Heavy Breathing in Dogs

Any dog owner would be understandably concerned if their pooch is breathing heavily for a long period of time. Our Boulder and Westminster vets explain what's considered heavy breathing in dogs, the symptoms and potential causes, and when you should call a vet.

Why is my dog breathing fast?

First, you should know what a healthy resting breathing rate is for dogs. Most breeds take between 10 to 35 breaths per minute. When exercising, your pup can breathe up to 10 times faster than their resting rate (100 to 350 breaths per minute).

Panting is what helps your dog cool down and regulate their body temperature, so not all panting is bad. Because dogs cannot sweat like their humans, they need to breathe fast to allow air to circulate efficiently through the body. This is why it's important for dog owners to be able to recognize the signs between regular heavy breathing and concerning heavy breathing.

Causes of Fast Breathing in Dogs

Excessive panting and fast breathing can indicate underlying health issues in your dog. Some potential causes include:

  • Asthma
  • Breed characteristics (squish-faced breeds may be more prone to breathing problems)
  • Kennel Cough
  • Laryngeal Paralysis
  • Trachea (windpipe) issues
  • Rhinitis (bacterial or fungal infection in the nasal chambers)
  • Pressure on the windpipe
  • Stiffening of airways
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Collapsing or narrowing trachea
  • Lung diseases such as cancer, parasitic infections or pneumonia
  • Compressed lungs
  • Hernia
  • Heatstroke
  • Anemia
  • Nausea
  • Pain
  • Medication
  • Exercise

Symptoms of Fast Breathing in Dogs

If you notice any of these signs, it is possible that your dog is breathing heavily out of distress or difficulty and not simply from exercise:

  • Using stomach muscles to help with breathing
  • Reluctance to drink, eat or move
  • Pale, blue-tinged or brick red gums
  • Drooling
  • Open-mouthed breathing
  • Heavy, fast breathing that’s a bit louder and sounds different than panting

Once you notice these signs in your dog, coupled with their excessive panting, contact your vet right away.

What to Do If Your Dog is Breathing Fast

A good way to tell if your dog is breathing faster than normal is to count their respiratory rate while they're asleep.

Regardless of what’s causing the issue, these are all signs that your furry friend should see a vet immediately, as this would be classified as a veterinary medical emergency. If your dog is breathing fast but otherwise acting normal, you should contact your vet, who may suggest watching him for a few days and monitoring the respiratory rate to see if it returns to normal.

Diagnosis & Treatment of Fast Breathing in Dogs

To diagnose the issue in your pet, your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam to determine whether the problem is located in the heart, circulatory system, lungs, airway, neck or elsewhere. A general health condition may also be causing an issue, which your vet should be informed of if relevant.

Your vet may order x-rays for your dog to check the heart, lungs and abdomen for issues such as broken ribs or lung tumors. Organs will also be examined.

You and your vet can also look for signs of anxiety, stress or other psychological factors.

Treatment will be determined by the underlying cause. Your vet may prescribe pain relief, intravenous fluids with calcium, or medication.

If stress or anxiety is the cause of your dog's fast breathing, your vet may recommend a training specialist's help. No matter the cause, rest and oxygen therapy will be needed. While most dogs will be allowed to be treated at home, some may need to be constantly monitored. Hospitalization may be the safest option for dogs with serious illnesses.

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.

If your dog is breathing fast or is displaying other concerning symptoms, contact our Boulder and Westminster veterinary hospital right away.