If your dog is suddenly having difficulty breathing, you might notice that it’s taking heavy or quick breaths. When this happens, pet parents may start to panic, especially if they’re new to caring for dogs or if they’re caring for a new puppy. In this short guide, we’ll explain and answer the question, “Why do dogs breathe fast?”
How Will I Know if My Dog’s Breathing is Too Fast?
To determine abnormal breathing in dogs, simply count the dog’s respiratory rate or the number of breaths while it’s resting or sleeping. Checking for this while your pet is perfectly comfortable is a good idea and will give you a clear understanding of your pet’s normal breathing rate. The normal respiratory rate is under 30 breaths every minute while more than 35 breaths might be something to worry about.
Just keep in mind that it’s also natural for dogs to get an increase in their heart rate while they exercise or run. But if you notice your puppy’s fast breathing while in a calm and cool environment, or displaying rapid eye movement, be sure to seek medical attention right away.
Why Do Dogs Breathe Fast?
There are a variety of reasons why your dog’s breathing may be faster and heavier. These may indicate that your furry friend is suffering from health conditions or an injury that should be evaluated right away. Doing this will give an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s health.
A brachycephalic breed dog, or dogs with “squished faces” and short snouts such as French Bulldogs and Boston Terriers are more likely to experience breathing issues. This is because they will often come with a narrow airway, small nasal passages, a skinny trachea, and tiny nostrils. All of these factors combined make it harder to breathe and eliminate heat; as such, they should be monitored by their dog owners for signs of respiratory problems.
Potential causes behind faster breathing rates in dogs include the following:
- Laryngeal paralysis
- Tracheal collapse
- Respiratory infections
- Lower airway disease
- Heat stroke
- Heart disease
However, you should also remember that not all kinds of panting are bad for dogs. Panting can help a dog’s body return to its normal temperature by allowing heat and water to evaporate from its upper respiratory tract, mouth, and tongue. Below are possible reasons that can be a cause for concern if you find yourself having to slow down your dog’s breaths.
Know that some conditions will be similar to one another and that the best person to get clarification from is your veterinarian. They should be able to perform diagnostic tests to confirm your dog’s medical condition and provide you with the right medical advice.
The larynx is also known as the “voice box” and is located on top of the trachea behind the throat. Small muscles help the laryngeal flaps cover the opening to the trachea whenever your pooch drinks and eats. It also pulls the flaps away when your dog breathes for maximum airflow inside the trachea.
If there’s a problem with these muscles, the flaps won’t be able to move and will end up obstructing the entrance, creating resistance whenever air moves past the flaps. This can occur as a result of neck trauma or some other underlying cause in dogs. Laryngeal paralysis is also more common in breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds but can happen to any dog.
In severe cases, this condition can lead to respiratory distress; if you see your puppy breathing fast and has pale gums, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
This large, tube-shaped structure runs down the dog’s neck and chest, before splitting into the airways that lead into the lungs. The trachea serves to deliver air into the lungs while transporting carbon dioxide out of the body. Healthy dogs will have a trachea that’s composed of cartilaginous rings and dorsal tracheal membranes.
In older dogs, these parts will lose their structural integrity and sink into the trachea, compressing the airways and limiting the amount of space where air can move around. This is a condition known as a collapsed trachea, and as it narrows down during breathing, the dog will struggle to get enough air in and out of the lungs. In the end, your dog may experience a strong cough, respiratory distress, and rapid breathing — if your dog is finding it hard to breathe, contact your vet immediately.
Many viral, fungal, and bacterial agents can make their way through the respiratory system. Some infections may linger around your dog’s airways or trachea where it can cause these structures to become inflamed. Kennel cough is a common infection of the trachea that can be caused by a wide range of viruses or bacteria.
Lower Airway Disease
There are also various diseases that can make their way into the lower respiratory tract like chronic bronchitis and more. The causes for these diseases aren’t well known but factors such as infections, environmental irritants, and obesity can make symptoms worse. Inflammation can also narrow the lower airways even further, making it harder for oxygen to reach the lungs and for carbon dioxide to get out.
Because of this, dogs with this condition will frequently cough and may exhibit fast and heavy breathing while also panting more often. Dogs may show abnormal breathing patterns even after mild physical activity, while dogs that are severely affected might collapse from a lack of oxygen. If you suspect your dog has lower airway disease, contact your veterinarian and take notes on what might be causing your dog’s condition.
To regulate our body temperature, we sweat through glands in our skin whenever we get hot, helping to cool us down. Unfortunately, the paws are the only part of a dog’s body that has sweat glands, which isn’t enough to keep them cool so they rely on panting to help them dissipate heat. When its body reaches 106°F, your dog’s organs may begin to shut down; this condition is known as heat stroke and is a medical emergency that can threaten the life of your pooch.
Some clinical signs of heat stroke include:
- Difficulty breathing or heavy panting
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Seizures, tremors, or disorientation
- Blue, purple, bright red, or gray gum coloration
In addition, dogs with thicker coats might not be able to pant enough to keep themselves cool during warm weather. If you notice any of the signs above, quickly take your dog to your vet with your car’s aircon on full blast. You can also briefly hose down your dog with cold water before making your way to the vet; just don’t put it in an ice bath or submerge your pooch in water since these can be dangerous.
We all know that the heart is among the most essential organs of the body since it pumps red blood cells rich in oxygen around the body. As such, anything that interferes with the heart function of your dog can be dangerous to its health. Heart disease is known as a condition in which the heart is no longer functioning properly; when the heart isn’t transporting enough oxygen throughout the body, your pup will breathe faster to compensate.
If any fluid is able to make its way to your dog’s abdomen or lungs as a result of congestive heart failure, breathing can become even harder for it. Some other symptoms of heart disease that you should look out for include:
- Coughing when excited or during nighttime
- Intolerance for exercising
- Breathing fast even while at rest or sleeping
- Purple or blue gums
- Respiratory distress
- Collapsing episodes
If you see any of the signs above, go to your vet immediately. While heart disease isn’t curable, it can be managed through various medications over a period of time. This will allow your dog to keep living a higher quality of life.
Adult dogs can experience pain in a variety of ways and will tend to be good at hiding it. Sometimes, our dogs will use one limb more than the other or vocalize to let us know they’re hurting. Other times, they’ll be more subtle in showing warning signs of their pain; they may breathe fast as they rest or pant excessively.
They can also hide and become withdrawn, rest in abnormal positions, or show other behavioral changes. Other sources of pain in dogs include the following:
- Orthopedic problems
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Dental disease
- Eye infections
- Ear infections
If your dog is showing signs of pain, call your veterinarian to book an appointment. While it might be tempting to give your pain medication to your puppy, human medications such as Advil are toxic for dogs and shouldn’t be used for pain relief.
Cancer can affect your puppy’s breathing in various ways; if your pooch has lung cancer, pressure and inflammation from the tumor can lead to trouble breathing and coughing. Certain cancers may also cause fluid to reach the lungs, known as pulmonary edema or pleural effusion when the fluid gathers around the lungs. Pulmonary edema is a condition that disrupts your dog’s ability to expel carbon dioxide for oxygen while pleural effusion stops the lungs from expanding to their maximum capacity.
Both conditions may lead to changes in your dog’s respiratory effort or may result in an increase in its respiratory rate.
Oxygen is crucial for our survival, and is carried around the body through red blood cells; if your dog is anemic (has a low count of red blood cells), then less oxygen will be delivered. When this occurs, your dog may breathe faster in order to compensate. Other signs of anemia include weakness, lethargy, and pale gums.
Because anemia can become life-threatening, you will need to bring your dog to your vet right away to get it tested and treated.
If you find that your dog is restless and panting, one of the answers for their condition could be anxiety. Other signs of anxiety include breathing fast, yawning without being tired, trembling, cowering, or becoming aggressive or destructive. There are also psychological factors that you need to consider, such as:
- Noise phobia
- Separation anxiety
- Dementia in dogs
- Changes around the home
- Stress and fear
If you think that your dog might be anxious, take the time to speak to your vet sooner rather than later. There are plenty of medical options that you can take to help your dog cope with anxiety.
There are many reasons why your dog may start breathing fast which will vary depending on the underlying causes. While some conditions will have similar symptoms to others, it’s always best to talk to your veterinarian or a certified dog behaviorist to get the right diagnosis and treatment for your pooch. As pet owners, it’s up to us to ensure that our puppy’s health is always at its best; to do this, we need to be observant and assess when our dogs need help.