Our body works harder and uses more oxygen during running or exercise. Thus we end up breathing fast. The same applies in the case of your canine friends. When dogs run around the backyard or train hard, their breathing can become fast. This is normal.
When the dog is resting, it usually has its mouth closed and will be comfortably breathing through its nose. But, there could be instances when it may start breathing fast even while sleeping. And as a pet parent, it can understandably be a cause of concern for you.
There could be several reasons behind this abnormal breathing pattern. For example, the dog could be dreaming, it may have caught an infection, or it could be serious health issues with its lungs or heart.
The article will look at what is considered normal and abnormal breathing in dogs and explore the answer to the question, why is my dog breathing fast and how you can best help your pet.
How Do Dogs Normally Breathe?
Before going towards fast breathing, you should first know what normal breathing for dogs is. When the pet is lounging around the house, it can take 10 to 35 breaths in a minute.
Monitor the number of breaths the dog takes while resting to know its normal breathing rate. Typically the dog’s chest will rise and fall when it is breathing. Count the one rise and fall cycle as one breath.
Set the timer for 60 seconds and count the number of breaths until the timer goes off. You can repeat the activity over a few days while the dog is resting to understand what is normal for your dog.
Panting while exercising or playing is not a bad sign. Dogs do not sweat the way we do. Fast breathing is their way to efficiently circulate air through the body, cool down, and get the body back to the normal temperature.
What Does Breathing Fast Mean?
If your dog’s breathing rate while sleeping rises to 40 breaths or above, then it means that it is breathing fast.
If the dog is faced with breathing difficulties, it can show any of the below signs:
- Abnormal noises like grunts
- Pushing the abdomen hard to breathe in and out
- Sudden panting while sleeping
- Quick breaths with open mount and tongue hanging out
- Gums or tongue getting a bluish hue
If you notice these signs, set the timer and count how fast the dog is breathing. Call the vet next, explain the situation, and do as the vet recommends next. You may have to take the dog to the clinic as breathing difficulty is not an issue you can wait and watch.
Why is my Dog Breathing Fast While Sleeping?
Let us look at some possible reasons and health conditions why your dog could be breathing fast.
Your dog dreams as you do. There is scientific research to back this statement. The brain of both humans and dogs goes through similar electrical activity while asleep.
The first stage of sleep is SWS (slow wave sleep). In this stage, the dog’s mental activities become quiet, but its physical body is not entirely relaxed. The dog can quickly wake from this stage.
The next stage is REM (rapid eye movement). This is a deeper sleep stage where the physical body relaxes, but there is an increase in mental processes. The dog may have good dreams or nightmares.
So the dog may start breathing rapidly in this heightened state of mental activity. It may also twitch, grunt, whine or move.
The dog’s breathing should return to normal when you wake it up. However, if the pet continues to have breathing issues even after waking, please contact the vet.
2. Respiratory Infections
Several bacteria, viruses, and parasites can cause respiratory issues in canines. Kennel cough is one of the common conditions to affect dogs. It is highly contagious and can be caused by different organisms.
The dog with a minor case of kennel cough may recover in one to three weeks. In severe cases, the cough may lead to pneumonia. It causes inflammation of the dog’s small airways, interstitium, and alveoli.
Along with breathing issues, the dog can show signs like coughing, fever, and tiredness. Pneumonia can be caused by several other organisms than the ones responsible for kennel cough. Another cause can be the aspiration of vomit.
Rhinitis and sinusitis are diseases that can affect the mucous membranes and sinus. The cause can be viral, bacterial, allergens, or fungal. In severe cases, the dog can experience labored and open-mouth breathing.
3. Laryngeal Paralysis
This is another condition of the upper airways commonly found in canines. The larynx is your pet’s voice box and is located on top of the trachea, at the back of the throat.
The larynx cartilages ideally should close when the dog drinks or eats. It should open when the dog breathes. But in this condition, the cartilages do not open – close normally when the dog breathes.
Thus, laryngeal paralysis could be one of the answers to the question, why is my dog breathing fast while sleeping. Other symptoms include:
- Dry cough
- Change in voice
- Harsh or raspy breathing
The condition is generally apparent in middle-aged to old dogs. Large breed dogs like Great Dane, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers are the most affected.
The clinical signs like breathing difficulty may take months or years to develop and present themselves. So, if you see any voice changes or coughing, discuss the same with the vet at the next appointment.
4. Heat Stroke
Dogs mainly sweat through the glands located in their paws. On a hot summer day, when the body temperature rises, sweating helps to cool the body. But dogs sweating through their paws alone cannot keep them cool.
Instead, they will breathe rapidly, mouth-wide, tongues out to cool their bodies. But if the body gets too heated, panting may not be enough. The dog can have heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
When in heat stroke, the dog’s body temperature can rise above 103°F. It can show symptoms like:
- Heavy breathing
- Bright red gums
- Muscle tremors
Dog breeds like Pugs, Boxers, Bull Mastiffs, and Shih Tzus, among others who have flat faces, carry an increased risk of heat stroke.
The dog does not necessarily have to be out playing and running in the sun for a heat stroke. The dog can get one if it has been left in a car, even with the window cracked, or if it has been lying out in the sun.
Heat stroke can have serious consequences, so it is best to call the vet immediately. You can pour cool water or wrap the dog in a soaked towel. Do not use an ice bath as it can drastically reduce the temperature, putting the heart at risk.
5. Heart Condition
The heart plays a critical role in pumping oxygen-rich blood throughout the dog’s body. So, when there is a problem with the heart, there is less oxygen circulating in the body, which the dog compensates by breathing heavily.
Canines can have several different heart conditions and diseases. For example, the heart may not function properly due to physical abnormalities present at birth. Or it could be an infection like endocarditis due to bacteria traveling to the heart through blood.
It could be an acquired condition in which the dog’s heart may beat too fast or irregularly, known as arrhythmia. It could have valvular disease in which the heart valves do not open and close as usual.
Any heart disease or condition in its severe stages can lead to heart failure, meaning the heart cannot perform its job effectively. In addition, there could be fluid build-up in the lungs or abdomen, liver enlargement, and low blood pressure.
Please contact the vet if the dog has a persistent cough, breathes heavily, or shies away from exercise.
6. Fluid in Lungs
If excess fluid fills the dog’s lungs, it can start breathing abnormally fast. The condition is known as pulmonary edema. The dog’s lungs have tiny air sacs called alveoli. They are responsible for quick gaseous exchange.
When these air sacs fill with more fluid than air, the dog experiences breathing difficulties. It may show other symptoms like:
- Noisy breathing
- Labored breathing
- Blue lips or tongue, in severe cases
The cause can be heart abnormalities like thickening of the heart walls, valve issues, or enlarged heart. It could also be because of external conditions like smoke inhalation, trauma, or drowning.
In anemia, the number of red blood cells (RBCs) and hemoglobin circulating in the blood is reduced. The dog may suffer from anemia due to an existing disease or condition.
For example, hereditary diseases or parasites can cause the destruction of RBCs. Or an injury or trauma can cause excessive bleeding. In addition, hyperthyroidism, nutritional deficiencies, and cancer can prevent red blood cell production.
With reduced RBCs, less oxygen is reaching the different body parts. So, the dog will breathe fast to make up for the low oxygen supply. One of the telling symptoms you will see is pale gums.
Additional symptoms include:
- Low stamina
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Increased heart rate
- Blood loss
Anemia can be life-threatening, so it is best to seek vat care at the earliest. The prognosis depends on how well the underlying cause is treated.
There are several different cancers and tumors that can affect a dog’s respiratory system. Some cancers originate in the lung. Other times, cancer has metastasized from another location and spread to the lungs. The latter case is more common in canines.
The symptoms may depend on the tumor’s size, location, and growth rate. These symptoms include:
- Labored breathing
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
Up to 25% of canines will show minimal to no symptoms. Thus, regular vet check-ups are necessary as a proactive measure.
Dogs can also develop tumors in their nose, sinuses, larynx, and trachea. Labored breathing and cough will be symptoms common across these cancers.
9. Stress or Anxiety
Not all causes of fast breathing are physical health issues. For example, if your furry friend suffers from stress, anxiety, or depression, it may not do well sleeping alone. Rapid breathing could be one of the signs it shows.
Dogs that have been ill-treated remember such memories. When sleeping alone, they might tremble, cringe, be scared, or even get aggressive.
Dogs can also get anxious if they do not get to sleep in a quiet environment. For example, car lights, horns, ringing of the doorbell, or thunderstorms can disturb the dog’s sleep and startle it awake at night.
Your well-trained dog may also become anxious if it has to adapt to changes like a new home or new additions to the family.
What Should I Do When My Dog is Breathing Fast?
If you see that your dog is breathing fast while resting, you need to time precisely how fast the breathing is. As mentioned above, 35 breaths in a minute are normal for dogs. If the dog takes more than 35 breaths in a minute, there could be an issue.
If the dog is sleeping, try waking it safely, as dreams could be the cause of its rapid breathing. If the dog continues to have breathing issues, contact the vet.
Depending on the pet’s condition, the vet may ask you to get the dog to the clinic immediately. If the dog has bouts of fast breathing and is normal otherwise, the vet may recommend watching the dog for symptoms and scheduling a visit accordingly.
What Treatment is Provided for Fast Breathing?
Once you reach the clinic, the vet will perform a physical exam to determine where the problem exists. For example, is the issue with the upper or lower airway, sinuses, lungs, heart, or other body parts? The vet will also examine for signs of stress or anxiety.
You will need to provide the staff with all the symptoms you have noticed, routine, diet, the pet’s medical history, and if it is on medication. Depending on the preliminary physical exam results, the vet may perform further tests such as x-rays, ultrasounds, and advanced imaging.
Treatment will be administered based on the vet’s diagnosis. For example, antibiotics will be given to clear up infections. Intravenous fluid will be given if the pet is dehydrated due to heat stroke. Oxygen therapy will be given to stabilize the pet.
Medications will be prescribed to manage symptoms and aid the healing process.
Surgery may be an option in cases like laryngeal paralysis, heart abnormalities, or cancer. In case of stress and anxiety, a professional behaviorist can help deal with the cause and help the dog overcome the trigger.
Why is my dog breathing fast? One of the reasons is that your dog is dreaming in its REM sleep cycle. The dog should be fine once you wake it up.
Other reasons include health conditions like heat stroke, laryngeal paralysis, heart and lung issues, anemia, anxiety, or cancer. These reasons lead to a lack of oxygen in the dog’s body. And the dog will breathe fast to make up for the difference in oxygen demand and supply.
Some common symptoms you will see are cough, labored breathing, lethargy, reduced tolerance to exercise, and listlessness. Please get in touch with the vet at the earliest for diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Elena Gherman is a highly skilled and knowledgeable animal care expert. At the start of her career, she gained practical expertise with multiple animals. In addition to that, she works as a DVM veterinary editor for Joy Pet Products, which focuses on offering reliable information on pet health and wellbeing. She meticulously reviews each piece of writing before it is published to make sure pet owners get the most precise and updated information possible.