If you’ve spent any time around dogs, you’ll know that they sometimes pant—and at times pant pretty hard. This can be normal, especially after hard exercise or even on a hot day. However, if your dog is breathing hard and fast, but the cause isn’t obvious, it may be due to a serious medical problem.
As a responsible pet parent, it’s important to watch for signs of illness in your fur baby. In this article, we’ll take a look at a number of reasons your dog’s breathing may be heavy or fast, the symptoms that indicate your dog’s having a medical problem.
Normal Breathing in Dogs
Dogs have a normal respiratory rate somewhere between 20 and 34 breaths per minute. When a dog’s breathing normally, he won’t appear stressed or anxious. Breathing will be relaxed and easy.
It’s important to understand that each dog and dog breed is different, so what’s normal for one dog may be different in another dog. For this reason, it’s good to pay attention to your dog’s normal breathing, so you’ll be able to quickly recognize when he’s developed a breathing problem
Fast Breathing and Panting in Dogs
Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of breathing hard and panting:
1). Exercise: panting after strenuous exercise is a way for dogs to cool themselves off. Canines don’t sweat like we do; instead, dogs use panting as a way to cool themselves off. If your dog is panting hard after running or playing, he’ll have a content look on his face, he won’t appear to be stressed. He’ll appear relaxed and happy.
2). Emotions: intense feelings and emotions can cause heavy panting in dogs, especially if they’re feeling stressed, depressed, afraid or anxious. However, even happy emotions and positive forms of excitement can cause a dog to breathe or pant fast.
3). Panting due to the heat: if the weather’s hot, your dog will pant. During hot weather, your dog’s body temperature increases, causing the body’s systems to help cool it down. Panting, with an open mouth, cools your dog off by evaporative cooling. The wet surfaces of your dog’s mouth help to lower his core temperature.
4). Heatstroke: is a medical condition that occurs when the body’s core temperature goes above the normal temperature. For a dog, a normal body temperature is around 103° F. If a dog’s temperature reaches up to 106° F, he could be suffering from heat stroke (also called heat exhaustion). This is a very dangerous condition which can lead to dogs collapsing, developing convulsions, vomiting and diarrhea, etc.
5). Pain: is another cause of heavy breathing and panting in dogs. Dogs that are panting hard and experiencing pain will looked stressed and may be restless, trying to find the most comfortable position possible. They may also tremble and shiver. Pain can be caused by arthritis, orthopedic conditions, abdominal pain, cancer and many other conditions.
6). Running a fever: heavy breathing or panting may also be caused if your fur baby’s developed a fever. There are many medical conditions that can cause a fever including infections such as abscesses, fungal or urinary tract infections, tick diseases, and more.
7). Overweight or obese: being overweight or even obese can cause your dog to breathe hard or pant. It takes extra effort to move that excess weight around. Your dog could even develop lowered lung function due to being overweight or obese.
8). Age: older dogs may breathe harder and pant. Just like us, dogs can develop lung issues and circulation problems as they age, making it harder to breathe and oxygenate their blood.
9). Medications: certain medications can cause dogs to pant or breathe harder. Steroids, such as prednisone, are known for causing this type of side effect. Opioid painkillers are also known for this unpleasant side effect in dogs.
10). Doggy Alzheimer’s: older dogs can develop a form of cognitive dysfunction sometimes referred to as “Doggy Alzheimer’s.” One sign of this condition is restlessness, panting episodes, not being able to sleep or get comfortable, etc. Dogs with this condition may even forget how to get out to potty, they may not remember verbal cues, etc.
11). Neurological problems: some neurological problems can cause heavy breathing or panting in dogs. Sometimes heavy, fast breathing may come before a seizure or due to a mass on the brain. You may also notice your dog falling down, or generally having trouble getting around.
12). Metabolic disorder: panting can also be caused by a metabolic disorder called Cushing’s Disease. This disorder is generally caused by an endocrine disorder, but can also be caused by corticosteroid medications. This medical problem causes a build-up of too much cortisol in a dog’s system. The dog may show signs such as panting, drinking a lot more water than usual, increased urination, hair loss and more.
13). Giving birth: a female dog may pant heavily after giving birth. After all, it’s hard work to bring a litter of little lives into the world. The momma dog may feel stressed, hot, along with mild contractions—all of which can lead to heavy breathing and panting.
14). Poisons: if your dog has been exposed to toxins and poisons in his food or environment, this could be the cause of his heavy breathing and panting. Dogs will eat almost anything—including things that aren’t good for them. Eating things they shouldn’t can cause these and other problems, including vomiting and diarrhea.
15). High blood pressure: another common cause of panting in dogs is high blood pressure. Dogs, in general, don’t develop high blood pressure like their pet parents. Instead, elevated pressure can be caused by an underlying medical condition such as kidney problems, Cushing’s disease, diabetes, etc.
These are some of the most common causes of hard breathing and panting in dogs. Even so, you may have some questions about your dog in combination with other symptoms. Next, we’ll look at some of the most common questions people ask about panting and fast breathing in their fur babies.
Fast Breathing & Panting in Dogs: Common Questions
Here are some questions commonly asked by pet parents about their canine companions and their breathing:
What could be causing my dog breathing fast but not panting? Fast breathing, without panting, in dogs can be caused by several things including:
- Fluid in the lungs
- Heart failure
- Poisons or toxins
- Heat stroke
Why is my dog breathing fast through nose? Your dog could be experiencing breathing problems due to certain lung conditions such as bronchitis or pneumonia; however, he could also have heart disease, anemia. Additional causes can be stress, fear, heat or a fever.
Why is my older dog breathing fast while sleeping? This could be indicative of heart problems such as congestive heart failure or cardiomyopathy. It can also be a sign of lung problems such as asthma or other respiratory conditions. Other causes of dog heavy breathing at night can be normal and be due to the exciting dreams your pup may be having.
Why is my dog panting and restless?
This can be the sign of an underlying medical condition such as liver problems, eating too late in the evening, doggy Alzheimer’s, etc.
When to Call the Vet
Panting and heavy, fast breathing in dogs can be caused by many things. It’s sometimes hard to determine if your pup has a medical condition or if this is just normal. So, how do you know when it’s time to call the vet? Watch for these signs & symptoms, then you’ll know when to call the vet:
- You believe your dog could be in pain
- Your dog all of a sudden begins panting or breathing hard
- Your dog is panting excessively and doesn’t seem to stop
- Your dog’s gums and/or tongue appear blue, white or purple—this is a sign he’s not getting enough oxygen
- Your dog collapses and/or develops seizures
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Confusion or forgetfulness
- Restless and can’t seem to get comfortable
- Lethargy, muscle weakness
- High body temperature
- Excessive drinking and/or urination
These are signs and symptoms which could indicate your dog could be experiencing a medical problem or even a medical emergency. Be sure to call your vet as soon as possible and get your dog in for an examination. Early treatment could save his life.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Breathing Problems in Dogs
Your vet will want to do a complete history of your fur baby’s health, along with a thorough physical exam. During the exam, your vet will listen to your dog’s heart and lungs, checking for heart murmur, fluid in the lungs or even signs of asthma such as wheezing. They may also order tests if the physical exam doesn’t turn up any obvious problems. Tests may include blood tests, X-rays, or an ultrasound of his heart and lungs. Your pup may also receive supplemental oxygen to help raise his oxygen levels.
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your dog’s breathing issue. Antibiotics will be given for an infection, while corticosteroids may be given if your dog has been diagnosed with asthma. Pain relief and fixing the medical issue are other options if your pup’s in distress from pain. Heart problems can be treated with medications. If your dog’s overweight or obese, the vet may recommend an exercise and diet regimen to help him reach a health weight. Losing weight could do wonders for his breathing.
As you can see, difficulty breathing and excessive panting can be signs your dog is experiencing a serious medical problem. Know your dog’s normal breathing, so you’ll be able to quickly recognize when he’s having a breathing problem. Call the vet and get your dog in for an exam as soon as possible—you might just save his life.