HEALTH & CARE

Fast Breathing in Dogs: How to Recognize The Signs and How to Control It

Fast breathing
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

There are many factors that control fast breathing in dogs and sometimes the problem related to breathing can become life threating. Breathing difficulties can affect any dog of any breed or age and that is why it is very important for you to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible if you notice any suspicious changes in breathing. The excessive breathing is named tachypnea (or polypnea), while the troubled or fast breathing is referred to as dyspnea.

This article will provide you with the most usual causes and symptoms when it comes to fast and difficult breathing in dogs, so you can react immediately if you notice any of them, or simply be aware of the possible symptoms.

Overview

The respiratory system in dogs is almost the same as the one in humans. It consists of many parts, such as the throat (pharynx and larynx), nose, windpipe and lungs. Air comes in through the dog’s nose and then it is carried down into the lungs.

That process is called the inspiration. After that, in the lungs, the oxygen is transferred to the red blood cells which continue carrying the oxygen to other organs in the body.

Meanwhile, carbon dioxide is transferred from the red blood cells into the lungs and then it is carried out through the nose in a process referred to as the expiration or exhalation. All of this is considered to be one of the most important physical processes in a healthy pet’s body.

However, the problems arise when the pet is breathing fast or with difficulty, because that means that the respiration or expiration is not taking place the way it should be. Dogs that need required effort to breathe are said to be dyspanic and that means that even a bit of excitement can throw them over the edge and they may end up with a facemask or in an oxygen chamber.

How to determine the reasons behind it

If you decide to take your furry friend to the vet in order to find out why is your dog breathing so fast, then you should know that the vet will observe your dog in the exam room and ask you various questions, such as has your dog had any problems in the past, the history of medical problems in general, when this specific problem occurred etc.

After that, the vet will probably take his or her stethoscope and search for any unusual sounds such as heart situations, fluid in the lungs, abnormal lung sounds, decreased audibility etc. Besides the obvious physical exam, the vets also use X-rays in order to see whether there are any organs displaced from their proper position, fluid in the lungs or surrounding them, chest tumors, fractured ribs, diaphragmatic hernias, air in the chest or the enlarged heart.

Sometimes even the lab work is required if the pet’s temperature, CRT time and pulse strength do not help in determining the cause.

Vet checking dog respiratory system

However, you should also know that stress or shock can be the cause of fast and raping breathing. Has your pet encountered any problematic situation in which he or you happened to be in danger? You may or not be aware of it, but in any case, taking your pet to the vet is a must. Sometimes when a dog’s condition is so critical, a vet must resort to exploratory surgery.

Some of the specific reasons

Mild or moderate heart failure

Mitral heart valve disease or advanced heartworm disease are some of the reasons responsible for elevated breathing in senior dogs. Monitoring your pet’s breaths per minute may be needed, especially when he is sleeping and relaxing. Dogs which have rates between 25 and 30 breaths per minute usually do not have any heart problems.

Heartworm infection infographic

However, higher rates may indicate that the problems with hearts are causing your pet to breathe faster than usual.

Chest traumas or accidents

Dogs that get hit by cars or they get injured in fights or other accidents usually have the symptoms of rapid breathing. The same goes for allergies, overwhelming infections or electrical shocks.

When the pet is the victim of any sort of shock, the blood pressure and flow of the blood drop to critically low levels which means that the dog becomes hypovolemic, resulting in his body craving for more oxygen. The cells in dogs’ and our bodies cannot live without oxygen and the bodies start inhaling oxygen faster than usual in a desperate attempt to compensate for the lack of it.

If your dog suffered an injury and you want to assist him out for a walk, check out this handy harness. It is great for senior dogs as well and helps you be there for your best friend when the need calls for it.

Acid-base disorders

The changes in pH balance can build up slowly due to some chronic problems and that can result in fast breathing. The same goes for the kidney failure.

Anemia

Anemia is one of the main causes why your dog may not be able to obtain sufficient oxygen. Hookworm anemia is most common when it comes to younger dogs and heavy flea infestations are the main causes of anemia in puppies.

To avoid such situations, it’s recommended to take timely measures like topical treatments against fleas that won’t affect the dog or administering anti-worm medication when the first symptoms show.

Hookworm anemia

The other type of anemia that occurs in senior dogs is the one that makes the production of antibodies that destroy the dog’s red blood cells. When they are destroyed, the dog becomes pale, weak and has difficulty breathing. The elevated heart rate is a common symptom too.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis – chest form

This disorder is caused by a mutant form of coronavirus. It is followed with severe and chronic inflammation and in this case the excess fluid fills the spaces in lungs, making your pet unable to get as much air as it is needed.

Blood parasites

The most common blood parasite in dogs is Babesia canis. It is transmitted by the brown dog tick and it can cause your dog to become anemic, which can furthermore result in your dog breathing heavily and fast.

Upper airway obstructions and collapsing trachea

Some of the dog breeds had been purposely bred or they naturally have short and narrow airways (nose, nasal passages, pharynx and larynx). These breeds tend to snore and they are called brachycephalic breeds. If these dog breeds obtain any kind of inflammation or swelling, they can have difficulty getting enough oxygen so they tend to breathe faster.

Short airways

The second upper airways problem is very common in toy dog breeds, such as Poodles and Pomeranians. That is because their trachea does not maintain its normal oval shape and additionally, Cushing’s disease can contribute to faster breathing.

Pyothorax

This is the problem when dogs develop chest infections and it is usually malnutrition and stress that decrease the dog’s ability to fight the infection. Sometimes it is the case of a thorn or some other sharp object that enter the lungs and allow the infection to enter the body and sometimes it is the food that has been swallowed in a wrong way.

Pulmonary Edema / Anaphylaxis, Vaccine or drug reactions

These disorders happen when your dog’s lungs get filled with a specific fluid called edema fluid and it also causes puffiness. It is usually caused by sudden allergic reactions like stings and vaccinations. Sometimes even if your pet gets an electric shock from gnawing at the electric cords can start this process as well.

Lung tumors

Lung tumors can be some of the causes for fast breathing. That is especially the case if they occupy the space between or within the lobes of the lungs, and they also cause coughing and excessive panting.

Cancer signs in dogs

Mediastinum disease is the one when the mediastinal area swells and decreases the area so the dog’s lungs cannot expand the way they should.

Brain Trauma or inflammation

When a dog gets hit by a car or he gets comatose due to a head trauma, one of the results can be rapid and fast breathing. Brain inflammation, increased pressure within the brain and brain stem injury can cause the same symptoms. Unfortunately, it is rare for a dog to survive this.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)

Ductus arteriosus is a channel belonging to the embryonic pet that is connecting the vessels between him and the main mother’s body. At birth, these channels are supposed to close, however, sometimes they do not, resulting in this condition that prevents the dog from getting enough oxygen. If not noticed on time, it is always accompanied by heart damage.

Dog breeds that are more prone to this condition are Poodles, Bichons, Maltese, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, Collies, Spaniels, Keeshond, and Shetland sheepdogs, even though any dog breed can suffer from this.

Ingestion of stimulants

You are aware of the fact that dogs simply love to munch and chew on stuff, especially if it is forbidden. However, sometimes that habit can be fatal, because if they get hold of some human medications or forbidden food, their breathing can become fast and heavy.

Toxic for dogs

The same goes for the cases related to poisoning. Make sure to teach your pet to avoid forbidden things, but in any case, make them unavailable and hidden.

Some of the rare causes

Histoplasmosis and Blastomycosis

These are two fungi that sometimes become established in the lungs of dogs. They prefer moist conditions, moderate temperatures and rick acidic soils. Dogs’ immune systems usually overcome most of the infections they encounter, however, when they are weakened, the fungi can prosper and override their natural defenses.

When they get established in the lungs, they form granulomas and the worst part is that when this problem occurs, it is impossible to cure them totally because the places where they are established cannot be penetrated properly. If the disease progresses, the fungi can travel to other parts of a dog’s body and result in fast breathing, weakness, fever and weight loss.

Lung parasites

The most common parasites are hookworms and roundworms. They live in the intestine and if a dog eats enough of them, the larval parasites ca reach the lungs and develop rapid breathing.

Parasites

Lungworms tend to make the lungs their permanent home and sometimes, if the infection is heavy enough, the small airways within the lungs can become blocked and lead to bronchitis, coughing, shortness of breath, labored breathing (dyspnea) and even dangerous “waterlogged” lungs.

To eliminate parasites, there are effective, natural treatments on the market. These are vet approved and but you should check with your vet first – click here to see details for a great herbal extract.

Pheochromocytoma tumors of the Adrenal gland

The most common tumors in a dog’s adrenal glands occur in the outer cortical portion of the gland and they sometimes can produce an excess of the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine which results in panting, rapid respiration, weakness, nervousness, high blood pressure and seizures.

Transfusion reactions

Sometimes when a dog receives the mismatched blood unit or it happens that it was not compatible for some unknown reasons, that can cause a dog to breathe rapidly and fast. However, these reactions are not very common and they can be managed by your vet properly.

Puppies that are breathing fast

It is not unusual for pet owners to notice and become alarmed when their puppies start breathing fast, wriggling or twitching in their sleep. It is usually completely normal. However, if you notice that your puppy is not growing properly, he breathes very fast when he awakes, he gets tired more quickly than before or he has a swollen belly, and all of this is accompanied with fast breathing, then visiting your vet is a must.

You should know that small puppies are just like small babies, they tend to wriggle and twitch in their sleep, so it is not unusual when they breathe faster too.

Puppies that are breathing fast

However, if a puppy was born with a heart or circulatory problem, then this may cause him to breathe faster than it is normal. Additionally, if your puppy breathes fast even when he is awake, then that means that something is wrong.

He may be suffering from a shock or stress, or he may have puppy worms that need to be treated as fast as possible. Breathing fast and other suspicious symptoms mean that something is definitely wrong, so do not hesitate about visiting the vet.

Treatment

When, ideally, the underlying cause is identified, and after a symptomatic therapy is instituted, then the oxygen therapy and strict rest become the most important. Furthermore, depending on the cause, an antibiotic or anti-inflammatory therapy may be implemented, especially when it comes to infectious or inflammatory disorders. Those dogs that are dehydrated or have concurrent systemic diseases get the fluid therapy too.

Owners usually get all of the prescribed medications and they are advised to allow their dogs to have home care and to keep their dogs in a cool and stress free environment.

Relax dog without stress

You should never over exert your pet if he has problems with his breathing. Sometimes a dog is admitted into a vet hospital, especially if his condition must be monitored all the time by the vet.

The upper respiratory causes

  • Diseases of the nostrils and sinuses (infection, narrowing, inflammation, cancer);
  • Soft palate disorders;
  • Laryngeal diseases (swelling, collapse, paralysis, spasm);
  • Tracheal (windpipe) diseases (tumors, collapse, foreign bodies);
  • Compression of upper airway structures from thoracic changes (masses, lymph nodes);

The lower respiratory causes

  • Lower respiratory disorders include obstructive (that which clogs or blocks) diseases and restrictive (that which confines) diseases;
  • Bronchial diseases (bronchitis, cancer, parasites);
  • Lung diseases (fluid, pneumonia, bleeding, clots, parasites, cancer, and lung lobe twisting);
  • Pleural effusion (fluid in the chest cavity);
  • Pneumothorax (air in the chest cavity);
  • Hernias;
  • Masses, lymph nodes or tumors in the chest cavity;

The nonrespiratory causes

  • Heart diseases (congestive heart failure, arrhythmias);
  • Neuromuscular diseases (trauma, cancer, inflammation);
  • Metabolic/endocrine diseases (diabetes, Cushing’s disease);
  • Hematologic diseases (anemia);
  • Abdominal diseases (masses, enlarged organs, fluid, bloating);
  • Other (pain, fear, physical exertion, fever, heat, stress, obesity, drugs);

Symptoms

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blue color to the gums
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Excessive drinking or urinating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Wrap Up

To sum up, we have covered some of the most important factors and causes of rapid and fast breathing in dogs and they include the upper, lower and nonrespiratory causes.

We have also mentioned the most common symptoms that follow them, such as coughing, difficulty breathing, blue color to the gums, fatigue, weight loss, poor appetite, excessive drinking or urinating, vomiting and diarrhea. If you notice any of this signs, you should react immediately by taking your dog for a checkup.

Sometimes the fast breathing can be the result of some trauma or shock that it is not dangerous, however, in some other cases, the real reason behind all that fast breathing can be potentially deadly and very threatening.

Fast breathing, check it up

This article provided you with the most important information, so you can react immediately if you notice some of the symptoms in your furry friend; or you can simply be aware and take your pet to the vet and before it is too late.

All in all, you are responsible for your dog, so you should monitor him all the time in order to notice any weird or suspicious things, and that should be applied to both puppies and mature, adult dogs. Even though it is common for puppies to breathe fast when they sleep, it is not normal if that fast breathing is accompanied with other symptoms that can prove to be very problematic.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • Emily Parks

    My dog usually experiences heavy breathing/panting during the hot summer months. So, I usually make sure to give plenty of water and do indoor playing. I found the article very informative, as most articles here. Keep up the great work. I appreciate the easy to understand explanations and good graphics of the site.

  • Ruth Harris

    Should this be a concern? Our dog is acting normally, but his breathing seemed like 100 breaths per minute. Any thoughts on this?

  • On average, dogs can breathe as fast as 35 breaths per minute. Based on your estimation, there is a visible increase in the respiratory rate. If this is a new observation, it would be best to send your dog to the vet because it can be a symptom of a worsening respiratory problem or distress.

  • Summer months can agitate our dog’s respiratory system. It is wise to keep your dog hydrated and away from extremely high temperature. Thanks for appreciating the article, and I hope your dog will enjoy any season in good health and long life.

  • Chris

    My female is pregnant and tonight her breathing got faster.Is this normal?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Hi, Chris,

      A pregnant dog can have increased breathing rate especially when she nears the due date. However, if the breathing sounds labored or distressed, it would be better to have a quick assessment with the vet.

  • Darby Watson

    I noticed this week my dog is breathing faster than normal, around 45-49 breaths per minute. He is eating fine and seems like himself, he doesn’t appear to be in any pain. Last month he had his teeth cleaned and a tooth pulled and the vet found a small heart murmur. Should I take him in to be checked? He is eleven years old.

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