dog breathing heavy featured image

Why Is My Dog Breathing Heavy? What to Do Now

Dogs are incredible companions. They not only keep you company but also ensure you’re safe. When you think of hard breathing in our furry friends, thoughts of a strenuously panting dog after a prolonged game of fetch come to mind. Although fast and hard breathing in dogs after exertion is normal, what if your pet hasn’t been outside yet or is just sleeping?

Granted, there’s a myriad of heavy breathing causes such as vivid dreaming, exhilaration, anxiety, stress, and hot weather. However, dogs with short snouts such as Pugs and Bulldogs usually pant heavier and louder than other breeds.

In some cases, your dog breathing heavy isn’t a disease but rather a symptom of an underlying condition or respiratory issue. To clarify any confusion, we’ll delve into whether a dog breathing hard is normal or out of the ordinary and what to do about heavy breathing. Read on!

How to Recognize Your Dog Breathing Hard

Depending on their size, healthy, adult dogs usually take anywhere between 10 and 30 breaths per minute. Therefore, a resting breathing rate of 35 to 40 is regarded as abnormal.

Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that puppies typically breathe at a higher rate. Therefore, being aware of your pet’s panting and breathing will recognize abnormal changes and patterns a breeze.

Flat-faced dogs with elongated palates and narrow nostrils are more vulnerable to developing breathing problems. It’s normal for your furry friend to pant after distress stemming from anxiety or exercise.

However, if you can rule out exterior factors and notice your dog is breathing hard, then it’s a cause for alarm. Abnormal breathing can be coupled with any of the following symptoms.

  • Distress
  • Sudden panting
  • Choking
  • Persistent panting
  • Rasping or snorting
  • Blue gums and tongue
  • Excessive drooling

We always recommend reaching out to your local vet when you notice abnormal breathing, right off the bat.

labrador retriever tongue

Common Causes of a Dog Breathing Heavy

The non-life-threatening and typical causes of heavy breathing in dogs range from heat, exercise, stress, and fear to excitement. Summer activities or prolonged sun exposure can spike your pet’s body heat. As a result, panting is a temperature regulation mechanism that is a lifesaver in curbing your dog’s body from overheating.

It’s characterized by heavy breathing, drooling, and a wide-open mouth, usually referred to as smiling. Given that a dog doesn’t perspire the way humans do, they only give off sweat in the areas that aren’t covered with fur, namely their nose and paw pads.

Pekingese and French Bulldogs, among other brachycephalic breeds, are highly susceptible to breathing as a result of their short pants. Therefore, they pant faster when the sweltering summers roll around. Nevertheless, hard breathing can also be the marker of more adverse underlying conditions.

Tachypnea

It’s a disease that is characterized by shallow and rapid breathing. There’s a wealth of underlying conditions that may trigger a spike in the breathing rate, for instance, soft palate disorders, lung diseases, and heart diseases. Under most circumstances, this Tachypnea occurs as a result of stress, overexertion, or hot weather.

Once you rule out all environmental factors and notice your dog is breathing heavy, then a visit to your local vet is recommended. Besides coughing or breathing, your pet may also experience other symptoms such as perpetual thirst, vomiting, fatigue, and blue gums.

Although the treatment method is based on the underlying cause, it should be accompanied by symptomatic therapy. A change in your dog’s training or routine in the scenario of separation anxiety may be necessary to diminish the level of distress. While Tachypnea isn’t a critical ailment, it can advance to Dyspnea, which can be fatal.

Dyspnea

Also known as respiratory distress, Dyspnea refers to shortness of breath coupled with labored breathing. Furthermore, it varies in intensity, from permanent, mild, and serious, to temporary. If you’re familiar with the term ‘air hunger,’ then you can empathize with how your pet feels when attempting to breathe, but not enough air gets to their lungs. It’s an excruciating feeling of breathlessness, to say the least.

Possible causes of Dyspnea are trauma, heart failure, lung disease, and edema (fluid in the lungs). Brachycephalic dog breeds such as Boxers, Pugs, and Boston Terriers have anatomic predispositions to respiratory issues.

As a result, fatigue, shortness of breath, and coughing are all symptoms to keep an eye out for. There’s a multitude of diagnostic tests that can be performed to know the underlying cause and determine the best treatment. For instance, a chest radiograph aids in identifying the accumulation of fluid in the lungs, whereas an EKG monitors the heart’s electrical activity.

However, if these tests don’t yield definitive results, more invasive alternatives must be conducted. A lung biopsy gives insight into possible tumors or lesions that must be surgically removed. Therapy is used to prevent fluid accumulation in the lungs and elevate heart function. Dyspnea prevents dogs from getting sufficient oxygen into their bloodstream, leading to a life-threatening emergency requiring immediate medical attention.

Heatstroke

It stems from the prolonged exposure to hot weather or physical exertion. As the most adverse form of heat exhaustion, heatstroke triggers organ failure and loss of consciousness. If your dog has been exercising or lying in the scorching sun for hours on end, the likelihood of symptoms such as vomiting, heavy breathing, fever, blue gums, and excessive drooling may occur. Therefore, you shouldn’t turn a blind eye to any signs of illness and get your furry companion away from the sun immediately.

Let your dog lie on the floor, or a cooling mat inside the house, then drizzle cool water on them. For small dogs or puppies, use lukewarm water. Monitor the ears and paws to prevent your dog from overheating. Furthermore, having a pet thermometer on stand-by to check their temperature every 10 minutes can keep heatstroke at bay.

You can place your pet right in front of a fan to cool off and dry completely. Upon confirming a drop in temperature to 103°F, you can stop sprinkling the water and give your dog small quantities of water. However, reach out to the vet despite noticing signs of improvement because your dog is still susceptible to adverse complications such as kidney failure after suffering heatstroke.

dog breath outdoor during morning time

Heart Failure

It’s an ailment that can crop up as a result of heart disease that has been gradually manifesting over time. The heart fails to pump an adequate amount of blood to the body, resulting in fluid buildup in the lungs. Most commonly, CHF, an acronym for Congestive Heart Failure, manifests as your dog breathing heavily while resting coupled with a persistent cough. Consequentially, your pet won’t have the stigma of a healthy dog and tires out quickly from exercise.

The accumulation of fluid causes a crackling breathing noise and a swollen belly. Other signs include blue gums, pacing, loss of appetite, abrupt weight loss. These symptoms can differ based on whether your dog has left-sided or right-sided CHF.

Nevertheless, they usher in the depletion of oxygen in the tissue causing heart failure. Approximately 80% of CHF cases in canines stem from the insufficiency of the mitral valve. Moreover, atrial septal, parvovirus, and heartworms are a few other possible causes.

EKG, blood tests, and chest x-rays are valuable diagnostic methods useful in determining the underlying cause and the best treatment. However, it’s unfortunate that treatment is solely targeted towards symptom management because there’s no cure for heart failure.

Therefore, it entails the insertion of a pacemaker coupled with medication to rectify an irregular heartbeat. A change in your dog’s diet along with an exercise regimen is a foolproof way of boosting the quality of life. Furthermore, you’ll need to frequently monitor the respiratory rate while keeping the stress level to a minimum.

Poisoning

Garlic, onions, and other Allium family members are loaded with sodium thiosulfate, a highly toxic chemical to dogs that can lead to anemia and poisoning. The symptoms range from abdominal pain, rapid breathing, dark-colored urine, lethargy, and vomiting to abdominal pain. It’s advisable to rush your dog to the vet upon ingesting something toxic.

Although garlic and onion poisoning are hardly fatal, your dog may require supportive care to completely recover. Moreover, water intoxication is a rarity but can occur particularly when the sweltering summer rolls around.

As a result of the high water intake, the sodium in the blood sinks to hazardous levels, leading to severe or mild complications. Additionally, it manifests as lethargy, seizures, difficulty breathing, excessive salivation, and vomiting. Given that water poisoning can develop rapidly, it’s crucial to take your dog to the vet for blood tests.

Anemia

It occurs when the hemoglobin concentration or the number of red blood cells in your dog’s body plummets. Anemia can be due to trauma, cancer, or autoimmune diseases, all of which are diagnosable via a plethora of blood tests.

Healthy dogs have 35% to 55% red blood cells, which means a cell volume of less than 35% is regarded as anemic. The signs of anemia are lethargy, heavy breathing, pale gums, and rapid weight loss.

Life-threatening instances of anemia are treatable by blood transfusion, which effectively stabilizes your dog until the root cause is determined. For the most accurate prognosis, it’s crucial to treat the disease as fast as possible.

Dog Breathing Hard: Home Remedies

Although we recommend getting in touch with your vet as the first course of action, below are a few home remedies you can try to make your dog more comfortable when you notice coughing, heaving, breathing, or panting.

Cooling Mat

When summer rolls around, providing a cooling mat to your dog will aid in curbing overheating and temperature regulation.

Honey

fresh honey isolated on table

It makes all the difference in soothing your dog’s throat and alleviates coughing. Manuka honey, in particular, has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antibacterial properties. If your dog weighs 30lbs, then one tablespoon of raw honey will do the trick. The sweet taste of honey means your pet will have no qualms downing this flavorful medicine. You can also incorporate it with dandelion for added vitamins.

Humidifier

humidifier in home wooden floor

It’s no secret that a dry respiratory system can make your dog susceptible to breathing issues and trigger coughing. Therefore, a humidifier is an incredible home remedy for a dog with a cold or cough that could benefit from a moisturized airway.

Position it right next to your dog’s bed. You can add one or two non-toxic essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, ginger, or peppermint to the humidifier and let it run for 10 minutes, subsequently allowing the clean air for 30 minutes.

Coconut Oil

fresh coconut oil

As a natural Superfood, coconut oil is an immune system booster that treats contagious diseases such as kennel cough. Coupled with honey, it works like a charm in effectively fighting infections. You can add one or two teaspoons per 10lbs of food you feed your dog.

How to Calm a Dog Breathing Heavy

Firstly, it’s crucial to radiate calmness when you notice your pet is anxious and breathing hard. Secondly, demonstrate calm breathing while slowly blinking with your eyes. By doing so, your dog will pick up on this cue, possibly relieving a bit of anxiety and slowing down their breathing.

Thirdly, if immediate stressors surround your dog, remove them from that environment to a safe, familiar, and quiet space.

How to Prevent Abnormal Heavy Breathing in Dogs

For starters, incorporate ample exercise with minimal stress and a healthy diet to promote a long lifespan.

Secondly, take your dog to the vet for frequent checkups. Doing so enables early diagnosis of underlying conditions, paving the way for a better prognosis and early treatment.

Thirdly, prevent heatstroke by ensuring your dog is in the shade with constant access to ample water.

To Wrap It Up

As a dog owner, watching your canine friend struggling to catch their breath for unknown reasons is unsettling. However, when this unfortunate circumstance crops up, you now know a few measures to take, including consulting a vet right away.

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Michael Brady

Michael is an animal-lover who specializes in marketing. He started running Dog Food Care with his mother, Sarah, after leaving his office job. Michael gained enough flexibility in his schedule to be able to adopt a dog of his own and welcomed Emmie the dachshund into his home in 2020.