Why is my dog breathing so fast?

If your pup is breathing fast without apparent cause, it can be worrying. Today our Rocky Mountain Veterinary Cardiology vets share some reasons why your dog may be breathing hard and when it's time for your dog to see the vet.

What counts as fast breathing in dogs?

In order to be able to spot irregular breathing, we need to know what a healthy respiratory (breathing) rate for a dog is. An average healthy pet should take between 15 - 35 breaths per minute when at rest. (Of course, while exercising, your pooch will naturally breathe faster).

Anything above 40 breaths per minute while your dog is resting is considered abnormal and worth investigating.

That being said, not all panting is bad or a sign of distress. Panting helps your pup to regulate their body temperature, cooling them down and allowing moisture and heat to dissipate from the tongue, the mouth, and upper respiratory tract.

Unlike people, your dog can't sweat to cool down; instead, they need to breathe fast to allow oxygen to circulate efficiently through the respiratory system. Rapid breathing allows a dog’s body to get back to a normal temperature.

How do I know if my dog is breathing too fast?

To determine whether your dog is breathing abnormally fast, simply count your dog’s respiratory rate while they are sleeping or resting. It can be a good idea to do this when you are not concerned, in order to have a clear understanding of your pet's normal respiratory rate. Anything under 30 breaths per minute is considered normal, anything above 35 is a cause for concern.

Why is my dog breathing fast?

Your pet's rapid breathing could be a sign that your dog is suffering from an illness, injury or other condition that should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Dogs breeds with 'squished faces' or shortened snouts such as Boston terriers, Boxers, and Pugs are more predisposed to breathing issues and should always be closely monitored by pet parents for any signs of respiratory difficulties.

Some potential causes of fast or heavy breathing in dogs include:

  • Asthma
  • Breed Characteristics
  • Kennel Cough
  • Laryngeal Paralysis
  • Issues affecting Windpipe 
  • Bacterial Respiratory Infection
  • Fungal Respiratory Infection
  • Pressure on the Windpipe
  • Stiffening of Airways
  • Smoke Inhalation
  • Collapsing Windpipe
  • Lung Diseases (e.g. cancer)
  • Parasites
  • Pneumonia
  • Compressed Lungs
  • Hernia
  • Heat Stroke
  • Anemia
  • Nausea
  • Pain
  • Effects from Medication 
  • Exercise

When should I be concerned about my dog's rapid breathing?

If your dog is breathing fast while at rest or sleeping, they could be exhibiting symptoms of respiratory distress. Contact your vet if you notice any of the following signs:

  • Engaging stomach muscles to help breathe
  • Reluctance to drink, eat or move
  • Pale, blue-tinged, or brick red gums
  • Uncharacteristic drooling
  • Open-mouthed breathing
  • Heavy, fast breathing (sounding different from their normal panting)

How will the vet diagnose the cause of my dog's fast breathing?

Your dog's vet will perform a full physical examination to determine whether the issue is in the heart, circulatory system, lungs, airway, neck, head, or another area. Your pet's overall health condition may also be caused by an underlying issue.

Any previous medical issues that your pet has experienced need to be disclosed to your vet, who may recommend diagnostic tests such as X-Rays to check the heart, lungs and abdomen for issues like broken ribs or lung tumors.

The veterinarian will also look for any signs of anxiety, stress, or other psychological factors that could be causing fast breathing.

What are the treatments for fast breathing in dogs?

Treatment for your pup's fast breathing will be determined by the underlying cause. Pain relief, intravenous fluids with calcium, or other medications are some of the treatment methods available to help remedy your furry friend's problem.

If your pet's rapid breathing is caused by stress or anxiety, special training with a certified dog behaviorist may be required.

Regardless of the cause of your pet's breathing difficulties, it is likely that rest and oxygen therapy will be necessary, with most dogs being well enough to receive treatment at home and others needing more specialized care or hospitalization. Your caring vet and veterinary team will be able to support your pup's recovery and offer guidance for at-home care.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you concerned about your dog's breathing? If your pup is breathing fast, contact our Boulder vets right away to book an examination for your dog. Our compassionate vets are here to help your dog feel better.