Have you noticed your dog breathing fast? Is your new pup breathing fast during sleep, and it’s freaking you out? Are you unsure of what steps to take? Read on!

A dog breathing fast or erratically is indicative of something abnormal going on. However, there are several possible reasons for a dog breathing fast and other irregular breathing patterns.

Why is My Dog Breathing Fast?

Why is my dog breathing fastA dog breathing fast or heavy is a sign of an underlying condition, not a condition of its own. Following is a list of illnesses, diseases, and infections responsible for a dog’s irregular breathing pattern. Digging deeper into the signs and symptoms of each may help a pet parent figure out their next steps.

  1. Heart disease
  2. Heatstroke
  3. Stress & Fear
  4. Tracheal collapse
  5. Infectious tracheobronchitis
  6. Irritants like smoke
  7. Parasites
  8. Pneumonia

Dog Respiratory Rate

Dog respiratory rateMy dog is breathing fast; how do I measure the respiratory rate?

Measuring your dog’s breathing rate is simple. All you need is a 15-second timer, your hand, and your dog. Do this when your dog is sleeping or lying still for better accuracy.
  1. Cue up your 15-second timer or pick a spot on the clock.
  2. Place your hand on your dog’s chest or belly where you can feel the rise and fall of their breath.
  3. Count each inhale and exhale as one breath as your 15-second timer counts down.
  4. Multiply the breaths you counted by 4, and that is the respiratory rate.
Size and Age of DogNormal Temperature RangeNormal Dog Respiratory Rate
Puppies99.5-102.515-40 bpm
Small dogs101-102.510-35 bpm
Adult dogs101.102.510-30 bpm

Normal dog respiratory rate

Small dogs and puppies may have a slightly elevated respiratory rate while adult dogs may stay under 30 beats per minute. Whatever the breed, anything over 40 is a definite reason for concern. When in doubt, consult your vet.

Dog Breathing Heavy

Dog breathing heavyDoting pet owners get nervous if they hear a sniffle from their fur babies, so if your dog is breathing heavily for no good reason, you may be worrying yourself to no end.

Fortunately and unfortunately, there is a list of possible reasons why your dog is breathing hard. Below you will find more in-depth information on the diseases, infections, and illnesses that could be responsible for your dog’s abnormal breathing.

Why is my dog breathing heavy?

If you’re wondering why your dog is breathing heavily, read on for more insight into the ailments linked to abnormal breathing in dogs.

Heart disease

Heart disease can be:

  • Congenital (genetic)
  • Acquired

Congenital heart disease is passed on through specific breeds more than others, and sometimes it’s hereditary.

Acquired heart disease develops over time. Reasons for dog’s acquiring heart disease are sometimes uncontrollable. Heart disease is more likely acquired by dogs who are:

Types of heart disease in dogs:

  1. Valve Disease
  2. Heart Muscle Disease

Valve Disease

The most common of heart valve diseases is mitral regurgitation, causing heart murmurs in dogs. A heart murmur is how veterinarians discover most cases of mitral valve disease.

With mitral valve disease, the flaps encourage the blood flow to go one way or the other way and create turbulence in the heart, which can lead to a heart murmur. Heart murmurs have been described as a whooshing sound that is almost impossible to hear with the naked ear.

Heart murmurs vary on a scale from 1-6. Most dogs live happily with a heart murmur for years. So if your vet has given you this scary news, don’t fall into a depressive state quite yet. You probably have a lot of time left with your sweet pup.

Heart Muscle Disease

Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common heart muscle disease in dogs. Dilated cardiomyopathy can be characterized as the expansion of the ventricles and the thinning of ventricular walls. Dilated cardiomyopathy makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood through the vascular system.

DCM can cause a decrease in the oxygenated blood throughout the body, causing clinical signs like:

  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Collapse
  • Weakness

Clinical signs of DCM may also be evident if it causes congestion of blood in the lungs causing:

Heart disease usually isn’t evident because dogs don’t show any apparent signs or symptoms, sometimes for years. This is where your veterinarian comes in with their handy dandy stethoscope and years of education.

With your veterinarian’s help, you can keep an eye on your dog’s heart disease progression.

 3 Ways to Monitor Heart Disease in Dogs

  • Regular Physical Examinations: The veterinarian listens to your dog’s heart and lungs, reviews any blood work, and checks blood pressure.
  • Electrocardiogram: This is a simple test to measure the activity of the heart and any rhythm irregularities.
  • Echocardiogram: An ECG is the best test to get if you want to see what’s going on in your dog’s heart. This test allows a board-certified veterinary cardiologist to view a dog’s heart in exceptional detail.

Dog heart failure cough sound can indicate that a dog may be suffering from heart disease or congestive heart failure. However, get to your vet for some confirmation before you start freaking out.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke will often cause rapid breathing, which can help the body cool itself down. However, heatstroke can be very dangerous if no one is paying attention.

How do dogs get heat stroke? What are the predisposing factors?

  • Hot and humid environments
  • Inadequate ventilation (left in a car or room without proper circulation)
  • Low shade
  • Insufficient hydration
  • Excessive exercise

Heatstroke is a form of hyperthermia where the core body temperature is above the normal range, resulting in tissue injury. Heatstroke happens when a mammal generates heat faster than it can lose it.

If you notice that your dog is overheated, here’s what you should do:

  1. Get them inside, in a cool space. The most crucial part is that there is proper ventilation. In layman’s terms, get that cross breeze going! If you have A/C, use it; if you don’t, a fan may suffice.
  2. Dampen cloths with cool water and lay them in the places that hold the most heat, like armpits, around the neck, on the belly, and on the hind legs. The important part is to bring the body temperature down but not too quickly.
  3. Offer clean & cool water. Ice cubes are okay sometimes but during a heat stroke, give only cool water. Nothing like a brain freeze to impede the cooling process!
  4. Consult your vet and schedule check-ups as needed.
Get your fur baby to the vet if an overheated dog’s respiratory rate doesn’t come back down to 35 or below within a half-hour.

Stress & Fear

There is always a lot of talk about stress in humans and animals. Much like their two-legged counterparts, dogs can experience pretty yucky side effects from stress. Like humans, dogs also produce higher levels of cortisol when in stressful or fearful situations. 

A stressed-out dog may breathe heavier or faster than usual, but it is essential to keep an eye on the respiratory rate and bring this to your vet’s attention.

Cushing’s disease is severe in dogs where the adrenal glands overproduce cortisol.

Tracheal collapse

Tracheal collapse occurs when the cartilage rings of the windpipe weaken and eventually fall in on themselves, making breathing difficult and causing a “honking cough”. Collapsed trachea in dogs is more common in small and toy dog breeds, often due to genetic or hereditary factors.

Small dogs more likely to develop tracheal collapse include:

  • Pomeranians
  • Chihuahuas
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Pugs
  • Toy Poodles
  • Shih Tzus

Tracheal collapse is a progressive disease affecting dogs from 4-14. The condition can be treated with supportive care and cough suppressants. There is also a minimally invasive procedure available for dogs whose tracheas are on the verge of complete collapse. This procedure places a mesh stent inside of the windpipe to provide support.

Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis

Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis, also known as “kennel cough”, is probably a topic you are pretty informed about if you frequent kennelcoughhelp.com. Kennel cough may be the most common cause of coughing in dogs, and luckily it’s curable!

Kennel cough is a crude term for a whole slew of viral and bacterial agents that cause similar upper respiratory symptoms in dogs, particularly those who live or frequent facilities with many other dogs.

Irritants 

Some pet parents may forget about the everyday irritants that could affect your dog and make them cough and breathe erratically. The first and most disgusting irritant that owners have the most control over is smoke.

Secondhand smoke harms children, causing ear infections and asthma, and your dog isn’t much different. Smoking inside of a home with dogs can increase a dog’s risk of developing:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Respiratory disease

Even the couch and blankets that absorb the smoke can be harmful to the pets who come into contact with them.

Before you brush it off and go light up a smoke, consider these things:

  • The length of the dog’s nose can determine how secondhand smoke affects them
  • Certain dog breeds are at increased risk of lung or nose cancer.
  • Cats who live with people who smoke more than a pack a day have three times the risk of developing lymphoma.
  • Smoking is also dangerous for small pets like guinea pigs, fish and birds.

Parasites

Gross! Parasites?

Yes, parasites are a leading cause of coughing in dogs, which almost every dog experiences at one point or another. Mothers can pass roundworms to their puppies, who can also acquire them through ingesting larvae in their mother’s milk or eating infected poop. Hey, dogs like nasty stuff; what can you do?!

There are five types of worms that typically affect dogs:

  • Heartworms
  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Whipworms

A dewormer prescribed by your veterinarian can eradicate intestinal worms. However, if left untreated, serious damage can occur or even death.

Of the different types of worms, heartworms are the most challenging to remove, and the treatment is much more expensive. Luckily, a heartworm can be easily controlled and avoided by a monthly preventative.

A little known fact about heartworm preventatives: They work by killing the larvae that your dog came into contact within the past30 days. 

So if you’re thinking of skipping the preventative this month to save a couple of bucks, remember, missing a dose can lead to the larvae growing into adult worms. Blood tests can only diagnose adult worms, and the growth process takes about six months. So your dog will have to wait six months for treatment even to be a consideration.

Set the alarm, mark it in your calendar, write it on your mirror, but please stay on top of heartworm prevention!

Pneumonia 

This is a scary one. No one wants to hear the word pneumonia fall from medical professionals’ lips regardless of the species.

A dog breathing fast can be due to one of three types of pneumonia.

  • Bacterial pneumonia in dogs (caused by a bacteria-like Bordetella Bronchiseptica).
  • Fungal pneumonia in dogs (caused by a fungal infection)
  • Aspirational pneumonia in dogs (caused by aspiration)

The prognosis for pneumonia in dogs is better than one might think, but prompt and timely treatment is crucial. Of course, immunocompromised dogs and seniors have a more difficult time fighting off disease.

Causes of Dog Breathing Fast & How to Spot Them

Disease, Affliction or InfectionClinical Signs and Characteristics
Heart DiseaseExercise intolerance

Coughing

Difficulty breathing

Sudden back leg weakness

Weakness or collapse

Swelling of the abdomen

Heat StrokeChanges in gum color (bright pink or red)

Heavy panting & shortness of breath

Elevated body temperature

Increased heartbeat

Excessive drooling

Extreme thirst

Dizziness or disorientation

Vomiting

Exercise & ExcitementPanting

Higher than normal heart rate

Jumping

Vocalizing

Stress & FearAggression

Panting

Pacing

Shaking

Shedding

Whining and barking

Change in posture

Tracheal Collapse“Honking” cough

Wheezing

Syncope

Harsh “unproductive” cough

Gagging & retching

Paralysis of the larynx

Infectious TracheobronchitisHacking, “honking,” gagging cough

Low fever

Runny nose

Sneezing

Lethargy

Lack of appetite

IrritantsItchy or irritated skin or ears

Coughing

Wheezing

Sneezing

Runny eyes and nose

ParasitesVomiting

Diarrhoea

Bloated or distended abdomen

Scooting

Weight loss

Infrequent coughing

Worms visible in poop

PneumoniaBreathing difficulty

Lethargy & listlessness

High fever

Coughing

Wheezing

Whistling from the nasal cavity

AsthmaExcessive panting

Intolerance to exercise

Lack of energy

Pale gums

Respiratory distress

Loss of appetite

CancerDifficulty swallowing, eating, or breathing

Growing and abnormal swellings

Lameness

Difficulty peeing and pooping

Unhealed wounds and sores

Anorexia & weight loss

Discharge or blood from body orifices

Why is My Dog Breathing Weird?

Why is my dog breathing weirdStrange breathing patterns occur for different reasons, as you’ve learned in the previous paragraphs. Here are a few weird types of breathing in dogs and what they might be indicating:

  1. Wheezing
  2. Panting
  3. Laboured breathing

Wheezing

Humans can sometimes experience wheezing, and so can dogs. This type of breathing can sound like a faint whistle while breathing. Wheezing can be a sign of many undesirable conditions like:

  • Asthma
  • Tumours
  • Collapsing trachea
  • Kennel cough
  • Pneumonia
  • Heartworm

Panting

Panting is a typical breathing pattern for dogs who may have just gone for a run or have been chasing the ball, but panting should subside relatively quickly in a healthy dog. Persistent heavy breathing and panting, however, can be a sign of:

  • Anxiety & stress
  • Pain
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cushing’s Disease
  • Anaemia
  • Lung disease

Laboured breathing

Laboured breathing can look a lot like panting, but you will be able to visibly see the rise and fall as the pup works to keep breathing. Laboured breathing will often have a respiratory rate at 40 to 80 breaths per minute.

Check out sweet Teddy’s experience with congestive heart failure.

When is it time to contact the vet when your dog is breathing weird?

  • Out of the ordinary drooling
  • Blue tinged, pale, or dark red gums
  • Open mouth breathing while at rest
  • Noticeable laboured breathing (rise and fall of breath is extreme)
  • Listlessness & lethargy
  • Refusal to eat, drink, or move

Dog Breathing Fast While Sleeping? Read on…

Dog breathing fast while sleepingOne may assume that a dog breathing fast while sleeping is just having sweet dreams of plush meadows and fluffy squirrels, but sometimes it can be more serious.

Why is my dog breathing fast while sleeping?

A sleeping pup breathing fast may be nothing, but if you think they seem uncomfortable, they may be experiencing respiratory distress. Take note of the sounds and characteristics of laboured breathing (clenching abdomen) and oddly coloured gums (blueish, red, white, or pale).

Why is my older dog breathing fast while sleeping

If your dog is a dreamer and often reaches REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, it is totally normal for them to breathe faster while they are sleeping. This type of breathing can become more worrisome in older dogs, especially with any preexisting condition.

Keep an eye out for visible laboured breathing, pale gums, and open-mouthed breathing while at rest.

My dog is breathing fast through the nose while sleeping…

It’s quite normal for a dog to breathe fast through its nose while sleeping, especially during REM sleep. Older dogs and puppies are more likely to breathe through their noses during sleep than middle-aged dogs. Puppies will often have a higher resting respiratory rate than adult dogs.

I think my dog has a fever and rapid breathing while sleeping…

A fever is always a sign that it’s time to get to the veterinarian. High fevers are indicative of pneumonia or other respiratory infections and diseases. Despite the type of infection, a fever can be detrimental for a dog if left untreated. If you believe your dog is breathing heavily and has a fever, whatever the time of day, get to the vet immediately!

What do I do if my dog wakes up panting?

A dog who wakes in the night can show discomfort or anxiety. These dogs may pace, pant, or vocalize to get their point across.

In older dogs, this type of activity may indicate cognitive dysfunction, but more likely, a dog waking up in the middle of the night panting is in pain. A pain that isn’t allowing them to sleep through the night. Get them to the vet as soon as possible.

My dog is breathing fast and shallow…

A dog breathing fast and shallow is a sad sight and a definite indication that something more serious is going on. Rapid shallow breathing may be a sign of:

  • Pain
  • Heatstroke
  • Lower respiratory issues
  • Anaemia
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Heart disease

Bottom line, consult your vet if your dog is breathing weird. 

My Puppy is Breathing Fast While Sleeping

Puppy breathing fast while sleepingPuppies are already the excitable type, but a new pet parent may worry.

What are puppies’ typical breathing rates? Is it abnormal when they breathe fast? Am I doing this right?!

Don’t worry so much. The following and preceding information will help you to understand a dog’s respiratory rate, and what it might mean.

Do all puppies breathe fast?

Yes, often. Puppies are often big dreamers, leading to twitching and fast breathing while sleeping. However, if a puppy shows the following signs, they need to be seen by the veterinarian:

  • Vomiting
  • Refusing to eat
  • Lethargy
  • Swollen belly (worms)

Why is my puppy breathing so fast?

Puppies’ naturally breathe faster than adult dogs, with a normal respiratory rate of about 15-40 breaths per minute. Most adult dogs should top out around 30-35 breaths per minute. If your dog’s respiratory rate is higher, you should consult your vet.

Pets Are Life

Pets are such a gift. Their love is unconditional, and people owe them the same in return. Scientists have even linked dog ownership to reducing cardiovascular risk in their humans!  

As a pet parent, you strive to give them as much as they show you by staying informed, aware, and consistently doing everything in your power to keep them healthy. That’s how much pets can do for their humans.