Why is My Dog Breathing Fast?

For many people, a dog is a part of the family. We care for them just as much as we care for our siblings, friends, or anyone close to us. And they’re always happy to see us. That’s why it can be distressing when your dog’s behavior suddenly changes, or they don’t seem to be acting like themselves. 

For instance, you may notice that your dog seems to be breathing fast or heavily. Labored breathing can be a cause for concern, and it can look like your dog is struggling, so you will need to know what to do. With all things respiratory, it’s crucial to identify and act on potential issues as fast as possible.

To find the best course of action, we will need to get to the root of the problem, and find out exactly why your dog is breathing so heavily. 

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Why is my dog breathing so fast?

If your dog is breathing particularly fast, hard or is panting heavily, then it could be down to excitement or exercise. Dogs who run a lot on a walk or are very playful can quickly tire themselves out, which leads to panting and heavy breathing. This can also happen if the dog is fearful or stressed out, too. 

Dogs pant as this is the only way to regulate their breathing and body temperature. Dogs cannot sweat like humans do, so panting is a means of cooling down the body due to high temperatures or after engaging in vigorous exercise and activity.

You will notice that dogs pant more when it is extremely hot outside, or after running around for a long time. 

Panting is normal for a dog, and it is not something to worry about, unless it is happening at strange times. For instance, if your dog is panting when it is not hot, and they have not been active, it could be a sign of a deeper issue.

You should be aware that very heavy panting and breathing is an early sign of heatstroke- which is fatal to dogs, so you will need to monitor your dog for other signs and symptoms of heatstroke. These are: 

  • Dog appears lethargic
  • Vomiting
  • Collapsing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Red or very pale gums
  • Distressed breathing 

Is it normal for dogs to breathe fast while sleeping?

No. It is not normal for dogs to breathe heavily, or have rapid breathing when they are sleeping. Dogs may whimper and snore while breathing, but they should not pant.

If your dog is struggling to breathe when it is relaxed and sleeping, then this could be a sign of respiratory distress, and you should take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. 

What can cause respiratory distress in a dog?

Respiratory distress can be caused by a range of factors. However, some dog breeds are more prone to breathing problems than others.

For instance, brachycephalic dog breeds (such as Boxers, Pugs, and French Bulldogs), are at a higher risk of developing breathing issues as they have shortened snouts.

These breeds will need to be closely monitored to ensure that they are not suffering or struggling to breathe.

That being said, any dog breed can suffer from other illnesses that could cause labored breathing. For instance, causes of fast breathing could be:

  • Over exertion / too much exercise
  • Asthma
  • Lung diseases
  • Windpipe problems
  • Kennel cough
  • Laryngeal paralysis 
  • Pneumonia
  • Bacterial respiratory infection
  • Fungal respiratory infection
  • Pressure on the windpipe
  • Heat stroke
  • Anemia
  • Collapsed windpipe
  • Compressed lungs
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Stiffened airways
  • Medication

There could be a range of reasons why your dog is struggling to breathe. This is why it is always best to just take them to the veterinarian to find the cause, in case it is a serious or severe health condition that needs treatment.

In addition, if it is a blockage, then this will need to be relieved as soon as possible as your dog could be choking to death. 

Signs of Respiratory Distress in a Dog

If you see that your dog is breathing very fast while resting or sleeping, then it could be a sign of respiratory distress or other breathing problems that your dog is suffering from.

You should contact the veterinarian if you notice your dog is struggling to breathe, or if there are other signs of labored breathing and distress.

Symptoms of respiratory distress are usually:

  • Open mouthed breathing or panting whilst resting
  • Noticeable labored breathing/ struggling to breathe
  • Engaging the stomach muscles to help them breathe
  • Lethargy
  • Reluctance to move, drink, eat or engage with you
  • Excessive drooling/ out of the ordinary salivating
  • Heavy, fast breathing – can also make strange sounds whilst inhaling

If your dog is suffering from these symptoms, then you need to take them to the veterinarian immediately for treatment.

The veterinarian will perform a full physical examination to determine what is causing the breathing problems, as it could be the lungs, heart, heat stroke, or a blockage in the airways, so they will need to find the root of the issue.

Then, the best course of treatment will be offered to your dog, so that they can be restored to good health, and back to normal. 

In some cases, excessive breathing can be the result of stress and anxiety, so your dog may actually need special training, guidance or a dog behaviorist to help you. 

If you are ever concerned about your dog’s health and wellbeing, then do not wait. Take them to be seen by a medical professional or a veterinarian as soon as possible! 

Conclusion

To conclude, most dogs will start panting to cool themselves down after over exerting themselves, exercising, or playing, which is completely normal.

Panting and breathing heavily is simply a means of bringing their body temperature down after running around, or if the weather is too hot for them.

However, if your dog seems to be struggling to breathe, or panting when they are resting, then it could be a sign of a health condition, or that they are in respiratory distress. If this is the case, then take them to a veterinarian for treatment immediately. 

PuppyLists is written by J., who has owned, trained, volunteered with, and loved dogs for nearly three decades. When she isn't writing or researching, she's out adventuring with her 14 year old Lab mix.