As a pet parent, you’re most likely used to your dog panting all the time, especially after a walk or play session. On a hot day, your dog breathes faster than normal to cool down. When excited, they pant in anticipation of that tasty treat or toy you’re holding. However, your dog breathing fast could be signaling an underlying problem when it happens alongside other symptoms.
Fast breathing in dogs could indicate heart failure, Cushing’s disease, or a respiratory disorder. All three of these illnesses cause panting, which may appear to have no obvious cause to you until more symptoms develop. If your dog shows other symptoms, such as a change in gum color, noisy breathing, or very labored breathing, always talk to your vet as soon as possible. So, ready to learn more about fast breathing in dogs? What signs should you look for? When is it time to talk to your vet? And what does it mean, exactly? Read on with us to find out more!
A Dog’s Nose
Your dog’s respiratory system is made up of their mouth, nose, trachea, lungs, bronchi, and bronchioles. These parts make up the system that takes in oxygen and eliminates waste gases like carbon dioxide. Since dogs don’t sweat through their skin as humans do, their respiratory system plays a vital role in regulating their temperature. Dogs also display something called neophilia, meaning that they are strongly attracted to new, interesting smells. Their sense of smell is many times more sensitive than a human’s, powerful enough to detect a substance at a concentration of one part per trillion. This equates to a single drop in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to Phoenix Veterinary Centre! All of these factors make your dog’s respiratory system extremely important!
What Causes Dogs To Breathe Fast
One of the best ways to help your vet to diagnose your pet’s problems is to count their breathing rate at home. An increase in your dog’s resting breathing rate is an important clue that your dog might be developing heart failure or other serious problems. Your dog should have a breathing rate of 15-30 breaths per minute. Lower respiratory rates are also possible. These are not a problem if your pet is otherwise fit and healthy. In contrast, though, a resting rate that is consistently higher than 30 breaths per minute is abnormal. This abnormality suggests heart failure, specifically.
It’s normal for dogs to breathe faster during and after exercise. When your dog exercises, their muscles work harder, their body uses more oxygen, and they produce more carbon dioxide. In order to cope with these extra demands, your dog’s breathing has to increase considerably. After exercise, your dog will also pant to cool down – if your dog gets regular exercise, they’ll recover much faster than another dog. Hard exercise will cause more panting than a slow stroll around the block. If your dog is panting for longer than usual, is drooling, has red gums, starts vomiting, or loses consciousness, go to an emergency vet right away. These are all signs of heatstroke in dogs.
It’s common for a dog to start breathing fast due to their emotional state. Dogs pant when excited, like when meeting new people or when anticipating a tasty treat. This type of panting is usually shallow and rapid and may come along with whining. In contrast, stress panting is often harder and more prolonged. If you notice your pup panting, take note of their body language – are they looking away, are their eyes wide, or are they yawning? These are all signs of stress in dogs. Lastly, a dog breathing fast may be experiencing nausea, pain, or discomfort. Be on the lookout for any other signs that your pooch is unwell and inform your vet as soon as possible with your findings!
Your dog needs to breathe rapidly to cool down. When your dog pants, their wet tongue makes contact with the air. As your dog pants, air circulates over their tongue, causing moisture to evaporate. This cools your dog’s tongue and circulates a cooler temperature through their body. This process may take longer for breeds that are prone to overheating, such breeds include the English Bulldog, Pug, and Pekingese. It’s very important to be vigilant with these breeds in hot weather, so be aware of the signs of heatstroke and take plenty of precautions against it.
Rapid, heavy breathing can be a sign of chronic illness in dogs. Like people, dogs too suffer from heart failure and show many of the same symptoms, including difficulty breathing, coughing, and exercise intolerance. Similarly, Cushing’s disease can cause panting, thirst, and abdominal swelling. And, lastly, several respiratory disorders will cause your dog to pant a lot. Such disorders include laryngeal paralysis and pneumonia.
Signs of Abnormal Breathing
Breathing abnormalities in dogs are classed as either dyspnea or tachypnea. Dyspnea, or labored breathing, happens when your dog works harder to breathe than their circumstances warrant. The signs of dyspnea include breathing with the elbows sticking out from the body, noisy breathing, head held low and out in front of the body, and the chest wall and belly moving more than normal when breathing. There are many causes for dyspnea in dogs. Just to name a few, congenital hernias, bloat, an enlarged liver, trauma, infections, electrocution, heartworm, heart failure, and tracheal collapse can all cause dyspnea.
In contrast, tachypnea occurs when your dog breathes faster than their circumstances warrant. As such, your dog will breathe faster than normal, their mouth may be closed or partially open, and their breathing is shallow. Tachypnea can be the result of low oxygen in the blood, anemia, and blood clots in the lungs.
Prevention and Solutions
Make sure to call your vet right away if any of the following apply to your pup:
- Your dog’s tongue and gums are blue, purple, white, or bright red
- The panting is constant and intense
- Their breathing is unusually noisy for their breed (stridor)
- Their resting respiratory rate is above 30 breaths per minute
- The rapid breathing comes on with other symptoms of illness, like lethargy or diarrhea
Because dogs pant to cool down, one of the best ways to prevent respiratory distress is to keep your pup cool. Be sure to provide plenty of fresh, clean drinking water at all times, and especially after exercise! When the weather is hot, be extra vigilant for signs of heatstroke. By preventing heatstroke, your dog won’t need to work as hard to cool down.
If your dog is breathing fast due to stress, remove them from the stressor if possible. Where your dog cannot be taken from the stressful situation, be sure to calm them however you can. You know your pup best, so this might be best through verbal encouragement or physical affection depending on the individual. If your dog struggles with anxiety, consider speaking with your vet or a behaviorist to get to the root of your dog’s anxiety issues. And, as always, be vigilant for signs that your dog’s stress is escalating. A dog experiencing stress may become defensive if they feel that they cannot escape the situation.
A Dog Breathing Too Fast: FAQ
Have any more questions or concerns about fast breathing in dogs? Feel free to consult our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. If at all in doubt about your dog’s health, always ask your vet for advice.
If your dog is stressed, the first thing to do is to remove them from that stressful situation where possible. If you cannot remove your pup from the stressor, your job is to calm them however possible. You know your dog best – this might be through verbal praise and comfort, or physical reassurance. Always read your dog’s body language closely, and be aware of signs that your dog’s stress is escalating. A very stressed dog may act out in self-defense if they feel they cannot escape the situation.
There are several reasons why your dog might pant during the night but not during the day. Firstly, dogs are adept at hiding their pain, so we often don’t know that they’re in pain until later on. If your dog is panting because of pain, this is often displayed at odd times, such as during the night when they should be asleep and resting. A dog panting at night may also be experiencing frequent nightmares. Like us, dogs dream, and unfortunately with this comes bad dreams too. Lastly, an older dog with canine cognitive dysfunction (dementia) might become distressed and confused at night. This can lead to panting, pacing, and wakefulness during the night, due to a reversed sleep schedule. If this sounds like your pup, be sure to talk to the vet about their symptoms.
Although the reason may not be obvious to us, dogs always pant for a reason. They may be anxious about something, feeling too hot, or in pain that we don’t see. Before dismissing your dog’s behavior, always be sure to check for other symptoms first – are they lethargic, or pacing, or perhaps guarding a particular part of their body? While a seemingly innocuous symptom, excessive panting is often one of the first, or only signs, that something is wrong with your pup.
Most dogs are very good at hiding pain, so the signs of pain and discomfort may be subtle until the pain is extreme. In general, a dog in pain may shake, flatten their ears, and become uncharacteristically aggressive. They might pant or cry excessively, lick or bite a specific area, avoid play and walks, and flinch away from touch. Their heart rate will also increase. If your dog shows signs of pain, always contact your vet for advice right away.
Like people, dogs have one left lung and one right lung. Although we tend to picture the lungs as single sacs, the lungs are actually comprised of multiple lobes. To begin, the left lung is made up of two lobes. However, its cranial lobe is incompletely divided into two further portions. In contrast, the right lung consists of four lobes: cranial, middle, caudal, and accessory. This is different from a human’s lungs! In people, the right lung is made up of three lobes, while the left has two.
You know your dog best, so your dog breathing fast may not be an immediate cause for concern. If, however, your dog shows other worrying symptoms, it’s always best to talk to your vet right away. Panting can be a sign of pain and stress, or an underlying condition like heart failure.