vet every time she wheezes in the presence of one of these allergens.

However, if your cat has never been diagnosed with allergies before but you suspect she may be allergic to something in her environment, take her to the regular vet as soon as you can. This is not an emergency situation, but it may require medication and monitoring.

Moderate Causes

Now that you know some of the mild causes of this behavior, let’s talk about some of the causes that fall into the moderate category.

Remember, if you ever have any questions about your cat’s health or you’re unsure if she needs veterinary care, you should take her to the veterinarian. When in doubt, it’s always better to have a vet or emergency vet examine your pet to make sure everything is okay.

Below are the causes of cat wheezing that can fall into the moderate category:

Respiratory Infection

Many types of respiratory infections can lead to wheezing in cats. Cats are also quite prone to developing respiratory infections, so there is a good chance this could be the underlying cause of your cat’s wheezing.

Look for other symptoms of respiratory infection in cats, such as:

  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Fever

If you notice any of these signs along with wheezing, or if your cat just doesn’t seem to be her usual self for some reason, take her to the regular vet. She does not need to see an emergency vet, but she will need medication to help clear up the infection.


Asthma is more common in cats than you might realize, and many cats end up with an asthma diagnosis at some point in their lives. If your cat has diagnosed asthma, you don’t have to take her to the vet every time she has an asthma attack.

However, if you suspect your cat may have asthma or if she is suffering from a severe flare-up, she should see her regular vet. The vet may prescribe steroids for flare-ups and may give your cat inhaler medication to help her manage her asthma moving forward.

Severe Causes

The causes of wheezing in cats that fall into the severe category are the ones that will likely need emergency care, such as airway blockage or heartworms. If you know for sure that any of the below causes for your cat’s behavior are true, or if you’re suspicious that one of these may be the problem, cat your cat to the emergency vet so she can get the care she needs right away.

Severe cause of cat wheezing include:


Heartworms are much more serious in cats than they are in dogs. If cats have even just a few heartworms, this condition can prove fatal.

Severe wheezing is associated with heartworm infection in cats. If this is the cause of your cat’s wheezing, she needs to see an emergency vet immediately.

Airway Blockage

Airway blockage is another severe emergency situation. If your cat inhales something or swallows something that gets lodged in her nasal passages or throat, she will wheeze as she tries to breathe.

This situation can become fatal very quickly, so you should take your cat to the emergency vet without waiting if you suspect this is the cause of her wheezing.


Certain types of cancer may cause cats to wheeze more often than healthy cats. Lung cancer, nasal tumors, and some types of oral cancer may all contribute to wheezing symptoms in cats.

If your cat is already diagnosed with cancer, you don’t have to take her to the vet for wheezing every time. If not, she should see her regular vet for a diagnosis.

Heart Disease

Finally, cats who have heart disease may also wheeze frequently. If you suspect your cat may have heart disease, take her to the vet for a checkup. If she has known heart disease and seems to suddenly worsen, take her to the emergency vet instead.

Get Immediate Care for Your Cat’s Wheezing

More often than not, cats will need to see their regular vet to deal with the underlying cause of wheezing. However, as you can see from the information above, some cats may need to go to the emergency vet in some instances.

If you are unsure about the severity of your cat’s condition, go to the emergency vet. This way, you’ll have your cat in the right place if she is dealing with something severe, and they can direct you back to the regular vet if not.

At The Village Vets, our emergency animal hospital it open 24/7 and has a team of people who will always put your cat’s health and comfort first. Whether the causes of cat wheezing are mild, moderate or severe, we’re here for you and your cat when you need us most. Call us today at (404) 371-9774 or bring your cat right in.

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