Fast breathing is an important symptom in dogs and can sometimes be associated with severe disease, especially if the breathing is difficult or noisy.
Normal breathing rate in dogs is about 15-30 breaths per minute at rest or asleep. This can increase dramatically during or after exercise but should return to normal within minutes. If breathing appears difficult or if your dog appears distressed or restless, please seek help straight away. Abnormal noises, stretched-out neck, strong abdominal movements or a change in the colour of your dog’s gums are other signs that there is a serious problem.
What to do
What to do if my dog is breathing fast
Try to stay calm and avoid things your dog may find stressful or exciting. Ensure they are in a cool and well-ventilated area, if possible.
It is always advisable to get a vet to check if your dog’s breathing has changed. The faster the change, the more urgent the problem is.
If the weather is very hot and you are concerned about heat stroke, please see further advice here
A gradual increase in breaths per minute while resting may be an early warning sign that conditions like heart disease or bronchitis are getting worse. Counting and recording breaths per minute a few times per week may be very useful as part of the monitoring of these conditions.
Common causes of fast breathing in dogs
Exercise, hot weather, hot cars or other places with poor air circulation
Stress and fear
Anatomical problems with the airways. For example, tracheal collapse, laryngeal paralysis or brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome
Airway infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
Allergic reactions causing constriction or compression of the airways
Foreign bodies in the airways
Heart disease or other causes of fluid in the lungs
‘Bruising’ of the lungs, or a torn diaphragm (due to road traffic accidents or other trauma)
Other illnesses (for example kidney disease or diabetes)
A very swollen abdomen, for example, bloat, twisted stomach or fluid build-up (ascitis).
When to worry
When to worry about fast breathing
Take your dog to an emergency vet straight away if:
- Gums or tongue look blue, purple or pale.
- You can see something obstructing the airway that cannot be safely removed.
- Your dog is breathing with the mouth open, neck extended, front limbs spread apart and cannot lie down or settle.
- Fluid is coming out of the nose.
Seek veterinary advice if:
- Breathing sounds abnormal or the rate is higher than normal
- The abdomen moves strongly with the breath
- Your dog is distressed or acting out of character
Prevention tips to avoid fast breathing in dogs
Avoid letting your dog exercise in warm or humid weather. During the Summer it may be best to exercise in the early morning or evening. This is especially important for dogs with short noses or dense coat. This also reduces the risk of heat stroke.
Regular monitoring and treatment may prevent some complications from chronic heart and lung disease.
Lungworm is becoming more common all over the UK. Talk to your vet about prevention against this dangerous disease.
Diagnosis of fast breathing in dogs
If your dog’s breathing rate is increased, your vet will:
- examine your dog
- listen to their chest
- check their temperature
- recommend blood tests
- discuss x-rays and scans
Home remedies for fast breathing in dogs
There are no home treatments for fast breathing.
If your dog has only just started breathing fast, please monitor them.
Take their respiratory rate while they are asleep. This means counting how many breaths they take in one minute.
If their breathing isn’t settling down and they are showing other signs of being unwell, please contact a vet as soon as possible.
If your dog has an underlying condition, please give medications as advised by your vet.
Report any changes in their condition back to your vet as soon as possible.
Vet treatment for fast breathing in dogs
If your dog is struggling to breathe, they need extra oxygen. Dogs don’t tolerate oxygen masks very well and may need to go into a special kennel for oxygen therapy.
If the airway is collapsed or there is an obstruction that cannot be immediately removed, vets may insert a tube directly into the windpipe (tracheostomy).
Severe allergic reactions may need steroid injections or intravenous medications.
Infections are usually treated with antibiotics and nebulisations.
Pain is treated with analgesic medications such as opioids.
Fever is usually treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Fluid in the lungs, called pulmonary oedema, is treated with diuretics.
Trauma to the chest or abdomen may require emergency surgery.
Dogs at higher risk for breathing problems
Brachycephalic dogs more commonly suffer from problems like heat stroke
Older Labrador retrievers are at higher risk for laryngeal paralysis
Heart disease and bronchitis are much more common in older dogs, many breeds are at higher risk (for example Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Dachshund, Doberman, Boxer, West Highland White Terrier)
Dogs that have megaesophagus are at high risk for breathing complications
Other causes of fast breathing
Poisons such as blue-green algae, slug bait (metaldehyde), some painkillers (naproxen or ibuprofen).
A thrombus or clot in the lungs (Pulmonary thromboembolism).
Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs).
Pulmonary oedema after near-drowning.
Head trauma (eg a blow or road accident).
Twisted lung lobe.