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Heavy or Fast Breathing in Dogs

Heavy or Fast Breathing in Dogs

There are many reasons why your dog's breathing could seem heavy or fast. Today our Newtown vets explain what could be behind your dog's heavy breathing and when it is considered a veterinary emergency. 

Why is my dog breathing heavy and fast?

In order to be able to spot abnormal breathing, we need to understand what a healthy respiratory (breathing) rate for a dog is. An average healthy pet should take between 15 to 35 breaths per minute when resting. Of course, while your pet is exercising this rate is bound to increase. 

It's important to keep in mind that not all panting is bad. Panting helps your pup to regulate their body temperature, cooling them down and allowing water and heat to evaporate from the tongue, the mouth, and upper respiratory tract. Rapid breathing allows a dog’s body to get back to a normal temperature.

However, if your dog is breathing above 40 breaths per minute while at rest in a cool and calm environment, or they appear to be struggling to breathe you should seek emergency veterinary care

How do I know if my dog is breathing too fast?

To determine whether your dog is breathing abnormally fast, simply count your dog’s respiratory rate while they are sleeping or resting.  It can be a good idea to do this when you are not concerned, in order to have a clear understanding of your pet's normal respiratory rate. Anything under 30 breaths per minute is considered normal, anything above 35 may be a cause for concern.

Why is my dog breathing heavy?

Your pet's heavy and rapid breathing may be an indication that your pup is suffering from an illness or injury that should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Dogs breeds with 'squished faces' or shortened snouts such as  Boston terriers, boxers, and pugs 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:

  • Asthma
  • Heatstroke
  • Breed Characteristics
  • Kennel Cough
  • Laryngeal Paralysis
  • Windpipe Issues
  • Bacterial Respiratory Infection
  • Fungal Respiratory Infection
  • Stiffening of Airways
  • Smoke Inhalation
  • Ingestion of Poison or Toxins
  • Lung Diseases
  • Parasites
  • Pneumonia
  • Compressed Lungs
  • Hernia
  • Anemia
  • Nausea
  • Pain
  • Medication

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.

Is your pet experiencing respiratory distress? At Newtown Veterinary Specialists, we offer 24/7 emergency services. Contact us or bring your pup to our Newtown immediately.

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