There are times when we expect our dogs to breath heavily or pant excessively.
As pet parents, we understand that things like exercise and hot weather can trigger this kind of reaction. But what if it’s something more serious?
The most common reasons for heavy breathing in dogs are related to exercise, over-excitement, anxiety, and heat. However, if your dog is having difficulty breathing outside of normal activities, there could be something wrong.
Trust your instincts. If you believe your dog is experiencing abnormal breathing, contact a veterinarian as soon possible.
In some cases, heavy breathing comes with the breed. Brachycephalic dogs (Boston terriers, French bulldogs, etc.) have shorter snouts and shortened airway passages.
They can develop a condition known as Brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome.
This post is designed to illuminate some of the common causes of heavy breathing in dogs. You’ll learn about common health conditions, normal respiration rates to look for, and some common reasons behind this.
Is Your Dog Just Dreaming?
It’s not unusual to see a dog breathing fast while sleeping. Like us, dogs can have dreams. They have the same 3 stages of sleep that we do. Heavy breathing is characterized by quick intakes of breath. Breath cycles are short and rapid.
A dog’s sleep cycles include:
When your dog is in a light sleep, her/his breathing rates are typically lower than they are when awake. There are bursts of electrical activity in brain waves during light sleep. Your dog could be dreaming during this stage although the dog is easier to wake up than when in deep sleep.
This stage of sleep is also known as the rapid eye movement stage.
REM sleep is as important to dogs as it is to humans. Dogs need this sleep in order to function well and maintain good health.
You may notice your furry friend begin to twitch during this sleep phase. Dreaming sometimes involves barking, pawing at the air, growling, and periods of increased breathing. These are all normal parts of the sleep cycle.
Common Reasons for a Dog’s Rapid Breathing
There are a number of situations that can cause your dog to breath rapidly. As mentioned earlier, anxiety and heat are big factors to consider. Heat is fairly obvious, but reasons for stress-induced fast breathing might be harder to pinpoint.
The following are common situations to consider:
Moving Into a New Home
Stress levels can be high after moving in a new home. Even though you are there with your dog, he/she still needs time to get used to the new surroundings.
Dogs can get nervous when other people are in the house/apartment. Even people the dog is used to can cause an upset to the routine. Visitors bring new smells (other animals!) into the home.
Think about the times you’ve had company over. There is usually a lot more noise than usual and animals can quickly feel out of place in their own homes.
A New Baby
Whether it’s a new baby or a new pet, dogs can easily get overwhelmed with all the changes. It’s normal that your dog might not get as much attention in the beginning. Sure, he’s being cared for but this new baby or pet certainly takes up a lot of time.
It’s a well-known fact that many dogs are terrified of fireworks. Thunder and lightening can also be a stress trigger. This is when anti-anxiety supplements could come in handy.
Not all dogs love a car ride! Some dogs are fearful of the “rumble strip” on some highways. Unusual sounds and vibrations of the car can make some dogs very nervous. This can cause heavy panting and other signs of stress.
Dogs, like people, are often nervous at the doctor’s office. There are all kinds of sights and sounds. There are people poking, prodding, and looking at your dog in weird places. Naturally, your dog might be a little nervous in this situation.
Physical reactions to stress levels can include faster breath rates, sighing, yawning, lick-lipping, obsessive grooming, and tail between the legs.
How to Tell If Your Dog Has a Normal Respiratory Rate
There are a few things to keep in mind when following this guide. A healthy dog’s respiratory rate should be anywhere from 10 to 30 breaths per minute.
A puppy’s breathing rate is typically anywhere from 15 to 40 breaths per minute. Keep in mind that “breath rate” is not the same as panting. In addition, smaller dogs tend to breath faster than larger dogs.
In order to get a good understanding of your dog’s breath rate, you’ll need to count the number of breaths taken while at rest. This does not include counting breaths while your dog is panting.
Monitor Your Dog’s Breathing
To calculate your dog’s respiratory rate, place your hand over her/his chest. Count the number of times the chest rises and falls within a 30 second time-frame. Each rise and fall of the chest counts as 1 breath.
Count the breaths for 30 seconds and multiply by 2 to get the breathing rate per minute.
The best way to get a more accurate picture is to perform the test every day for a week. Once the week is over, add up the results and divide by 7 to get the average breath rates.
The reason for doing this is to account for anomalies. For example, it might be a little warmer one day which causes your dog to breath a little faster.
All About Panting
Panting is normal in dogs, especially during hot days or during exercise. It’s how dogs keep their bodies cool. They can’t sweat like we do. As a result, panting is the only way they can keep their body temperature down.
DID YOU KNOW? Dogs only sweat around areas where there is no fur like their paws. Otherwise, panting is the only way for them to keep cool.
When a dog pants, his/her mouth is wide-open. The tongue is handing out to the side. There is likely some drool.
If you are worried that your dog is breathing too heavily, ask yourself the following questions:
Has my dog recently exercised?
Has my dog been excited recently?
Is there any reason for my dog to feel stressed right now?
Could it just be the temperature or environment causing my dog to breath heavily?
Is my dog sleeping and having a dream?
Once you’ve ruled out those possible reasons, it’s time to reconsider what might be happening. If your dog is only breathing heavily while sleeping/dreaming, or during times when you would expect to see that, there is probably no cause for alarm.
However, if your dog randomly begins breathing heavily and shows signs of any distress, there may be a problem. Distress could take the form of:
- excessive drooling that is not normal for your dog
- suddenly starts panting for no reason
- has a bluish tongue or gums
IMPORTANT: If this happens to your dog, please contact your veterinarian immediately. Any signs of distress accompanied by difficulty breathing needs to be seen by a medical professional.
Is Your Dog’s Breath Rate Due to Something Serious?
Rapid breathing is not a medical condition. It can, however, signify that something isn’t quite right. There are some health conditions that may cause an increase in a dog’s respiratory rate. Sometimes there is an underlying cause. Common reasons related to health conditions include:
Various types of respiratory disease include:
- Canine distemper virus
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Kennel Cough
- Lung tumors
Symptoms of respiratory problems in dogs include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Gagging after coughing
- Nasal congestion
- Exercise intolerance
- Blue gums
Congestive Heart Failure
It’s thought that up to 75% of older dogs develop heart disease.
Heart failure is the result of long-term disease of the heart. It generally happens slowly over time until the symptoms are more noticeable.
Dogs with Congestive Heart Failure tend to have fluid buildup which leads to a swollen body. It can also lead to crackling breath sounds. Signs of heart failure can vary depending on whether it’s coming from the left-side or the right-side of the heart.
The majority of heart failure cases in dogs are from mitral valve deficiency. Other possible causes include (but are not limited to) heartworms, parvovirus, and atrial septal defect.
Clinical signs of heart failure in dogs include:
- Coughing more often – especially during exercise
- Difficulty breathing
- Reluctant to exercise
- Loss of appetite
- Bedtime pacing and having trouble settling down to sleep
- Increased respiratory rate. The heart rate of adult dogs should be anywhere from 10 to 30 breaths per minutes. Smaller dogs tend to breath faster than larger dogs.
Kennel cough is an infection of the upper respiratory tract. It’s common and generally will clear up on its own.
For more information on Kennel Cough Read:
11 Reasons for Dog Coughing and Gagging
Cushing’s Disease causes a dog’s adrenal glands to produce too much cortisol. Too much cortisol increases appetite, increases drinking and urination, causes thinning hair, and can cause excessive panting.
For more information on Cushing’s Disease Read:
Cushing’s Disease in Dogs – Top Answers to All Your Questions
Dogs are very good at hiding pain but they can’t keep it hidden forever. At some point, when the discomfort get too bad, they may show signs like panting. One sign of pain in your dog is sudden bouts of panting for (what seems like) no reason.
Other signs of pain include obsessive licking or biting a certain area of their body. Their personality may change slightly and they may seem more fearful, withdrawn, or anxious.
Sometimes excessive panting or breathing heavily can be due to anemia. Anemia happens when there is a large decrease in red blood cells.
Red blood cells move oxygen around the body. Therefore, even a small decline in red blood cells can lead to serious health issues including difficulty breathing.
An overweight dog is more prone to a number of health conditions. Obesity in dogs can reduce life expectancy.
Things like heat and stress can really affect obese dogs making it even more difficult to move oxygen through the body.
If your dog is overweight, it’s important to try and promote weight loss by feeding a calorie-reduced diet, safely increasing exercise, and keeping up with regular veterinarian appointments.
Important Information for New Puppy Owners
Puppies tend to breath rapidly, especially when asleep. Younger dogs or puppies have generally more accelerated breath rates than an adult dog. Puppy rapid breathing falls within a range of 15 to 40 breaths per minute.
Because puppies grow at such a fast rate, they tend to breath much faster than adult dogs.
Puppies will pant rapidly as a result of very hot weather. While it’s normal for a puppy to pant to keep cool, it’s really important to avoid heat stroke. Puppies can dehydrate very quickly. Dehydration can be fatal, especially in puppies.
If the weather is hot, reduce the amount of time your puppy spends outdoors. Light exercise is fine as long as the puppy has access to drinking water and is not out during the hottest times of the day.
Accelerated breathing in puppies is not unusual, especially under stressful conditions. Being brought home for the first time is exciting for the family, but can cause a lot of stress for a new puppy.
Preventing & Treating Common Causes of Stress and Anxiety in Dogs
Once a veterinarian has ruled out underlying conditions that could be causing excessive panting or heavy breathing, you can narrow down where the problem is coming from.
As mentioned earlier in this post, stress and hot weather are two main causes of heavy breathing in dogs. If there are no underlying medical conditions, there are things you can do to help alleviate stress.
You’d be surprised at how effective short-term crating can be. Planning ahead is key to knowing when your dog may succumb to environmental stress.
When buying a crate, make sure it is big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around easily. You don’t want the crate to be too big, but you also don’t want it to be too small. Dogs feel protected and safe in crates.
If you have an adult dog who has never been in a crate before, it’s a good idea to leave the crate open with a few of his toys inside. Let him/her get used to the idea when there is no stress.
Always talk to your veterinarian before administering anti-anxiety supplements. Even though the ingredients appear benign, they can interact dangerously with certain medications. Some can even cause dangerous conditions like Serotonin Syndrome.
Your veterinarian may want to prescribe Gabapentin for occasional anxiety relief.
Some anti-anxiety supplements we love include:
Lamberts Calming Tablets for Dogs
**Adaptil Natural Pheromone Releasing Collar for Dogs (non sedating) – Best seller!
Vet’s + Best Comfort Calm Veterinarian Formulated
Always remember to bring extra water for your dog when going to the park, beach, or on a walk. Even though it might not seem too hot for you, the day can warm up quickly. Your dog always feels the heat more intensely than you do.
We have some favorite accessories when it comes to keeping your dog cool and the all-time fave is this:
This thing is amazing. You just fill it with water and carry it wherever you go. The top cup holds the water and eliminates wasted spillage. Just press the cup gently and the water fills the cup. There is a little “on and off” switch in the cup that keeps the water from spilling out when you’re walking.
Summing It Up!
A dog’s rapid breathing could signify any number of health conditions. It could also simply be the result of a bad dream or common stressors.
You know your dog and it’s always best to follow your instincts. There are times when it may be obvious that your dog is in distress. Any signs of excessive panting accompanied by coughing, gagging, seizures, etc. needs to be seen by a veterinarian asap.
It’s normal for a dog to breath heavily during the various stages of sleep, especially when they are dreaming.
You should be able to see a pattern if your dog is typically stressed out during visits to the veterinarian, during thunderstorms, fireworks, etc. It’s when your dog randomly begins to pant heavily for no obvious reason that it’s time to take notice.
There is never a bad time to call the veterinarian. If you suspect there is anything medically wrong with your dog, do not hesitate to make an appointment.
This post is designed for general information and is not meant to diagnose or treat pets.