15 Reasons Why Your Dog Is Breathing FastMedically Reviewed
Is your dog breathing faster than usual? Is it an indicator of something being wrong or is it normal? In this text we're exploring 15 possible reasons that could be behind your dog's fast breathing. Read further and find out more!
Dogs breathe fast from time to time, nothing new there. But the question many dog owners ask is if it’s something they should be worried about or not.
This article provides information about the dog’s respiratory system, normal and abnormal breathing and the possible causes behind the rapid breathing. Let’s get started!
Fast breathing is known as tachypnea, while shortness of breath or difficulty breathing is called dyspnea. These can affect any dog, no matter what breed or what age it is. In order to understand what comes into this category we have to begin by taking a look at how the respiratory system works and what the normal breathing rate is.
The Respiratory System
Dogs have pretty much the same respiratory system as people. The most important parts are the nose, the throat, the windpipe and the lungs. Breathing is made up of inspiration and expiration.
The process of taking air into the lungs is known as inspiration. After the inspiration, the oxygen in the lungs is transferred to the red blood cells which then carry the oxygen to other parts of the body. At the same time, carbon dioxide is transferred from the red blood cells to the lungs and is then carried out in a process called expiration, in other words the process of exhaling.
This is how the respiratory system should ideally work. Therefore, when a dog is breathing fast or with difficulty it’s a sign that something isn’t working as it should.
What’s The Normal Breathing Rate?
In order to determine what fast breathing is for your dog, you have to know what to compare it to. Of course, often you may be able to tell that your dog is breathing faster than normal, but it’s still good to know how much faster.
Generally, the normal breathing rate for dogs is between 10 to 35 inhalations and exhalations per minute. This is the normal breathing rate when they are at rest. If your dog is exercising he will breath faster. A panting dog can beat that rate by 10 times and inhale 100 to 350 times per minute! But…
Is All Panting Bad?
Not all panting is bad. Panting is very important to help regulate a dog’s body temperature. It allows evaporation of water and heat from the tongue, the mouth and upper respiratory tract, and helps cool down the dog. Dogs cannot sweat like we do, therefore fast breathing is necessary to enable air to circulate efficiently through the body. This is why fast breathing or panting helps the dog’s body to get back to a normal temperature, after exercise for example.
Therefore, we can put fast breathing under two categories: normal and abnormal.
Normal And Abnormal Panting
Normal panting usually occurs when the dog’s body is overheating, and this is a completely normal and healthy reaction to help reduce the dog’s temperature. It is a temporary change in breathing rate, which should go back to normal when the dog rests and cools down.
Abnormal breathing, on the other hand, can indicate a physical or an emotional problem.
How can you tell the difference?
If you’re not sure if the fast breathing is temporary or more serious, look out for these signs:
– Abnormal panting happens when your dog isn’t warm and doesn’t have the need for body temperature regulation
– It is a bit louder than normal panting, it sounds a bit different
– Your dog seems to put in more effort into panting than usual.
If you notice these signs and if your dog starts breathing fast in situations it normally doesn’t, you should take your dog to the vet and get a check-up.
15 Reasons Why Your Dog Is Breathing Fast
Now, let’s take a look at some possible reasons why your dog could be breathing faster than normal.
Heat stroke is a serious and life threatening condition. It most commonly happens if a dog is left in a closed car or walked on a very hot day. Signs of heatstroke include: High body temperature (more than 40 °C/104°F), excessive panting, excessive salivation, bright red or purple tinged gums, increased heart rate, distress or collapse.
Heatstroke leads to body cells dying, brain swelling, seizures, ulcers and kidney damage caused by dehydration. All of this happens rapidly and it’s often too late to do anything. This is why you have to do everything you can in order to prevent overheating.
If you think your dog is suffering from heat stroke, then it is best to go to the vet clinic ASAP. Place cold towels over your dog, offer him water to drink, and turn on the air conditioning in the car on the way to the clinic. Read more on how to prevent heatstroke .
This one is pretty obvious but it is normal for your dog to breathe faster if he has recently been exercising. Depending on your dog’s fitness level or if he is overweight he may take a few minutes or longer for his breathing to come back to normal.
Over exercising your dog might not be a good idea especially in the summer, hot months. It could lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke which are life threatening conditions for any dog. Try to make exercise a fun ritual, and keep it moderate.
3. Breed Predisposition
Brachycephalic breeds, that is dogs with short noses or ”pushed in” faces, such as Pugs, Boxers or French Bulldogs, are more likely to breathe faster. They have short noses and narrow windpipes, which means they often have breathing difficulties when compared to other breeds of dogs.
Because of their genetic predispositions, they don’t breathe very efficiently, and therefore will often have a faster rate of breathing and also run a higher risk of heatstroke. It’s important to understand that these breeds often have a faster ”normal” breathing rhythm which you may have to be aware of, in order to take the necessary precautions.
It’s not always easy to read when our dogs are in pain. The symptoms can sometimes be overlooked or interpreted wrong. Fast breathing can be an indication that your dog is feeling discomfort or that he or she is feeling painful.
If altered breathing is accompanied by excessive vocalizations and constant localized licking this might be a sign that your dog is indeed in pain. Also, if you notice that the fast breathing is occurring during odd time or without a reason, for example during night when it’s usually time for rest, a visit to the vet would be in order.
5. Heart Disease
A heart that isn’t working well isn’t able to pump blood around the body efficiently, which leads to a lack of oxygen reaching the organs. This may be due to diseases such as: heartworm, heart valve disease, Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) or congestive heart failure.
Therefore, your dog will increase its rate of respiration as it tries to compensate for the lack of oxygen. Other signs of heart disease may include: coughing, tiring easily, reduced appetite or a swollen abdomen. You should seek veterinary advice if you are concerned your dog has a heart disease.
6. Lungs Disease
Common diseases which affect the lungs include asthma, pneumonia, fluid in the lungs, lung cancer or lungworm. Lung disease means the lungs cannot expand normally or transfer oxygen to the blood efficiently.
The lack of oxygen puts extra pressure on the heart and other organs in the body. This causes the dog to breathe faster and heavier. Other symptoms of lung disease may include: coughing, wheezing noises when breathing, coughing up blood or mucus, lethargy, laboured breathing or reduced appetite.
7. Cushing’s Disease
Cushing’s disease is also called hyperadrenocorticism, and is due to the adrenal glands producing too much cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that has many important functions in the body, but can cause problems if produced excessively.
Symptoms may include: excessive panting, increased thirst, increased appetite, increased urination, skin changes, hair loss or a loss of body muscle leading to a “pot belly” appearance. Read more about Cushing’s disease and inform yourself.
Anemia is when there is a lower than normal level of red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells contain haemoglobin which is necessary to transport oxygen to all the organs in the body.
Like with heart and lung diseases, a lack of oxygen leads to faster breathing. Other symptoms of anemia include weakness, elevated heart rate, pale colored gums, lethargy and mental confusion.
9. Laryngeal Paralysis
Laryngeal paralysis is a condition in which the laryngeal cartilages at the entrance to the windpipe don’t open as they should, making breathing difficult.
A dog with this condition will often make strange noises when breathing in, breath faster than normal and with more effort. Some dogs may need a surgery to correct this problem.
10. Behavioral Panting
Anxiety, stress, fear and different phobias can all cause a dog to breathe faster than normal. Fast breathing can be one of the signs that your dog is having some psychological problems. Some other signs may include trembling, lip licking, yawning, hiding, excessive barking etc.
Fast breathing in these cases can be a normal reaction to a difficult situation and help the dog deal with it’s anxiety and stress. However, if the breathing does not return to normal or becomes a chronic or recurrent problem then it’s best to seek professional advice.
11. Traumas Or Accidents
Dogs that get injured, for example if they get hit by a car or get into an accident, often breathe faster than normal. Depending on the location of the injury this can be a combination of pain, shock and/or direct injury to the airway or lungs.
This happens when dogs are under shock because their blood pressure and blood flow drop to very low levels, making the body’s requirement for oxygen much higher. As a result, dogs start breathing faster in an attempt to compensate for the low oxygen levels.
12. Acid-base Disorders
The blood in the body needs to be maintained at a certain pH for all the organs to function properly. The lungs and kidneys are crucial for keeping the normal acid-base balance, and to allow the body to respond and correct any disturbances.
Many diseases or problems can cause a change in the pH of the blood, making it too acidic or alkaline. Often one of the first signs of an acid-base disorder in dogs is an increased breathing rate. An acid-base disturbance, can be confirmed from blood tests including a blood gas analysis and a chemistry panel.
13. Tick-borne Diseases
Many dogs are infected annually with dangerous diseases transmitted via ticks. Ticks are small parasites that attach themselves to dogs and feed on their blood. Some major tick-borne diseases which can be transmitted to dogs include: Lyme disease, Canine Ehrilichiosis, Canine Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Canine Babesiosis, Canine Bartonellosis and Canine Hepatozoonosis.
The signs will vary greatly between each type of tick borne disease, but they will often start with a fever and an increased breathing rate.
14. Milk fever
Intense panting may be a result of Eclampsia, also called milk fever. It is a serious condition caused by the life threatening, sudden drop in calcium levels in pregnant or more commonly nursing mothers.
Signs may include increased breathing rate, tremors, weakness or inability to stand or walk. If your dog is pregnant or has just given birth, it is important that you pay her close attention and also bring her to the vet for a check up when necessary.
15. Ingestion of Poisons
It’s not a secret that dogs love chewing on all kinds of things, especially the ones they shouldn’t be touching. However, this can be very dangerous if they get a hold of something toxic, for example human medications, forbidden food or cleaning products.
Clinical signs will vary depending on what the dog has eaten and may include excessive salivation, dullness, increased breathing rate and increased heart rate. In order to prevent this, you have to teach your dog what’s forbidden and hide the things that could be dangerous.
Having listed all these possible reasons, the logical question is:
How Do I Determine Why My Dog Is Breathing Fast?
In order to determine what’s behind the rapid breathing, it is often a good idea to visit your veterinarian.
Once there, your vet will probably ask you different questions about your dog and will ask you to report any previous history of medical problems.
After that, the vet will complete a full physical examination including listening to your dog’s lungs and heart with a stethoscope. That way he or she will be able to hear if there is a heart problem or any strange lung sounds.
Besides the physical exam, X-rays and ultrasounds may also be recommended in order to get clear images of the heart, lungs and abdomen. X-rays can help check for problems such as lung tumors or fractured ribs. Blood tests may also be necessary to check your dog’s organs are functioning correctly, to check for anaemia, acid-base balance and to help pin point the problem.
Last but not least, don’t forget the psychological aspects mentioned above and check for stress or anxiety. Your dog can’t tell you about its feelings, so you have to look for signs and do what you can to help your pet.
How Should Fast Breathing Be Treated?
The treatment course will depend on the underlying cause. Antibiotics will be prescribed for a lung infection, anti-inflammatories and pain relief will be given if the dog has been in an accident or is in pain, a dehydrated dog will require fluid therapy and an anaemic dog may require a blood transfusion. A dog with eclampsia will require intravenous fluids with calcium supplementation and a dog with heart disease will usually require medications to help his heart work better.
If a dogs breathing problems are due to anxiety or stress, then measures should be taken to identify the problem or phobia and reduce his stress levels. This may be done through special training, medication to help reduce anxiety or with the help of a certified dog behaviourist.
Most importantly, whatever the cause, oxygen therapy and rest will also be required. Most dogs will be allowed to be at home while the treatment is going on, in a well-known and relaxed environment. However, in some cases dogs may need to be constantly monitored all the time, and hospitalisation at a vet hospital may be the best and safest solution.
As you can see, fast breathing can be normal or can be an indication of an underlying problem. If it is for the purpose of temperature regulation, then fast breathing can be completely healthy. However, if it occurs in unusual situations or during rest you should pay close attention to your dog’s breathing.
Considering your dog isn’t able to tell you explicitly what’s wrong you have to monitor him for signs and try to understand if your dog is hurt, under stress or showing signs of disease.
Don’t ignore the signs if you notice abnormal panting, take your dog to the vet for tests in order to identify the cause, so that proper treatment can start if necessary.
To sum it up, fast breathing can be normal in certain situations, but if it’s followed by other symptoms or doesn’t improve with rest it really should be looked into.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Margarita Boyd, BVSc MRCVS.
Margarita graduated from the University of Liverpool, earning a Bachelor in Veterinary Science with distinction. She worked in small animal and equine practice for a few years, before choosing to focus solely on companion animals. She has developed a special interest in internal medicine and ophthalmology.
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