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Why is my dog breathing heavy

Why is My Dog Breathing Heavily?

Panting is normal for dogs because it regulates their body temperature and cools it down. But a dog’s heavy breathing or excessive panting is a different story. It could be a sign of something more serious. 

Heavy breathing in dogs could be an indication of heatstroke or heart disease. Excessive panting can also signal that your pet is in pain. The worst-case scenario is that your dog isn’t getting the proper amount of oxygen it needs for its organs to function.

Dog breathing heavy
Photo by Kat Smith

Dog Heavy Breathing: Causes

Dogs are unable to sweat, so they will start panting when they feel hot. This can be after an exercise or if they’re put in a hot environment.

The normal breathing pattern in dogs is characterized by slow, deep breaths that are steady and regular. To determine whether your dog is exhibiting abnormal breathing symptoms, you should know what normal breathing patterns in your pet look like. At rest, dogs usually take around 15 to 30 breaths per minute. Meanwhile, after physical exertion such as running or playing, that number could multiply up to ten times.

Unlike humans, dogs do not rely on the diaphragm to drive their breathing. Instead, dogs have a separate set of muscles called the thoracic cavity muscles that control the movement of air in and out of their lungs. These muscles are located in the middle portion of their chest and consist of several interlocking bands.

When a dog inhales, these muscles contract, causing the thoracic cavity to expand. As the cavity expands, the air is drawn into the lungs and fills them up with fresh oxygen. When the dog exhales, the muscles relax, allowing for a decrease in volume in the thoracic cavity. This decreases the pressure on the lungs and forces air out of them, carrying away carbon dioxide and other waste products that have accumulated during respiration.

If you see your dog panting hard after an exercise, then don’t worry so much as dogs are able to maintain a healthy breathing rhythm because of their strong respiratory muscles and efficient airflow delivery system.

However, if you notice that your dog is breathing too heavily even without exerting itself, then it could be a sign of something more serious.

Serious causes of heavy breathing in dogs include:

  • Allergies. Dogs can be allergic to a variety of things, including pollen, mold, dust, and certain food items. If your dog is allergic to something, it may cause them to breathe heavily or have trouble breathing.
  • Anxiety. Dogs can also suffer from anxiety, which can cause them to pant or breathe heavily. If your dog is anxious, you may notice that they are also restless, pacing, and may have a decreased appetite.
  • Heatstroke. Heatstroke is another potential cause of heavy breathing in dogs. If your dog is suffering from heatstroke, you may notice that they are panting excessively, have a rapid heart rate, and are lethargic.
  • Cancer. Unfortunately, cancer is also a potential cause of heavy breathing in dogs. If your dog has cancer, it may have difficulty breathing, and you may also notice other symptoms such as weight loss, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
  • Heart disease. Heart disease is another common cause of heavy breathing in dogs. If your dog has heart disease, you may notice that they tire easily, have a decreased appetite, and you can hear them coughing frequently.
  • Respiratory infections. Respiratory infections, such as Kennel Cough, are also a potential cause of heavy breathing in dogs. If your dog has a respiratory infection, you may notice that they have a cough, runny nose, and fever. Kennel cough is very contagious so you have to immediately bring your dog to the vet at the earliest signs of coughing.
  • Fluids in lungs.  Another potential cause of heavy breathing in dogs is fluid in the lungs. This can be caused by a variety of things, including heart failure, kidney disease, and cancer. If your dog has fluid in their lungs, you may notice that they have difficulty breathing, a cough, and an increased heart rate.
  • Side effects of medication.  If your dog is experiencing heavy breathing while on medication then you should also consider contacting your veterinarian immediately as your dog might be experiencing side effects from it.
  • Poisoning. Heavy breathing in dogs can often be a sign of poisoning. The most common causes of heavy breathing in dogs are exposure to toxic substances, such as chemical fumes or vapors (this includes household cleaners and industrial chemicals),  pesticides and insecticides as well as drugs such as painkillers and anti-inflammatories.

Normal Breathing vs. Labored Breathing in Dogs

Slow, even and quiet breaths indicate a normal respiratory function in dogs. As mentioned above, normal breathing rate ranges between 15 to 30 breaths per minute. It’s possible that it could be less than that so you shouldn’t be concerned about it as long as your pet is healthy

Meanwhile, abnormal breathing patterns can include panting, rapid breathing, shallow breathing, or labored breathing.

Dog Heavy Breathing: When Should You Be Concerned?

If your dog is just sitting still or it hasn’t been playing around but still finds it hard to breathe, be concerned.

Be very concerned when your dog is exhibiting the following:

  1. Your dog is breathing hard even when it’s resting.
  2. Its gums are blue or pale as it’s panting heavily.
  3. Your dog is breathing heavily without opening its mouth or with its mouth partially open.
  4. Your dog is clearly distressed.
  5. Your dog is breathing heavily while coughing.
  6. Your dog is gagging and making other noises as it’s breathing hard.

If your dog is showing signs of heavy breathing, it’s important to seek urgent medical attention. The faster you can get your dog the treatment they need, the better their chances of a full recovery will be. 

Heavy Breathing in Puppies

puppy breathing heavy
Puppies normally breathe 30 breaths per minute at rest. (Photo by Chevanon Photography)

Puppies typically breathe faster than adult dogs because they are trying to take in more oxygen to support their growing bodies. They may also pant more frequently, especially in warm weather or after exercise. A typical breathing rate for puppies is between 15 to 40 breaths per minute.

When a puppy is born, its respiratory system is not fully developed. This makes them more prone to respiratory problems which also means that they have to work harder to breathe than an adult dog. Puppies also have smaller lungs and airways, making breathing more difficult for them.

Immediately bring your puppy to the vet if you see that they’re having difficulty breathing or they’re panting excessively.

If you have a new furbaby, then make sure that they’re getting enough rest and not overexerting themselves. Help your puppy stay healthy and avoid respiratory problems by making them exercise every day and ensuring that they get fresh air. Take them for walks often, and let them play in a well-ventilated space, such as a fenced yard or an outdoor play area.

If you’re concerned about your puppy’s breathing, talk to your veterinarian for advice on how to keep your puppy healthy and help them breathe easily. With proper care and attention, your puppy can grow up to be a happy, healthy dog.

Heavy Breathing in Dogs: What to Do

As we’ve discussed earlier, not all heavy breathing in dogs is bad. The normal breathing rate is between 10 to 30 breaths per minute at rest which could multiply tenfold when exercising. So this could mean that after a walk or playing in the park, your dog’s breathing could go for 100 to 300 breaths per minute.

However, if you notice that your dog is breathing heavily despite being at rest or on normal occasions then it might indicate an underlying medical condition.

First, you can determine if your pet is breathing abnormally by counting its respiratory rate while it’s resting or sleeping.

Next, take your dog to the vet immediately. There are many possible causes and only your vet can diagnose your dog properly and give it the right medical treatment.

Your vet will perform a physical examination to detect whether the problem is in the respiratory system, circulatory system, heart, head, or other areas. Prepare your dog’s vaccination history as you will be asked questions about it and any history of medical issues.

You can check your pet’s health at home but only your veterinarian can diagnose your dog and give you medical advice regarding your pet. So make sure to bring your dog to your vet at once.

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