Have you ever noticed your cat freaking out when you breathe heavily? Why do some cats react to heavy breathing? Do they like the feeling of you breathing? How can you calm your cat if they are freaked out? And what can you do if your cat often freaks out while you breathe heavily? Today, I am going to be answering these questions so that you can completely understand the behavior, and know what to do about it (if anything!)
So, why does my cat freak out when I breathe heavily? Cats can freak out when you breathe heavily because they think you are under threat, or they perceive your behavior as a threat to them because of their instinctive response to panting.
In other words, your cat is essentially startled.
It actually makes sense when you come to think about it.
To them, they weren’t expecting it. And they have associations with how it sounds (or even feels).
So with this in mind, let’s continue to explore the reaction in your cat, and what you can do about it.
Why Does My Cat React To Heavy Breathing?
Cats can react to heavy breathing because they see it as a sign that something is wrong with whoever is doing the panting. Cats can also see heavy breathing as a sign of danger to themselves.
Your Cat May Think Something is Wrong
Examples of Cats Acting When They Feel Something Is Wrong
If you suddenly start breathing much more heavily than usual, your cat can freak out because they think something is wrong.
For your cat, heavy breathing is often a sign of pain, so they’ll think you’re in danger or seriously hurt.
For example, one woman posted that she had a severe arthritis attack and suddenly was breathing quite heavily.
Her cat, knowing something was wrong with her person, freaked out.
Another person posted that when she was struggling to breathe because her sleep apnea mask had fallen off, her cat jumped on her and batted at her face to wake her up.
Fortunately, the cat’s intervention was effective, and she believes her cat saved her life.
There are many signs of pain in cats, but heavy breathing is one that they most associate with potential danger as well as pain (see below).
What Cats Might Do While Freaking Out
What your cat does when they freak out depends on its personality.
More dominant cats tend to react more aggressively, whereas other cats can become more submissive.
You can tell which camp your cat falls into by watching their body language. Dominant cats tend to:
- Stare at you directly
- Thrash or twitch their tails
- Spit at you
- Have dilated pupils
- Puff up to look as big as possible
Submissive cats may:
- Tuck their tail between their legs
- Crouch down to try and look small
- Raise one paw
- Lie down on their side
Some of the things that cats do when they are freaked out include:
- Trying to attack you (out of self-defense)
- Biting you
- Rolling around on the floor
- Leaping or running from one side of the room to the other
- Leaping on furniture or trying to get to any point that’s higher up in the room (for safety)
It’s essential to look for ways to calm your cat in these situations (see below).
Your Cat May Think You’ve Become Dangerous
Your cat might see your heavy breathing as a sudden threat as if you’ve instantly changed to become an aggressive and dangerous person for them.
The sound of heavy breathing can trigger a cat’s natural survival response because they might interpret the sound as an advancing predator.
Cats have excellent hearing – this helps them hear their prey rustling around outside before they leap on it for the kill.
When you breathe heavily, your cat might react purely on instinct and prepare to either flee or fight.
Some cats become frightened when you breathe heavily, possibly because the sound of heavy breathing can be interpreted as a form of hissing.
Cats hiss at each other to send a message that says, “Back off, or else!”
Do Cats Like The Feeling Of You Breathing?
Cats can enjoy the feeling of you breathing because they can see it as comforting. Though, heavy breathing can be discomforting. It ultimately depends on the speed and vibrations emitted while breathing and where your cat is in relation to them.
Cats are sensitive to the slightest odor and sound – they know what you smell like, and they even enjoy your scent.
This is why many cats like sleeping with their people – and sometimes on your chest or pillow.
The feel and sound of your breathing – as well as your heartbeat – may mimic your cat’s experience of kittenhood when they were close to their mother and littermates.
Your cat may purr when on your chest as their way of reciprocating those feelings of comfort.
Your cat may equate the sound of your breathing with a reassuring sign that all is well – when your breathing is normal, that is.
Even the sound of your nighttime snoring can be a soothing sound to your cat, as it’s a familiar one that they associate with home and safety.
In addition to the sound, cats can appreciate the smell of your breath because they are accustomed to your odors.
What smells offensive to us can be highly attractive to cats because they get a lot of information from smelly places (even toilets!)
Some cats will smell their people’s breath as a way of showing their love and affection.
How To Calm Your Cat When They Are Freaked Out
There are a few things you can do to calm your cat when they are freaked out. Try speaking calmly and slowly to reassure your cat. Move away if you have to, or otherwise, try changing your posture so that you are either sitting or lying down. Avoid physical contact as well as eye contact, which your cat might experience as threatening.
Speak Calmly To Your Cat To Reassure Them
Even if your cat doesn’t understand the words you say, they’ll understand your tone of voice, intonation, and emotion behind your words.
You can deliver a calm message of reassurance through your tone and body posture (see below). Speak with a soft voice so that you appear as reassuring as possible.
Note: Even if you are in a lot of pain or distress, avoid shouting at all costs. No matter how emotional you may be feeling, shouting won’t help – it could mean your cat trusts you less, affecting your bond with them.
Move Away From Your Cat
Another thing you can try is to move away from your cat so that it can’t see or hear you. This strategy gives you more time to control your breathing (see below).
Try closing the door to keep your cat out or moving to another room, such as the bathroom.
If possible, choose a room where your cat doesn’t usually go so that it doesn’t look like you’re shutting them out of their favorite place.
Avoid Physical Contact
As much as you might want to cuddle your cat to reassure them, this could only make the problem worse, particularly if your cat sees you as a threat.
Your cat is vulnerable while they’re worried or frightened, and you wouldn’t want them to lash out at you, possibly making both of you feel worse.
Avoid Eye Contact
Just because you see a mother cat staring at her kittens doesn’t mean you can employ this strategy with your cat to get them to do what you want.
Cats will see eye contact as threatening when they are feeling vulnerable – meaning you could be making the problem worse. A cat often sees staring as an invitation to fight!
What You Can Do About Your Cat Freaking Out While You Breathe
If your cat is freaking out while you breathe, there are some things you can do to regulate your breathing and change your posture to signal to your cat that everything is fine.
Try and Control Your Breathing
This is easier said than done, depending on the situation, but it’s a good idea to try and calm your breathing down if at all possible.
Genuine health issues might make this very difficult, but if you’ve just come from a morning jog, you can try to control your breathing before greeting your cat.
Some ways you can control your breathing (when it isn’t a serious health issue) include:
- Taking extra deep breaths. This can force you to breathe more slowly as you try and fully expand your lungs.
- Gulping down some water. You can’t pant and drink at the same time, so taking a couple of big drinks of water can help calm you down.
Here’s an additional step-by-step method for controlling your breathing that you might find useful:
- Put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
- Focus on your breathing with your eyes closed.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose while keeping your mouth closed.
- Breathe out through your nose.
- Keep the breathing process as deep, relaxed, and slow as possible.
Change Your Posture
If you are leaning over and panting while clutching your stomach, you may find changing your posture can signal to your cat that you will be okay.
Try adopting a different body posture – preferably one in which you are lying down or sitting.
People who are sitting or lying down are seen as less threatening to cats because they don’t appear as big and scary.
Make The Surroundings As Quiet As Possible
If you are in a noisy environment, do what you can to turn down the noise levels. If this isn’t possible, perhaps try and find a quiet room for your cat.
You could also try playing calming music or using pheromone sprays to help alleviate your cat’s stress and anxiety.
Reward Your Cat When They Stop
If your cat stops freaking out, reward them with some treats or playtime: by reinforcing the behavior that you want (your cat to stop freaking out), it’s more likely your cat will want more rewards by continuing to display calm behavior in the future if the same situation happens again.
Cats typically enjoy your breathing – so long as it is not heavy (as you have come to learn).
So, if you don’t want to elicit a shocked and frantic response in your cat, try not to breathe heavily while they are on you.
Slow your breathing down.
Use it as an opportunity to relax.
Besides, you’ll feel much calmer. As will your cat!
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.