Why is my dog breathing heavy?
To be able to identify abnormal breathing, we first need to establish the healthy respiratory (breathing) rate for a dog. Typically, a healthy pet should take between 15 to 35 breaths per minute when resting. Of course, this rate is bound to increase while your pet is exercising.
It's important to keep in mind that not all panting is bad. In fact, by panting your pooch can cool themselves down and regulate their body temperature while allowing heat and water to evaporate from the mouth, tongue and upper respiratory tract. Through rapid breathing, a dog's body can return to a normal temperature.
That said, if your dog is taking more than 40 breaths per minute while at rest in a calm, cool environment, or they appear to be struggling to breathe, we strongly recommend seeking emergency veterinary care.
Many concerned dog owners have asked us, "Why is my dog breathing heavy and fast?" Your pup's heavy and rapid breathing can point to an injury or illness that your veterinarian should evaluate as soon as possible.
Boxers, Boston Terriers, Pugs and other dog breeds with squished faces are more prone to breathing issues and should always be closely monitored by pet parents for any signs of breathing difficulties.
Some potential causes of fast or heavy breathing in dogs include:
- Kennel Cough
- Lung Diseases
- Laryngeal Paralysis
- Bacterial Respiratory Infection
- Fungal Respiratory Infection
- Stiffening of Airways
- Smoke Inhalation
- Windpipe Issues
- Ingestion of Poison or Toxins
- Breed Characteristics
- Compressed Lungs
How do I know if my dog is breathing too fast?
To find out whether your dog is breathing abnormally fast, count your pooch's respiratory rate while they are resting or sleeping. It may be a good idea to do this when you are not concerned so you can gain a clear understanding of your pet's normal respiratory rate.
Anything under 30 breaths per minute is considered normal, while anything above 35 breaths per minute may be cause for concern.
When should I be concerned about my dog's rapid breathing?
If your dog is breathing heavy or fast at rest or while sleeping, they could be experiencing respiratory distress. Contact your vet if you notice any of the following signs:
- Engaging stomach muscles to help to breathe
- Reluctance to drink, eat or move
- Pale, blue-tinged, or brick red gums
- Uncharacteristic drooling
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Heavy, fast breathing that’s louder or different sounding than normal panting
Heavy Breathing and Heatstroke in Dogs
During the hot summer days, one of the most common causes of heavy breathing in dogs is heatstroke. Heatstroke can happen to dogs very quickly. Along with heavy breathing, signs of heatstroke in dogs include sticky, pale gums, lethargy, vomiting, and uncoordinated movement.
You should always ensure your pup has access to shade and cool water and try to avoid allowing your dog to spend too much time outside on very hot days. Never leave your dog alone in a hot car. The internal temperature of a car can spike quickly and cause heatstroke in a matter of minutes.
If you do suspect your dog has heatstroke remove them from the hot environment immediately, place cool (not cold), wet towels on their stomach and back and bring them to the nearest emergency veterinarian immediately.
How will the vet diagnose the cause of my dog's heavy breathing?
Your dog's vet will perform a full physical examination to determine whether the problem is located in the heart, circulatory system, lungs, airway, neck, head, or another area. Your pet's overall general health condition may also be causing an issue.
Your vet will ask you about your dog's medical history and any relevant information about what your dog was doing when the heavy breathing started. They may recommend diagnostic tests such as bloodwork or X-rays to get a better look into your pet's internal condition.
Your pup's vet will also look for any signs of anxiety, stress, or other psychological factors that could be causing heavy breathing.
What are the treatments for heavy breathing in dogs?
Treatment for heavy breathing will be determined by the underlying cause. Your vet may prescribe pain relief, intravenous fluids with calcium, or other medications.
If your pet's rapid breathing is caused by stress or anxiety, special training with a certified dog behaviorist may be required.
Regardless of the cause of your pet's breathing difficulties, rest and oxygen therapy will likely be needed.
While most dogs will be well enough to be treated at home, in some serious cases hospitalization may be required to monitor the dog's breathing and ensure secondary conditions do not develop.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.