Why Do Cats Huff?

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A curious cat with its nose lifted, actively engaged in huffing the scents in its environment, showcasing the keen sense of smell that plays a vital role in a cat's perception of the world.

Have you ever heard cats huff? Cats can make all sorts of sounds, including purring, chirping, meowing, and chattering. In fact, did you know that research has shown that felines can produce up to 21 different vocalizations?

These vocalizations are used to communicate with other cats, other animals, and of course with us, their owners. So what does a cat’s huff tell us? Let’s take a closer look.

Key Takeaways

Cats can make several different vocalizations, including huffing.

A cat huffs when they rapidly exhale air through their nose with their mouth closed. It can sometimes sound like a heavy sigh or a snort.

Cats can huff to express an emotion such as frustration or contentment. They can also huff as a result of pain, illness, or stress.

What Is Cat Huffing?

The “huff” sound that cats can make is produced when they exhale rapidly through their nose. It sounds like a short, sharp, burst of escaping air, almost as though they are trying to blow their nose. This is different from a hiss, which happens when a cat breathes out rapidly through their mouth. A cat huffs with their mouth closed and they might do it once or twice, or several times in succession.

Why Do Cats Huff?

There are many different reasons why a cat might huff. Here are some of the main ones:

1. Your Cat Is Relaxed

Your cat might gently huff when they are relaxed and content. It might sound a bit like a sigh. A contented huff will probably only occur once and your cat is likely to be relaxing in their favorite spot when they do it. If your cat sighs or huffs when they are relaxing, chances are they are one contented cat.

2. They’re Frustrated

Cats sometimes huff when they’re feeling frustrated or annoyed. Your cat might express their annoyance by letting out a single loud huff or several smaller huffs. Each cat is different. It might be that they are wanting their food, or it could be that your cat wants to play with a toy that is out of reach. Cats can be very particular and it might not take much for them to huff about something that has displeased them.

3. They Feel Tired

Your cat might huff if they are tired, particularly after an active play session or they have zoomed around the house. You might hear a single, gentle huff as they stop and recover. If your cat’s breathing sounds noisy after playtime or exercise then you should take them to the vet to get them checked out. It’s not normal for cats to pant or breathe heavily in the way that dogs do when they’re worn out.

4. Your Cat Is Stressed

An informative image highlighting signs of stress in cats, featuring visuals of common stress-related behaviors and expressions, encouraging viewers to better understand and care for their feline companions' well-being.

Cats are expressive creatures, and huffing can signal many different things, from contentment to stress.

Cats can be prone to suffering from stress and this can manifest in many different ways. One of these might be huffing and puffing repeatedly. They might also hide away or become more withdrawn. Some cats with anxiety develop urinary problems, whereas others might overgroom themselves to the point where they develop sore skin and/or bald patches.

Try to work out if there is anything that could be upsetting your cat and remove the trigger if possible. Take your cat to the vet to get them checked out if you are worried about their behavior or if they seem unwell.

5. They’re in Pain

If your cat is huffing loudly or repeatedly, it could be a sign that they are in discomfort or pain. Look out for any sign of injury or other signs of illness and take your cat to get checked over by a vet if you are concerned.

6. Your Cat Has a Respiratory Illness

Any kind of respiratory illness that affects the heart or lungs could cause your cat to breathe heavily and make huffing sounds. Some of the more common types of respiratory diseases in cats include:

  • Asthma

Otherwise known as inflammatory airway disease, allergic airway disease, or chronic bronchitis, feline asthma can cause symptoms such as persistent coughing, heavy breathing, huffing, and wheezing. If your cat is diagnosed with asthma, there are medications that can be prescribed to help manage your cat’s symptoms.

  • Congestive Heart Failure

This can cause difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, coughing, weight loss, and a reluctance to exercise. If your cat is breathing heavily due to congestive heart failure, it can sometimes sound as though they are making a huffing noise. The sooner a cat is diagnosed, the better the condition can be managed with appropriate medications.

  • Upper Respiratory Infection

Upper respiratory infections such as cat flu are common in cats. An upper respiratory infection can cause an excessive production of mucus in your cat’s upper airways which causes them to become bunged up and make strange huffing and snuffling sounds as they breathe.

  • Heartworm

Heartworm is a parasitic worm that lives in the heart or large blood vessels and can cause difficulty breathing which results in huffing sounds. Speak to your veterinarian about heartworm prevention treatments for your cat.

When Should I Be Concerned About My Cat Huffing?

A captivating image capturing a cat in mid-meow, its mouth wide open and vocal cords engaged, as it communicates through its distinct and expressive feline language.

Consistent huffing can be a sign that your cat is unwell and should be taken to a veterinarian for a checkup.

If your cat huffs occasionally but seems otherwise well and content, then huffing is nothing to worry about. If, however, your cat is showing signs of illness or changes in their behavior, then you should take your cat to the vet so that they can be checked. It is especially important to seek veterinary advice if your cat is huffing and having any kind of breathing difficulties or respiratory issues as this could be life-threatening.

Cats huff for all sorts of reasons, and it can mean very different things depending on the circumstances. Your cat might just be expressing that they are content, communicating with you that they are frustrated or upset about something, or even just tired. On the other hand, they could be in pain or showing you that they are unwell.

Usually, you will be able to tell the difference by looking at the context of the situation and determining whether your cat appears happy or stressed. If you are unsure, it is best to take your cat to the veterinarian to get them checked. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, after all.

Also Read: 7 Common Cat Vocalizations and What They Mean

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do cats huff and puff?

Cats sometimes huff in frustration when they are annoyed, or when they are feeling stressed. A huff can also be a sign of contentment. If your cat is huffing regularly or seems to be having trouble with their breathing, then you should take them to the veterinarian for an appointment.

Do cats huff like dogs?

An occasional huff from your cat is normal and is often just a way of communicating with you. However, it is not normal for cats to huff repeatedly when they are tired or out of breath like dogs do and you should take your cat to the vet if you witness them doing this.

When should I be worried about my cat huffing?

If your cat’s huffing is new, or if they are huffing regularly, or if you think their breathing is affected, then you should take them to a vet as soon as possible. You probably don’t need to worry if your cat only huffs occasionally and it happens when they are content or even frustrated.

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About Dr. Gemma Cliffin BSC BVSC MRCVS

Gemma has worked in a wide variety of roles including first opinion practice, as a night vet, and as a locum vet. She currently works in a small animal hospital in North Yorkshire. She has particular interests in feline medicine, diagnostic imaging, and pain management, as well as a strong understanding of cat behavior and nutrition.

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  1. Marjia

    My cat Theo huffs during play when he’s REALLY focused and intent on catching the birdie toy! It’s cute, almost a little dog-bark.