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Elderly cat breathing difficulties when purring

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Hi there,


I have a lovely ginger elderly cat called Harry who is about 20 years old. He's obviously been slowing down in his retirement, but over the past 2 months, he's developed really bad breathing difficulties, but only when he starts to purr. He has to breath through his mouth and he rasps. It is such a shame as he is a real lap cat and loves cuddles, but he can't do that any more. :( He'll jump up to sit on my lap, start to purr but then has too move away to a quiet place and it takes about 5-10 minutes for him to get back to normal.


He's eating and drinking well. I have obviously taken him to the vet. He's had an x-ray which was fine and blood tests - all within the normal range for an old cat with dodgey kidneys. He does have an enlarged thyroid, but his thyroid tablets now seem to have improved that. He's also on diuretics and has had a 2 week course of antibiotics. Poor chap he's positively rattling!


I was just wondering if anyone else has had this with their cat? I know we are drawing closer to making a decision, but at the moment he doesn't seem in much pain - only when he starts to purr.


Thanks for your help.

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We had something similar with one of ours earlier this year, although not only when she purred. It wasn't good news for us I'm afraid. I can't accurately remember the sequence of events but she did have difficulties breathing which eventually got so bad that she couldn't get her breath even to eat, and so we had her PTS. She was given steroids which helped, but only for the period of treatment. The hope was that it might give her a enough of a boost to overcome the problem, but in hindsight I realise that actually the vet was giving me a final 'good' week with her. I think it took about 6-8 weeks from first noticing her difficulties until the end. The vets thought she either had a tumour/growth, or fluid on/around the lungs or heart- it wasn't worth investigating further by opening her up as the prognosis was never going to be good and I didn't want to put her under the stress.


It may not be the same thing at all, and I wish you a better outcome.

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My mother's cat had a similar thing in her later years. It started when she was about 17 and happened when she purred - she would cough like she had something stuck in her throat. She was fine otherwise, it was only a problem if you stroked her and she started purring.


The vet could not find anything untoward so everyone just stopped stroking her to minimise the problem. It was hard to do but it seemed to help. She lived about another year and passed away peacefully.


I hope you get to the bottom of it. Good luck.

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Thank you Daphne & Lydia for your comments. They are really helpful and I think that we will have to monitor how he is over the coming days / weeks, but also knowing that the inevitable decision could soon be upon us. He has been such a character and great friend to us over all these years - this is the harsh reality of loving our pets so much, in that we know at some point they will be leaving us. So we will savour and appreciate every moment we have left with him.

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  @Surfnirvana did you ever find out what was wrong with you cat.  I have a 20 year old cat that's been with me since she was just a baby.  She means so much to me and now she developed a weird breathing issue only when she purrs. She starts to purr with her mouth open and starts to sound like shes gasping for air then she'll make a noise as is she is clearing her throat or a cough then continues back to gasping for air.  Only when shes purring. Almost as if shes suffocating. Now when shes by me in bed and starts to purr and the breathing issue starts, she removes herself from the thing that makes her purr (me) and goes to litter box and stands there to calm herself down and then returns to me and then if it starts again she gets up goes to the litter box, calms herself down and then returns to me.   In the last year shes gone deaf,  and in the last 4 months gone almost completely blind. It breaks my heart to watch her go through it and now this I cant  pet her cause she'll start to purr and then it starts.  Any insight would help . You can email me personally at chadcleven@gmail.com . Also here is a youtube video of her breathing.


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Ccleven2 - did you ever find out what was going on with your kitty? My 18 yr old has been doing the same thing and it seems to be getting worse. We have a vet appt in the AM but am trying to do a bit of research beforehand. Thanks!

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Hi Ccleven, Hi Catmom18,

Alvin and Manuela here. We are also experiencing the same breathing issues when purring as seen in the video.

We also have a very appointment for an x ray, and oral inspection under sedation this coming Monday.

Is there anything that you both could share based on any updated information? 

Would really appreciate any insights we can pass onto the vet.


Thanks in advance guys

Alvin and Manuela


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Hi all,

Just to close off our own post about our cat Mikey.

Unfortunately the problem of breathing when purring did not go away, and when we took him to the vet, once under general anesthetic so they could look down his throat, they found a tumour growing on his trachea. This tumour was closing off his air supply, and would have required major surgery, or if cancerous, would have required chemo.

This took us all by surprise as he was 100% active, 100% greedy guts and 100% healthy. We even had the call in the morning that his ultrasound and blood tests were fine and that he was able to come home.

A subsequent call after this outlined a major issue we faced was that as he was under anesthetic, he would have most likely been unable to wake up with the ability to breathe normally as the muscles may not have "woken" up at the same time as he did, so when they pulled out the breathing tube, he would more than likely have trouble breathing.

Even if he had woken up without issue, we still needed to consider the 3 options to remove the tumour, all of which did not mean a great quality of life for the poor guy. Ultimately to reduce the suffering and not buy time for our own comfort, we had to make the decision that morning to put him to sleep.

Very difficult time for all as the vet informed us that it is not a common occurrence in cats, but in the last 3 cases he had over his years of being a vet, none of them had great outcomes.

Hope this helps others in their information gathering.



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My cat is having this same problem. She is 17yrs old. Started open mouth breathing while purring. She also has been hard swallowing at random and when drinking/eating. Additionally, she wheezes often when inhaling while just laying around relaxing.

Her regular vet and a specialist vet did several test. Chest X-ray, ultrasound  of the abs, camera endoscopy into her trachea, larynx, esophagus and stomach. Plus bloodwork. Everything was perfect, therefore they could not diagnose the problem or provide a remedy. 

They put her on low dose steroids to see if that could help somehow. Several weeks and nothing has changed, it’s not helping. 

They said perhaps it’s laryngeal paresis. This is not the same thing as laryngeal paralysis, which is what pulls up if you try to search the internet. They are going to provide information on laryngeal paresis, though they still don’t know that’s the issue. I have been reading about laryngeal paralysis though, since some of these symptoms match up.

Has anyone had this same situation where all test were perfect and nothing could be found. What was the outcome? Did the open mouth purring stop? Did the cat get worse? 

Has anyone had a cat diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis, if so are the symptoms similar to what I mentioned, and did the cat have a procedure to repair the vocal flap as I’ve read about online? 

Has anyone had a cat with laryngeal paresis? Are the symptoms same as I mentioned and was there a cure? 

My cat is uncomfortable when she start open mouth purring. Sometimes it can be 3-4 minutes before it stops. Extremely worrisome for me. Looks like she can’t breathe when it’s happening. 

Any information of other’s experience may be helpful. I need a better understanding of what to expect and prepare for or how I can help. 


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Hi all, 

I appreciated everyone’s story so I am adding to this chain of stories. I have a 19 year old cat who has been happy and healthy until a couple weeks ago and had breathing like the video above- raspy gasping, but only when purring and otherwise healthy. 

First vet visit we had x-rays and nothing was shown. Of course- I could not get him to our there- so she wasn’t able to hear what I was talking about. Suspecting an upper respiratory infection (possible) we went home with an antibiotic to try. 4-5 days past and no change. We went in and he oddly enough was breathing that way the hole time so she could hear it. I was told it was probably a mass (cancerous unknown) that was pushing on his airway and an optical nerve (his third eyelid has been partially closed. I’ve noticed his eyes have been weird for a few months- but I thought it was age related) 
The vet said she could sedate him and look with a scope- but she herself has always had to send a cat over for a CT and has never seen a mass that way. A CT requires anesthesia. The treatment would be possible removal and or chemo and radiation.

To sum it up- I was stuck with two choices of further testing to diagnose it, both which were high risk for my kitty, plus the outcome either way would be too high of a risk for him. So, we came home on prednisone yesterday. 

I don’t see a difference yet. I was told 3 weeks to 3 months. However, he doesn’t do it constantly, just purring. I’m hoping the vet thought he was doing it constantly and maybe I can buy more time with him before he starts to get uncomfortable. It is said cause he is trying to avoid the cuddles cause of purring, so he sleeps at our feet or on the couch. When I let him, I give a quick kiss and a quick good rub so it doesn’t irritate it. I’m hoping the prednisone helps. I will check back here and update 💕

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