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Heavy Breathing in Dogs

It can be concerning if your dog begins to breathe faster than normal, especially if they appear to be resting. Here, our Los Angeles vets share some reasons why your dog is breathing heavy and fast and when you should bring them in for care.

How can I spot abnormal or fast breathing in my dog?

To detect abnormal breathing, we must first understand a dog's normal breathing rate. The average, healthy pet should breathe 15 to 35 times per minute when resting (of course, exercising causes your dog to breathe faster).

Anything above 40 breaths per minute while your dog rests is considered abnormal and should be investigated by a veterinarian.

When Fast Breathing is Normal

However, pet parents should remember that not all panting is bad. Panting helps your dog regulate their body temperature by cooling them down and allowing water and heat to escape from the tongue, mouth, and upper respiratory tract.

Unlike humans, dogs do not sweat to cool down; instead, they must breathe quickly to allow air to circulate efficiently throughout the body. Rapid breathing allows a dog's body to return to its normal temperature.

How do I know if my dog is breathing too fast?

To determine whether your dog is breathing abnormally fast, count their respiratory rate while they are sleeping or resting. It can be beneficial to do this when you are not concerned to gain a clear understanding of your pet's normal respiratory rate. Anything less than 30 breaths per minute is considered normal, while anything over 35 is cause for concern.

Why is my dog breathing heavy and fast?

Your pet's rapid breathing could indicate that he is suffering from an illness or injury, which should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Dog breeds with ‘squished faces' or shortened snouts, such as Boston terriers, boxers, and pugs, are more prone to breathing problems and should be closely monitored by pet parents for any signs of trouble breathing.

Some possible causes of rapid or heavy breathing in dogs include:

  • Asthma
  • Breed characteristics
  • Kennel cough
  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Windpipe issues
  • Bacterial respiratory infection
  • Fungal respiratory infection
  • Pressure on the windpipe
  • Stiffening of airways
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Collapsing windpipe
  • Poisoning or ingestion of toxic substance
  • Anxiety
  • Lung diseases, such as cancer
  • Parasites
  • Pneumonia
  • Compressed lungs
  • Hernia
  • Heat stroke
  • Anemia
  • Nausea
  • Pain
  • Medication
  • Exercise
  • Stress

When should I be concerned about my dog's rapid breathing? 

If your dog is breathing fast at rest or while sleeping, it could be experiencing respiratory distress. Contact your vet if you notice any of the following signs:

  • Engaging stomach muscles to help with breathing
  • Reluctance to drink, eat or move
  • Pale, blue-tinged, or brick-red gums
  • Uncharacteristic drooling
  • Open-mouthed breathing
  • Heavy, fast breathing that’s louder or different sounding than normal panting

What can I do at home to help my dog?

If the source of your dog's symptoms is smoke or a toxic substance, separate them from the source immediately. Once they are safe, or if there is any other cause, please contact your veterinarian or nearest emergency veterinary clinic right away.

How will the vet diagnose the cause of my dog's fast breathing?

Your dog's veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination to determine whether the issue is with the heart, circulatory system, lungs, airway, neck, head, or another area. Your pet's overall health may also be causing a problem.

Your veterinarian should be aware of any previous medical issues your pet has had, either through previous documentation or through your intake discussion, and may recommend diagnostic tests such as X-rays to check the heart, lungs, and abdomen for broken ribs or lung tumors. 

Your dog's veterinarian will also look for signs of anxiety, stress, or other psychological factors causing rapid breathing. These signs can include pacing, whining and destructive behavior.

What are the treatments for fast breathing in dogs?

The underlying cause of your dog's fast breathing will determine the appropriate treatment. Your veterinarian may prescribe pain relief and intravenous fluids (which may contain medications). Regardless of the cause of your pet's breathing difficulties, rest and oxygen therapy (compressed oxygen administered through a face mask) will most likely be required. While most dogs will recover enough to be treated at home, hospitalization may be necessary to monitor the dog's breathing and treat the underlying cause in severe cases.

Anxiety & Stress

If your pet's rapid breathing is caused by stress or anxiety, specialized training with a certified dog behaviorist may be required.


If your dog's heavy breathing is caused by heat stroke, call your veterinarian or the nearest emergency animal hospital and tell them you are on your way. On the way to the veterinarian, travel with the windows open and the air conditioner on. Until you can get to the veterinarian, be sure to:

  • Remove the dog from the hot environment immediately.
  • Not give the dog aspirin to lower its temperature, as this can lead to other problems.
  • Let your dog drink as much cool water as they want without forcing them to drink.
  • Cool your dog with cold water by placing a soaked towel on their back.

Heatstroke treatment for dogs begins with the veterinary team safely reducing your dog's body temperature. The team may pour cool water or apply a cool, wet cloth over your dog's head, body and feet. Sometimes, the veterinarian may apply alcohol to your dog's footpads to help dilate pores and increase perspiration. Treatment for dogs with heatstroke can also include intravenous fluids, mild sedation and low-concentration oxygen therapy.

In addition to treating the immediate symptoms of heatstroke, your vet will monitor your dog for secondary complications, such as changes in blood pressure, electrolyte abnormalities, kidney failure, the development of neurologic symptoms or abnormal clotting.


If your dog's panting is caused by poisoning, contact your nearest emergency vet immediately.

Make sure to get your dog well away from the poisonous substance. If your dog got into it once, they may return to it while you are on the phone. Safely move the substance well out of your dog's reach.

Do not try to administer first aid. Different poisonous substances require different actions. While some cases may call for inducing vomiting, in other cases, inducing vomiting could make your dog even sicker. Get your dog to the vet as quickly as possible and let your veterinary professionals administer appropriate treatment. If you know what has poisoned your dog, bring any packaging or a sample of the poison to your vet's office. The packaging will help your vet fully understand the situation and how best to treat your dog.

If your dog's skin has been in contact with a poisonous substance, your vet will thoroughly cleanse the skin. If your dog has long fur, your vet may first need to shave the affected area. In some cases of ingested toxins, your vet may induce vomiting. This is only used for specific cases. Vomiting is not recommended if the suspected poison could damage the stomach or esophagus on its way back up, if it's been several hours since ingestion or for cases of aspiration pneumonia (vomited material being inhaled into the lungs). If your dog is unconscious, your vet may flush their stomach with a tube or, in severe cases, through surgery. Laxatives and medications may be used to empty the bowels if the poison is present in the gastrointestinal tract.

If the poison cannot be physically removed, sometimes activated charcoal can be administered by mouth to prevent further absorption by the gastrointestinal tract.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog is breathing heavier than normal or showing any concerning signs, contact our Mohawk Alley Animal Hospital vets to schedule an examination.

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