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Why Is My Dog Breathing Too Fast? Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Why Is My Dog Breathing Too Fast? Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Alpha Paw Sale

Jul 27, 2021


  • Rapid breathing in dogs is a normal symptom if the pet has exercised or been in a too-warm environment.

  • The most common health issues that cause rapid breathing are heatstroke, lung problems, onion poisoning, and anemia.

  • If your dog breathes faster than 40 breaths per minute at rest, take your pooch to the vet clinic.

Should I Be Worried If my Dog Is Breathing Fast?

Heavy breathing in dogs can be a worrying symptom of a variety of diseases, but it is also somewhat normal in some situations. For example, if your canine friend spent a lot of time outdoors engaging in exercise and the weather is hot, rapid breathing or panting is probably not worth worrying about.

The normal respiratory rate of dogs is 15 to 35 breaths per minute, but do keep in mind that this is the expected respiratory rate for a dog that is resting. When playing, walking, or running, dogs have to breathe faster so as to regulate their internal body temperature.

A dog’s breathing rate shouldn’t get to potentially dangerous numbers such as 300.  If you notice that your dog has an unusually high breathing rate or they might be breathing fast and shallow, coughing, wheezing, or shaking, you should get to an animal hospital as soon as possible.

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Why Is My Dog Breathing Fast?

Exercise is one of the main causes of fast breathing in dogs, but there are health issues that can lead to breathing problems and rapid breathing. Here are several possible causes of fast breathing.

  • Bacterial respiratory infections
  • Heatstroke
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Windpipe issues or pressure being put on the windpipe
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Breathing problems such as asthma
  • Lung cancer
  • Pain
  • Hernia
  • Nausea
  • Anemia
  • Medication (an increased breathing rate could be a side effect)
  • Parasites

Why is my dog breathing too fast? Symptoms, treatment, and prevention

Heatstroke

Heatstroke can be life-threatening for dogs. A dog doesn’t use the same standard ways of cooling down that people do and since they don’t have the same sweat glands humans do. Because of that, they have to breathe fast to get cooler.

While all dogs can suffer from heatstroke in some situations, especially if the weather is hot and they can’t take cover somewhere to cool down, some breeds are more exposed to this life-threatening problem. Due to their inability to breathe properly, breeds like French Bulldogs, Lhasa Apsos, Pugs, or Boxers are more likely to suffer from heatstroke.

Besides fast and labored breathing, if your dog develops this issue, you will notice other symptoms, such as the following:

  • Drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Hyperthermia
  • Loss of consciousness or seizures

Heart Failure

Breathing problems are quite common in all dogs that have heart disease, whether chronic or acute. The reason pets need to breathe fast when they develop heart failure is that they have to somehow counteract the low amount of oxygen that’s circulating through their system.

More often than not, dogs that have heart failure or just heart disease, in general, do not have an actual condition of the lower or upper respiratory tract. But in their case, breathing heavily and constant coughing are two common symptoms.

Heart failure is more likely to affect geriatric canine patients, so we recommend that you take your dog to the vet at least once or twice per year after the age of 5.

Anemia

A dog can have difficulty breathing when they are suffering from anemia. Although there are different types of anemia that can affect dogs, the most common one that also makes them breathe faster or develop respiratory distress is the one where there aren’t enough red blood cells circulating through their system.

Fewer red blood cells can mean that there isn’t a sufficient amount of oxygen being transported from the lungs to the internal organs and brain.

Fluid In The Lungs

Lung disease can be associated with this symptom, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the primary cause. Naturally, dogs can get fluid in the lungs if they risk drowning and they are saved and they could suffer long-term symptoms such as shallow breaths, panting, or open-mouthed breathing.

However, fluid in the lungs (lung edema) can also be a symptom of serious heart disease. When it is not treated, this health problem can even be fatal, so make sure you seek veterinary assistance if your dog is showing any signs such as a lower body temperature than normal, blue-colored gums, panting, or difficult breathing.

Onion Poisoning

In case you did not know, some common household foods are toxic to your pup. Onion and garlic are two items to keep on a high shelf.  It is bad for dogs. If you regularly feed your dog table scraps, you should try to give them foods that are unseasoned and unsalted.

Onion poisoning can cause hemolytic anemia which causes severe symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, excessive salivation and panting due to a decrease in oxygen in the blood flow. Upon ingesting garlic or onion, a dog might also lose consciousness. If you see any of these signs in your pet, bring your dog to the vet clinic as soon as possible.

Lung Health Issues

Any type of lung disease can cause higher respiratory rates. For example, if your pet is known to suffer from a chronic lung condition, it might be normal for them to have a higher breathing rate even while they are resting. It’s not uncommon for some dogs to take 40 breaths per minute when resting instead of 15 or 20.

Your dog’s lungs are extremely important, but they can malfunction when other organs are affected. There are two main situations that compromise the pet’s ability to breath properly.

If a dog has laryngeal paralysis as a result of ingesting poison or tracheal collapse due to trauma, their lungs are not going to function properly — even if the lung disease is not the underlying cause of the symptoms.

How Do I Calm My Dog’s Breath?

In some situations, you might not be able to solve the problem at home, such as if your dog ate onion. If you see that your dog is not acting normal and they are in obvious respiratory distress, the best advice we can give you is to go to the vet clinic right away. The vet may use a variety of drugs for the condition that they suspect, including pain relief or oxygen therapy.

On the other hand, if you think that your dog’s breathing fast only because they’ve exercised a lot or been in the sun for too long, you can do your best at calming and cooling them down. You can gradually lower your dog’s body temperature by allowing them to rest in a cool and shaded place, turning on the AC, or covering your dog in wet cloths or towels.

Try to avoid giving your dog too much water or too cold water as it could lead to even more respiratory issues. You can give your pet very small amounts of water, take a break, and then repeat until they’ve had enough. If their breath begins to smell different, that could also be a sign of an underlying problem.

Why is my dog breathing too fast? Symptoms, treatment, and prevention

When to Go to the Vet If Your Dog Is Breathing Fast

Some signs may indicate an emergency, in which case you’d have to bring your pet to the vet clinic right away, without having a second thought. Here are several examples of such signs:

  • Strange gum colors (such as red, blue, or very pale)
  • Open-mouthed breathing when the dog is not engaged in exercise
  • Excessive drooling
  • Panting (quick and shallow breathing)
  • Your dog is trying to breathe but it’s such a difficult process that they might use their abdominal muscles to contract their ribcage — this is called abdominal breathing

Whether they are in pain or exhibit other respiratory signs, dogs that have to be brought to the vet clinic may also have a reluctance to eat or drink anything. Some might look alarmed or whine, trying to tell you that something is wrong and that they need your help.

If you suspect that your dog ate poison, get in touch with your vet as soon as possible.

How Is Rapid Breathing In Dogs Diagnosed and Treated?

Depending on how pressing the diagnosis is, the vet might use a variety of methods to tell what’s wrong with your dog. In some cases, though, the vet may heavily rely on oxygen therapy and intravenous fluids to stabilize the pet and then investigate what’s wrong.

Some techniques that vets can perform to tell what’s happening are x-rays, a standard physical examination, but also specific tests for infectious diseases such as kennel cough. Most pets that are treated for breathing problems have to spend some time hospitalized.

The vet will try to tell whether the heavy breathing comes from the respiratory system or if other organs are involved, too. Dogs can show the same symptoms (fast breathing) if they have heart problems or circulatory issues or if they have suffered actual trauma on any part of their respiratory system.

The imaging techniques that a vet can use (such as the x-rays we were mentioning) can be important for checking on areas such as your dog’s ribcage and abdomen. Only by using such diagnosis methods can the vet establish the source of the problem and also if your dog doesn’t have cancer of the lungs or cancer in other organs, which might make breathing difficult and could influence their normal respiratory rate.

Why is my dog breathing too fast? Symptoms, treatment, and prevention

Can You Prevent Fast Breathing In Dogs?

Preventing fast breathing in dogs isn’t actually possible if you have an aging dog. Unfortunately, all animals tend to develop a variety of conditions as they become older and older, and the same goes for our senior canine friends.

There are many health ailments you can’t control, but you can control the amount of heat your dog gets by preventing situations where they might be exposed to extreme temperatures. Geriatric patients can suffer acute heart and lung health issues if they are exposed to hot weather.

Avoid walking your dog in the middle of the day in the summer as it can be both uncomfortable and unhealthy. Never leave your dog alone in the car when you go shopping. This is the most likely setting where a dog can develop heatstroke and it’s a lot more common than you might think. People sometimes don’t realize how hot the interior of a car left in the sun can get, especially in the warm season.

Closed in vehicles, dogs can develop heat stroke in as little as ten to fifteen minutes, especially if you are the owner of a long-haired dog breed.

Another tip that we have for you is to avoid giving your pet table scraps. If you have to do it for financial reasons as cooked food might be cheaper than buying commercial dog food brands, just make sure you do not add any condiments, seasonings, or spices to the pot. A dog’s health can be affected by many ingredients that are completely safe for humans.

If you see your dog panting even if there doesn’t seem to be an explicable reason for this symptom or if you notice any of the worrying signs that we have mentioned in this article, go to the vet clinic.

Keeping track of how well your dog’s body functions is the best way of preventing a plethora of health issues. It is normal to take your dog to the vet for at least one to two check-ups per year and the number of appointments is going to increase as your dog becomes older and more prone to developing health complications. You can make a senior dog’s life easier if you get them a couch ramp or a car ramp, for example.

If you know that your dog can exhibit rapid breathing as a result of suffering from chronic anxiety, it might be a good idea to get them some good-quality calming chews.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to your pup’s health, it’s important to maintain regular vet checkups to ensure they are as healthy as can be. Unexpected health issues like these can arise, and if their health is on par in other areas, they’ll be able to recover much quicker!

Alpha Paw Sale
author image

Dr. Christina Vulpe, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Cristina Vulpe is a board-certified small animal veterinarian. She earned her veterinary degree in 2011 from USAMV in Iasi, Romania, and her PhD in Canine Oncology in 2015 from USAMV in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She is passionate about anything from animal nutrition & welfare to veterinary parasitology & infectious diseases. As a responsible pet parent herself, she enjoys giving reliable medical advice that pet owners can trust, which is why she joined Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts on our mission to help our readers give their pets the happy & healthy lives they deserve.

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