Rapid breathing or heavy breathing isn’t always a sign of danger in dogs.
If your dog is breathing fast after a bout of exercise, you’re probably not going to be too concerned about their respiratory rate. Where things start to get a little nerve-wracking, is when your dog starts breathing quickly seemingly for no reason.
Today, we’re going to help put your mind at ease, by helping you to define signs of respiratory distress, and breathing difficulties in your pooch. This way, you’ll know when you need to seek help from a vet.
Defining Rapid Breathing for a Dog
If you want to be able to identify problematic breathing in dogs, you need to know when a dog is breathing rapidly – and when he or she is just breathing a little faster than you. A typical dog will usually have a respiratory rate of somewhere between 15 to 35 breaths per minute. While exercising, rapid breathing will naturally be more common.
If your dog is taking more than 40 breaths a minute, this generally means their breathing rate is high, or that they’re panting. Of course, just because your dog is breathing quickly doesn’t necessarily mean they’re having breathing difficulties.
If a dog is panting, this usually means they’re trying to reduce their body temperature. Since panting is your dog’s best method of cooling itself, a higher breathing rate could indicate your furry friend is feeling overly warm. If you notice hyperactive breathing or a potential respiratory issue in your dog, it’s best to get a physical examination from a vet.
While you wait to get support from a vet, try cooling your dog down by wetting a Paws and Presto towel with cool water and draping it over your dog. Remove the towel and wet it again as it starts to absorb heat from your dog.
Common Reasons why Dogs Breathe Faster
In some cases, rapid breathing in a dog can indicate medical issues, extreme dehydration, and problems with the lungs. However, it’s important not to panic, as a dog breathing abnormally fast could also be a sign of something much less sinister – like your dog being overly excited.
Let’s explore some of the common reasons a dog might be breathing quickly.
- They’re overheated
As mentioned above, your dog uses rapid panting to cool down, as they don’t have the same sweat glands and other methods for cooling as we humans do. When they pant, dogs circulate cool air around their body and get rid of hot air through their mouths.
It’s easy to confuse regular panting with hyperventilation, but if your dog is breathing rapidly on a hot day, they could just be a little too warm. Make sure your dog has plenty of access to shade and cool water if they’re breathing fast. Always go on walks in the summer with plenty of water for both you and your dog, and make sure there’s shade available when you’re out in the garden.
- They’re excited
As mentioned above, worried pet parents have a habit of seeing laboured breathing when your dog is just demonstrating a heavier breathing pattern due to excitement or happiness. When a dog is thrilled to see someone, or excited, their heart rate increases, and their breathing becomes more rapid too.
To determine whether your dogs’ rapid breaths might be from excitement, examine your pooch for any other signs of illness, like lethargy, or yowling. If your dog seems to be doing a lot of shallow breathing, this is usually a sign of excitement. You’re likely to see young dogs and puppies struggling more with quick breathing when they’re excited, because they haven’t learned how to manage their excitement properly yet.
- They’re upset
Just as your pooch can breath more quickly when excited, rapid breathing can also be one of the many signs of anxiety or upset in your dog. Vets and dog behaviour experts are still exploring why some dogs seem to hyperventilate more often when they’re upset, in pain, or stressed. Panting seems to be a bit of a coping mechanism, particularly for dogs with separation anxiety.
If your dog falls into fits of excessive panting every time they’re exposed to stressful experiences (like being left home alone), it might be worth seeking some help from a professional. An expert can assist you in training your dog to overcome certain types of anxiety.
Before you seek out emergency veterinary care for your dog due to a bit of excessive breathing, it might be worth double checking if your dog’s actually just sneezing. Just like pet owners, dogs can sneeze when they inhale something that tickles their nose. When a human sneezes, we inhale very briefly and exhale aggressively. The same isn’t always true of dogs.
Some dogs will sneeze by exhaling slightly, then breathing in very violently. This isn’t necessarily a big deal – just a sign your dog has inhaled something that rubbed their nose the wrong way. Regular reverse sneezing, however, could be an indication of other problems in your dog. If your dog is constantly sneezing, it could be a sign they’re allergic to something in your home. Consistent sneezing is also common in flat-faced breeds and short-snouted dogs.
- A respiratory issue
Most of the reasons for heavy breathing we’ve covered so far aren’t really any cause for alarm. However, there are cases where hyperventilation in your pooch could be a red flag indicating something more dangerous. The most common reason for a dog to suffer from health issues that have something to do with their breathing, is that they belong to a certain breed.
Some dogs, like bull dogs and pugs are more likely to have problems with their attempts at breathing. When you get one of these dogs, you’ll often receive advice from the breeder or adoption center on what to look out for. It’s also worth reading up on breathing issues in your chosen breed.
Outside of specific breed issues, respiratory issues in your dog can also link back to various other conditions. For instance, Hypoxia, or anoxia, is the name of a condition that happens when a dog doesn’t have enough oxygen in their bloodstream. This means the body tries to compensate by taking in a higher amount of oxygen. If your dog has this condition, you will need to seek advice from a vet.
When a significant respiratory problem is the reason behind laboured breathing in a dog, there are often other signs and symptoms to be aware of, like lethargy, inability to consume food and water as normal, and general unusual behaviour.
- Metabolic Acidosis
Finally, laboured or rapid breathing can very rarely be a sign of another significant condition in your dog requiring medical attention. Metabolic acidosis is a serious condition which can affect a wide range of dogs. This condition is defined by a problem with the PH level of your dog’s blood. For those who don’t know, the PH scale defines the guidelines we use for measuring the alkalinity or acidity of a substance. For dogs, the ideal blood PH is considered to be higher than 7.35.
With the PH scale, as the numbers decrease, the liquid or substance becomes more acidic. If the PH level of your dog’s blood goes down too much, they’ll end up with a range of symptoms, including rapid breathing or hyperventilation.
Most commonly, metabolic acidosis is a side-effect of some kind of poisoning. If this is the case for your dog, you’ll likely see other signs like vomiting, nausea, lethargy, bloody stool, and other issues. However, metabolic acidosis can also be a side effect of specific disorders too. For instance, your dog might have this problem following conditions like haemorrhagic shock, renal disease, and diabetes.
It’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for metabolic acidosis if your dog has had kidney issues recently, because the kidneys are largely responsible for regulating the PH of a dog’s blood.
Understanding Hyperventilation in Dogs
There are a lot of reasons why a dog might seem to be hyperventilating. The good news for pet parents is that excessive breathing isn’t always a bad sign, or a red flag your dog is suffering from lack of oxygen. While it’s always important to seek help from a vet when you’re concerned, be aware that many rapid breathing sessions will turn out to be nothing particularly dangerous.
Crucially, when trying to determine why your dog is breathing more heavily and whether he or she needs veterinary care, it’s worth looking for other signs of distress. While hyperventilating isn’t always a sign of illness in dogs, it could be one of the many symptoms of something more severe. If your dog seems to be lethargic or unable to move around as normal, this could indicate they’re suffering from heat stroke – particularly if you’re out and about on a hot day.
If your dog seems very quiet when they’re asleep, then suddenly starts breathing very heavily, this could be an indication of sleep apnoea – a condition more likely in squishy-face dogs. There’s even a chance you could be witnessing an allergic reaction in your dog if the breathing issue always seems to happen after your dog encounters a specific substance.
Since it’s difficult for us to fully understand the nasal chambers and respiratory symptoms of our dogs, anything that worries you should always be addressed with a vet. Remember, your vet’s special training will make it easier for them to separate simple things like excited panting from signs of a respiratory infection.
Do You Need to See a Vet?
With a little luck, heavy breathing in your dog won’t be a sign of anything particularly dangerous. However, it’s important to be aware of any issues that can emerge, and what they may mean to your pooch. If your dog starts panting suddenly, seemingly with no reason, and you think they may be in pain, contact your vet immediately.
If the panting occurs with other symptoms, like lethargy or trouble moving, or the breathing seems consistently intense, you should also call a vet. Blue, white, or purple gums and tongue can also be a sign your dog isn’t getting enough oxygen, which means its time for an immediate vet visit.