- Heavy breathing can be perfectly normal — Healthy dogs often pant or breathe heavily when they’re hot, excited, or after vigorous exercise.
- Excessive panting may signal an underlying issue — If your dog is breathing heavily at rest, without any apparent reason, it could indicate a health problem like heart disease, lung disease, heatstroke, or stress.
- Treatment will always depend on the cause — Depending on the reason for your dog’s heavy breathing, treatment can range from simple lifestyle changes to necessary medical treatments.
As pet parents, we often see our furry friends panting, especially after a fun-filled game of fetch or on a hot summer day. This is perfectly normal and is a way for dogs to cool down and regulate their body temperature.
However, if you notice your dog breathing heavily with their mouth closed or only partially open, particularly when they are at rest, it could be a sign of a more serious health issue . Similarly, if your dog is coughing along with heavy breathing, this might indicate a chronic respiratory issue such as bronchitis.
In these cases, it’s important to seek veterinary attention to ensure your dog gets the care they need. Remember, you know your dog’s normal behavior best. While panting is often just a part of being a dog, changes in your dog’s body language, breathing patterns, or behavior shouldn’t be overlooked.
Normal breathing rate for puppies and adult dogs
Puppies naturally breathe at faster rates than adult dogs. The best way to time your dog’s breath is by observing them at rest. Watch for the rise and fall of their chest; each rise and fall cycle counts as one breath.
A normal resting respiratory rate for a puppy can be anywhere between 15 to 40 breaths per minute, while an adult dog will breathe anywhere between 10 to 30 breaths per minute. This can vary, however, on an individual basis, and your dog’s breed and overall personality could play a role in how quickly they breathe.
🚨 Take your dog to an emergency veterinary clinic right away if you notice open-mouth breathing with flared nostrils and bluish gums.
How to count your dog’s breathing rate
⏱ The best way to count your dog’s breathing rate is by observing them at rest for one minute. Watch for the rise and fall of their chest; each rise and fall cycle counts as one breath. Sometimes it’s easier to count their breaths by putting your hand on their chest and feeling how many times their chest expands.
When to be concerned about dogs breathing fast
If your dog’s respiratory rate is greater than 40 breaths per minute, ask yourself a few key questions:
- Does your dog seem lethargic, or more easily tired than normal? Lethargy or unusual fatigue in dogs might be a sign that your dog is having difficulty breathing. If they’re struggling to get enough oxygen, they may tire more easily and show less interest in the physical activities they usually enjoy.
- Does your dog have mucoid nasal discharge and/or are they coughing regularly? Mucoid nasal discharge and regular coughing can be symptoms of a respiratory infection or other lung diseases in dogs. It’s the body’s way of trying to expel harmful substances or irritants from the respiratory tract.
Dr Bruce Armstrong
Thick, snotty discharge, whether yellow or green colored, is a sign of a serious problem, not necessarily clear mucus discharge — which can be normal but also a sign of dog not routinely licking its nose.
- Is your dog experiencing a loss of appetite? A loss of appetite can be a sign of many health issues in dogs, including respiratory problems. If your dog is struggling to breathe, they may not feel like eating. Additionally, certain canine diseases that cause heavy breathing, like heart disease, can also affect their appetite.
- Is your dog open-mouth breathing with nostrils, head, or neck extended? Open-mouth breathing with extended nostrils, head, or neck can be a sign that your dog is working harder to breathe. This might occur if there’s an obstruction in their airways, if they have a lung disease, or if they’re overheating. This kind of breathing can indicate that your dog needs immediate medical attention.
- Do your dog’s gums have a bluish tint? A lack of sufficient oxygen can cause a bluish tint in your dog’s gums and indicate a medical emergency. The color change could be a sign of cyanosis, a medical condition with insufficient oxygen circulating in your dog’s blood.
🚨 If your puppy shows any combination of these symptoms, take them to your veterinarian for a physical examination immediately.
Normal causes of fast, heavy breathing in dogs
Fast, heavy breathing in dogs is often a normal response to what’s happening in their environment. If you notice the behavior, consider what’s going on around them before you worry. It could be a typical response to the current situation.
Excitement or playfulness
When dogs are actively playing or they’re excited, their body temperature rises. Unlike humans who sweat to cool down, dogs primarily use panting as a way to regulate their body temperature. Panting is your pup’s way of evaporating moisture from the lining of its lungs, tongue, and mouth, which cools them down to a normal temperature.
Fear or anxiety
You might also notice rapid breathing (also known as tachypnea) if your pup is scared, nervous, or anxious about something, such as being in a new environment, meeting new dogs, or if they are going on a car ride.
These are often times of heightened awareness and anticipation. These instances are usually not a cause for immediate concern, as long as your dog’s breathing rate slows down back to normal once they are relaxed again.
Sleeping or dreaming
Some dogs—especially puppies—may also have irregular breathing or faster breathing when they are sleeping and dreaming . This is also normal and nothing to worry about. For instance, during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, brain waves are faster and more irregular.
Since the brain is more active during REM sleep, your dog’s eyes will move fast, back and forth underneath their eyelids, your dog may whine or whimper, they may move their legs back and forth, and they may also breathe fast.
A note on brachycephalic dog breeds
If your dog is brachycephalic — a flat-faced, short-nosed breed such as an American bulldog, boxer, or Pekingese — it will be normal for them to have louder breathing noises and even breathe faster or heavier than breeds with long noses. However, they also have a higher risk of breathing issues, like brachycephalic airway syndrome , since their airways are so narrow.
Health conditions that cause heavy breathing in dogs
Fast and heavy breathing in dogs can sometimes indicate a medical issue. It’s important to remember that the causes can range from simple to complex, and some aren’t immediately obvious. For instance, you might think heavy breathing is always related to a lung problem, but it could also be a sign of a heart condition like congestive heart failure.
That’s why, as dog owners, we need to be aware that there’s a lot we may not know when it comes to our furry friends’ health. If your dog’s breathing seems off, it’s always a good idea to consult with a veterinarian. Let’s take a look at some of the potential causes of your dog’s heavy breathing:
Upper respiratory infections
These infections —including canine infectious respiratory disease, and kennel cough—can affect the nose, throat, and airways of dogs. If your dog has an upper respiratory infection, you might see common symptoms like heavy breathing, coughing, or frequent sneezing. It’s crucial to see a vet for diagnosis and treatment if you suspect your dog has this type of infection.
As with humans, this is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. It can make it difficult for your dog to breathe and lead to secondary health issues, including other respiratory disorders.
Underlying congenital heart conditions
Some dogs are born with heart conditions that can lead to heavy breathing. These conditions may cause the heart to work harder, leading to faster breathing.
If a dog breathes in or ingests a harmful substance, their body may react by breathing heavily.
This condition happens when fluid collects in the air sacs of the lungs, making it hard for your dog to breathe. It can be caused by various things, including choking, biting an electrical cord, or a heart condition.
Certain parasites can affect a dog’s respiratory system, leading to heavy breathing.
This condition occurs when there’s a deficiency of red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen around the body. With fewer red blood cells, the hemoglobin count decreases, reducing the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity. To compensate for this lowered oxygen supply, your dog may breathe more rapidly and heavily.
Narrowed trachea (windpipe)
Some dogs, especially smaller breeds, have a narrow trachea which can cause them to breathe heavily.
Foreign objects stuck in their throat
If your dog has swallowed something that’s stuck in their throat, they may breathe heavily or seem like they’re choking.
Remember, this is not an exhaustive list, and other conditions could also lead to heavy breathing. Always consult your dog’s vet if you notice changes in their breathing patterns. Some conditions will need to be diagnosed with X-rays and bloodwork and may require immediate hospitalization.
Panting versus heavy breathing in dogs
Panting is a common way for dogs to cool down after a romp in the park or during a warm day. But what about when your dog seems to be breathing heavily even when they’re not exercising or it’s not hot? Heavy breathing in dogs can look and sound different from regular panting. It might involve a closed or only partially open mouth, and the breaths can seem more labored or strained.
Unlike panting, heavy breathing isn’t always normal. There could be an underlying cause, like heart disease or a lung problem. If you notice your dog breathing heavily, especially if they’re at rest, it’s a good idea to get them checked by a vet just to be safe. Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the health of your furry friend.
How vets diagnose and treat heavy breathing in dogs
When it comes to diagnosing and treating heavy breathing in dogs, the process is not one-size-fits-all. Each dog is unique, and their symptoms can point to a variety of possible conditions. A thorough examination by a vet is necessary to identify the root cause of the heavy breathing and determine the appropriate treatment.
Diagnosis depends on the symptoms
The first step in diagnosing the cause of heavy breathing in dogs is to assess the signs. The vet will likely start with a physical examination to check for any obvious signs of illness or injury. They may also ask you about your dog’s recent activities, diet, and overall behavior.
In some cases, your pup’s vet might need to carry out further diagnostic tests. These could include blood tests, X-rays, or an ultrasound to examine the heart and lungs more closely. For example, if a dog has a fever, cough, or is lethargic, the vet might suspect pneumonia and order X-rays. If the dog has pale gums, seems weak, or has lost weight, the vet might suspect anemia and order blood tests or a CT scan, if available.
Treatment depends on the cause
After diagnosing the cause of the heavy breathing, the vet will recommend a treatment plan tailored to your dog’s specific condition. These treatments could range from antibiotics for infections, to surgery for physical obstructions, to lifestyle changes for managing chronic conditions.
- Oxygen therapy. Several conditions, such as pulmonary contusions and noncardiogenic pulmonary edema, are treated with time, monitoring, and oxygen therapy. More severe cases may require additional, intense therapies.
- Surgery. Sometimes, a physical problem causes heavy breathing. If your dog has swallowed a foreign object that’s stuck in their throat, or if they have a narrowed trachea, surgery may be necessary. Your vet will explain the procedure and what you can expect during recovery.
- Antibiotics. These are medicines that fight off infections. If your dog has pneumonia or an upper respiratory infection, your vet may prescribe antibiotics. You’ll need to give your dog these medications exactly as instructed by your vet.
- Medications for chronic conditions. Some conditions, like congenital heart problems or anemia, may require long-term medication. These medications help manage the condition and keep your dog comfortable. It’s important to follow your vet’s instructions for giving these medications to your dog.
- Lifestyle changes. In some cases, changes to your dog’s lifestyle can help manage their heavy breathing. This might include a special diet, more or less exercise, or avoiding certain triggers. Your vet will guide you on the best changes to make for your dog’s specific condition.
- Parasite treatments. If parasites are causing your dog’s heavy breathing, your vet may recommend specific treatments to eliminate them. This could be a special shampoo, a pill, or even a monthly preventative treatment.
Heavy breathing in dogs can be a sign of many different health issues. It’s crucial to pay attention to your dog’s symptoms and get them checked out by a vet. Never ignore any breathing that is out of the ordinary for your particular pooch. This may include increased wheezing or more effort in trying to flare their nostrils.
Your vet will diagnose the problem by looking at the symptoms, maybe doing some tests, and asking about your dog’s lifestyle. Once they know what’s causing the heavy breathing, they can suggest the best treatment to help your dog be able to breathe better.
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Frequently asked questions
Why is my dog breathing heavy while resting?
A dog might breathe heavily while resting due to several reasons, including lung diseases such as cancer, parasitic infections or pneumonia, compressed lungs, heat stroke, anemia, or even congestive heart failure. Behavioral causes like stress, fear, or pain could also lead to heavy breathing.
When should I be concerned about my dog’s breathing?
Pet parents should be concerned about their dog’s breathing if they are breathing fast while at rest or sleeping, as this could be a sign of respiratory distress. Always contact your vet if you notice these symptoms.
What are the signs of respiratory distress in a dog?
The following symptoms may be signs of respiratory distress in a dog: fast, heavy or abnormal breathing, unnatural body postures, withdrawal, hiding, or rapid breathing even when the dog is at rest.
Why is my dog breathing heavily with sound?
A dog might breathe heavily with sound due to physical obstructions in their throat, such as a foreign object or a narrowed trachea. It could also be a symptom of lung diseases, including pneumonia, or conditions like anemia and heart failure.
What are symptoms of heart failure in dogs?
Symptoms of heart failure in dogs can include rapid breathing, especially during rest, coughing, lethargy, loss of appetite, weight loss, exercise intolerance, and fainting. Rapid breathing may occur because when a dog’s heart starts to fail, his body is not circulating enough oxygen.
How can I calm my dog’s breathing?
If your dog’s heavy breathing is caused by stress or fear, calming them down might help. This could involve speaking to them in a soft, reassuring voice, petting them gently, moving them to a calm environment, or distracting them with a favorite toy or activity. However, if your dog is breathing heavily due to a physical condition, it’s important to seek veterinary medical advice.