Why is My Puppy Breathing Hard?

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Puppy Breathing HardSeeing that your dog’s breathing is faster than usual without an apparent reason can be worrying. But what causes heavy breathing in dogs and when should you see your vet? In this blog post, we share the answer to “Why is my puppy breathing hard,” along with other details that you need to know as a dog owner. 

What Counts as Normal Dog’s Breathing? 

Before you can spot abnormal breathing, you first need to know what a normal puppy’s breathing rate is. Healthy dogs will take around 15 to 35 breaths every minute while resting, but will naturally increase as they take part in activities or exercise. Anything over 40 breaths per minute during your dog’s resting period should be considered heavy breathing and should be met with concern. 

However, it’s also important to know that panting doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog has breathing issues. Pups will usually start panting to regulate their body temperature which can help to cool them down. Panting also allows heat and water to evaporate around the upper respiratory tract, mouth, and tongue. 

This is essential because dogs can’t sweat to help them cool down; instead, they need to breathe quickly to let air circulate throughout the body. As such, a puppy’s rapid breathing will allow its body to return to a normal temperature. 

How to Tell if Your Dog is Breathing Too Fast 

To determine if your dog is having breathing problems, you must first carefully count the number of breaths your pup takes per minute while they’re sleeping or resting. Even if you’re not concerned, you could still do this to get a better idea of your pooch’s normal respiratory rate. If you count 30 breaths per minute, this is considered to be normal, while anything above 35 breaths could be a cause for concern, so contact your vet. 

Here are a few things to look out for if you suspect that your canine friend is having difficulty breathing: 

  • Taking more than 40 breaths per minute, which is especially concerning if your pup is sleeping or resting. 
  • Abnormal noises such as squeaking, grunting, or harsh sounds while they breathe. 
  • Panting without a reason for doing so — the environment is cool, they aren’t laying in a sunbeam, and haven’t recently exercised. 
  • Rapid breathing from a slightly open mouth but the tongue isn’t sticking out. 
  • An increase in respiratory effort by pushing the abdomen to expel air and to breathe in. 
  • Abnormally deep and slow breathing or shallow rapid breathing. 
  • Bluish, pale gums or tongue. 
  • Breathing fast or hard while standing up and being unable to lie down or rest for long. 
  • Looking distressed while trying to catch their breath. 

Should you notice any of the signs above, it could mean that your pup is going through respiratory distress or some kind of medical condition. When this happens, be sure to bring your pup to the vet immediately to get the diagnostic tests and treatment it needs. 

Reasons Behind Rapid Breathing in Dogs  

Below are some of the most common reasons your dog may be breathing faster than normal. While we try to cover as many possible options, remember that some symptoms may appear for other conditions too. Your vet is the person who can best diagnose your dog, so it’s a good idea to visit them for medical advice. 

Laryngeal Paralysis

The dog’s larynx, also known as the voice box, is located at the back of the throat on top of the trachea and is responsible for the speech and noises that dogs make. Problems with the larynx may lead to air resistance, where a dog may not get enough oxygen in the lungs and interrupt regular airflow. Neck trauma, along with other kinds of underlying health issues may cause laryngeal paralysis in dogs.

However, the cause in older dogs tends to be unknown — researchers believe this could be a component of a condition called geriatric onset laryngeal paralysis and polyneuropathy (GOLPP). Dogs that suffer from this condition may develop esophageal dysfunction and generalized muscle weakness. Laryngeal paralysis is often found in dogs like Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers. 

Severe cases of laryngeal paralysis may lead to acute respiratory distress. If you notice your puppy breathing fast while sleeping, get veterinary care immediately. All dogs can significantly benefit from a visit with your veterinarian who will be able to provide an accurate diagnosis of your pet. 

Tracheal Collapse

The trachea is a tube-shaped structure that runs from the neck to the chest and splits into the main airways located in the lungs. It functions by delivering oxygen through the circulatory system and expelling carbon dioxide out of our dog’s body. A healthy trachea will be made up of cartilaginous rings and soft tissue structures known as the dorsal tracheal membrane. 

But as your dog ages, the membrane can shrink and the rings may lose their rigidity, causing a compression of your dog’s airway. When this happens, your dog will have a smaller amount of space for air to move around. During breathing, the trachea will collapse and your dog won’t be able to get much air in and out of the lungs. 

This condition will lead to coughing which sounds like a honking goose, respiratory problems, and rapid breathing. While tracheal collapse may happen in any dog breed, it is more common with Boston Terriers, Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, Toy Poodles, Pomeranians, and other smaller dogs. Moreover, health conditions such as obesity could make your pup more susceptible to tracheal collapse.

Pneumonia and Respiratory Infections 

A wide range of viral, fungal, and bacterial agents can enter a dog’s respiratory system, where they can become stuck in the trachea and cause inflammation. Kennel cough is a trachea infection that can be caused by many different viruses and bacteria. Fortunately, dogs with mild cases of kennel cough will experience a harsh cough and should still be able to breathe normally. 

However, there are times when the causes behind kennel cough can also spread into the lungs and cause pneumonia. This type of lung disease allows the air sacs in the lungs (alveoli) to become filled with debris and fluid. As a result, the alveoli won’t be able to do the job of inhaling oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide properly, leading to low oxygen levels and shortness of breath. 

Heat Stroke

To help regulate our body temperature, humans are able to sweat through unique glands under our skin whenever we get hot and as sweat evaporates, we’re able to cool down. Unfortunately, dogs only have sweat glands around their paws, so they must rely on panting to help dissipate heat. But there are instances where a dog can’t cool down fast enough through panting. 

A dog left behind inside a car or even exercising during a hot day can lead to overheating. Many dogs will also keep playing even if they’re burning hot — pet parents won’t be able to rely on their dogs to stop even when they go over their normal temperature. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that must be addressed quickly — here are some signs of heat stroke to look out for: 

  • Difficulty breathing or heavy panting
  • Collapse
  • Seizures, tremors, or disorientation
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Changes in gum color such as a bluish hue or bright red

If you see any of these signs in your dog, be sure to head over to your veterinarian as soon as possible after hosing your dog down using cool water. This is especially important during the summer months, so be sure to keep an eye on your pup. While all dog breeds can suffer from heat stroke, it’s more common in brachycephalic dogs (canines with short noses), and dogs with a thick or dark coat. 

Heart Disease

This condition is defined as having electrical disturbances and even disorders that affect our dog’s heart rate, which results in a heart that doesn’t function properly. Unfortunately, when the heart doesn’t distribute oxygen throughout the body, your pup will switch to faster breathing to compensate. However, fluids may start to pool in the abdomen or lungs as a result of congestive heart failure and breathing will become even harder. 

Here are a few symptoms of heart disease that you will need to look out for: 

  • Coughing when excited or at night
  • Intolerance to exercise
  • Fast dog breathing while resting or sleeping
  • Purple or blue gums
  • Respiratory distress
  • Collapsing episodes

If you see any of these conditions in your dog, head to your veterinarian quickly. While heart disease can’t be cured, it can be managed through different medications that will help your pooch continue to live a good life along with you. 


There are many possible reasons why your pup may experience pain, and because they’re so good at hiding it, you may not even realize how they feel. However, vocalizing or favoring one limb over another could show us that they’re hurting. Other times, there are more subtle signs of pain such as your puppy’s fast breathing while resting or excessively panting. 

Your pup may also hide and become more withdrawn, position their bodies abnormally, and exhibit other changes in their behavior if they’re in pain. If you think that your dog is exceeding their normal breathing rate as a result of pain, schedule a meeting with your veterinarian. While it might be tempting to share your Advil with your pet, this can be dangerous for dogs and isn’t a good idea for pain relief. 


Cancer can affect your dog’s respiratory rate in different ways; if your dog has lung cancer, pressure and inflammation from the tumor may result in breathing problems and coughing. Cancer found anywhere else in their body can spread to the lungs which can then cause rapid breathing in dogs. 

Moreover, some cancers can cause fluids to fill the lungs such as in a pulmonary edema, or around the lungs as seen in pleural effusion. The first condition interferes with a dog’s ability to process oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of the body, while the second condition stops the lungs from expanding properly. Both conditions will add on to a dog’s normal breathing rate or change a puppy’s respiratory rate. 


Oxygen is vital for the survival of both humans and dogs — it is carried throughout the body on red blood cells through our blood vessels. But if your dog is anemic, which means that it has a low blood cell count, then less oxygen can travel to the body. If this is the case, your dog’s breaths could increase to compensate for this; here are conditions that may cause anemia: 

  • Tick-borne diseases
  • Internal bleeding 
  • Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (where the body attacks its own red blood cells)
  • Blood-sucking parasites
  • Chemicals, toxins, and medications
  • Cancer
  • Bone marrow suppression as a result of chronic disease

Anemia can become a life-threatening condition, so if you think that your furry friend could be anemic, head over to your vet immediately. Testing and treatment may be available, such as oxygen therapy, depending on the severity of the anemia.


One of the potential causes of dog panting and heavy breathing is anxiety. But apart from these symptoms, other signs of anxiety include yawning when your dog isn’t tired, trembling and cowering, or becoming aggressive and destructive. There are also various reasons why dogs can become anxious, such as: 

  • Noise phobia
  • Separation anxiety
  • Changes in your home
  • Stress and fear associated with pain
  • Dementia in dogs

If you feel that your dog is suffering from anxiety, make sure that you talk to your vet sooner instead of later. It’s important that you address anxiety as soon as it emerges, to make the job of eliminating it much easier. There are pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical solutions that you can use to help your pup’s anxiety. 

Why is My Puppy Breathing Hard

As we have outlined in this article, there are plenty of reasons why both puppies and adult dogs adopt a faster breathing rate, where some are serious and even life-threatening. If you’re unsure about your dog’s breathing rate, try counting its breathing per minute and consider taking a video of your pup to show your vet. More importantly, be sure to seek your veterinarian the moment you feel an emergency — this could save your dog’s life!