Is Your Dog Breathing Heavy? Understand Why And What To Do Next

Published: 28 Mar 2024
Kathy R. Conner
Kathy R. Conner
Kathy is a licensed veterinary surgeon and writer in Miami. With over 20 years of experience in deal with pets and small animal, she hopes to share her knowledge on what she learned throughout her life to all animal lover. On her free time, she likes to attend Yoga and Meditation classes.
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Our articles are meticulously composed and vetted by veterinary professionals, guaranteeing precision and pertinence by consulting credible sources, chiefly scientific journals and veterinary manuals. Prior to publication and major revisions, we thoroughly validate the factual correctness, providing well-researched content rooted in veterinary science.

When your dog is breathing heavy, quick and informed action is critical. Is it a simple case of post-play fatigue or something more urgent, like heatstroke? In this article, we’ll outline the common causes of dog breathing heavy, how to tell them apart, and what your next steps should be, helping you make the right call for your canine’s health.

Key Takeaways

  • Heavy breathing in dogs may be normal post-exercise, but persistent heavy breathing could signal health issues like heatstroke or heart failure.
  • Be aware of your dog’s normal respiratory rate and check for signs of distress—e.g., continuous heavy breathing, inability to settle, or extended neck—these warrant a vet visit.
  • Treatment for heavy breathing varies from medication to lifestyle and dietary changes; preventing it includes regular veterinary checkups and managing your dog’s environment.

Understanding Heavy Breathing in Dogs

Heavy breathing in dogs is characterized by rapid, labored, or strained breaths and can suggest an inadequate oxygen supply to tissues and organs. While this might sound alarming, it’s important to remember that it’s not always a cause for concern. For instance, your canine companion might just be trying to cool down after some vigorous play, which is a normal situation when a dog is breathing heavily. In such cases, monitoring your dog’s breathing can help ensure their well-being.

However, if the heavy breathing is persistent, it could be a sign of underlying health issues like respiratory conditions, heart failure, or heatstroke. Understanding these nuances is key to ensuring your dog’s well-being.

Normal Panting vs. Heavy Breathing

Dogs pant to regulate their body temperature and cool themselves down. By breathing fast, they facilitate air circulation through their body, aiding in temperature regulation. So, when your dog is panting after a game of fetch, there’s usually no need to worry. However, when your dog’s fast breathing turns noticeably labored or heavy, it might be a clue to a more serious issue.

Monitoring Your Dog’s Respiratory Rate

Keeping an eye on your dog’s respiratory rate can help you spot abnormal breathing. A healthy resting respiratory rate for dogs typically falls under 30 breaths per minute, which can be considered as your pet’s normal respiratory rate. Puppies, with their higher metabolism, may have a slightly higher rate of 15 to 40 breaths per minute. If you observe that your dog’s breath count exceeds 30 per minute while at rest, it’s time to consult a veterinarian.

a cozy scene featuring a dog laying down on a couch and dog breathing heavy

Common Causes of Heavy Breathing in Dogs

Identifying the cause of your dog’s heavy breathing is the first step towards addressing the issue. The causes can vary widely, from breed predispositions to environmental factors and health issues.

Let’s delve into these causes a bit deeper, shall we?

Breed Predispositions

Some dog breeds that are more prone to heavy breathing due to their physical characteristics include:

  • French bulldogs
  • Pugs
  • English bulldogs
  • Japanese chin
  • Pomeranians
  • Norwich terriers

These breeds have a higher relative risk of upper respiratory tract disorders.

Even non-brachycephalic breeds like the Chihuahua and Yorkshire terrier exhibit an increased relative risk for these disorders. Understanding your dog’s breed-specific risks can help in managing their health better.

Environmental Factors

The surrounding environment can also contribute to heavy breathing in dogs. Maintaining a hazard-free environment can help prevent situations that could lead to stress or injury in dogs, consequently avoiding circumstances that may cause heavy breathing.

An environment that’s too hot, for instance, can cause your dog to pant excessively.

Health Issues

Health issues like respiratory infections, heart disease, and anxiety can also result in heavy breathing in dogs. Younger dogs and puppies, especially those of brachycephalic breeds, are more susceptible to respiratory infections which can present with altered breathing patterns and heavy breathing.

Heart disease can manifest as coughing, a swollen abdomen, and tiring quickly, all of which may lead to or result from breathing difficulties. Engaging stomach muscles can also be affected in such cases, as weakened stomach muscles may contribute to these symptoms.

Identifying Warning Signs of Respiratory Distress

Knowing the warning signs of respiratory distress can help you take timely action. Severe signs include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Extended neck
  • Outward-pointed elbows
  • Abnormal chest or abdomen movements while breathing

Continuous heavy breathing, or breathing abnormally fast, while at rest or during sleep can be an early indicator of serious health problems, potentially affecting one’s healthy respiratory function.

Let’s break down these warning signs for a better understanding.

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of respiratory distress in dogs can include:

  • Coughing
  • Noisy breathing, such as a snorting sound caused by an obstruction in the upper respiratory tract
  • Long drawn-out breaths
  • Inability to settle
  • Stance with elbows pointed outwards and neck extended
  • Reduced ability to exercise

These symptoms may indicate respiratory distress in dogs. If you notice any of these signs, it is important to seek veterinary attention.

Behavioral Changes

Behavioral changes can also be a sign of respiratory distress in dogs. Dogs experiencing respiratory distress may show signs of restlessness and an ongoing struggle to find a comfortable position to rest. In severe cases, dogs in respiratory distress may be at risk of collapsing, indicating an immediate need for veterinary care.

When to Seek Veterinary Help

Knowing when to seek veterinary help is crucial for your dog’s health and well-being. While a dog breathing fast at rest or during sleep is a sign that you should contact a veterinarian, in some cases, when your dog is breathing fast, you might need to rush your dog to the vet immediately.

Let’s take a look at when that might be necessary.

Emergency Situations

Emergency situations requiring immediate veterinary care include bloat, anaphylaxis, and congestive heart failure. Breathing heavily with pale or blue gums may indicate a lack of oxygen and require immediate medical attention.

If heatstroke is suspected, it’s imperative to remove the dog from the hot environment immediately and promptly bring them to the nearest emergency veterinarian.

Non-Emergency Situations

While some situations demand immediate veterinary care, others may be less urgent but still require attention. For instance, ongoing heavy breathing triggered by stress or anxiety might necessitate a non-emergency veterinary appointment and even special training with a certified dog behaviorist.

Diagnostic Process for Heavy Breathing in Dogs

Once you’ve sought veterinary help, the next step is the diagnostic process. This involves a veterinarian performing a full physical examination and inquiring about the dog’s medical history to determine the cause of the heavy breathing.

Let’s explore this process in more detail.

Physical Examination

A physical examination for heavy breathing includes checking the health and function of the dog’s heart and lungs, as well as their airways for any obstructions or abnormalities. These evaluations are part of routine veterinary checkups and provide valuable insights into your dog’s overall health.

Diagnostic Tests

Diagnostic tests such as X-rays and bloodwork are also commonly used to identify the underlying conditions causing heavy breathing. X-rays can help examine the dog’s heart, lungs, and abdomen for conditions such as broken ribs or lung tumors.

Bloodwork can provide a comprehensive understanding of the dog’s health status.

Treatment Options for Heavy Breathing in Dogs

Once the cause of the heavy breathing is identified, your veterinarian can recommend the appropriate treatment. Treatment options can vary widely, including:

  • Medications
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Surgery
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Management of underlying conditions

The specific treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the heavy breathing.

Let’s delve a little deeper into these treatment options.


Depending on the diagnosis, a veterinarian may prescribe pain relief, as well as other treatments, including anti-inflammatory medication. Corticosteroids and bronchodilators are other medication options for treating heavy breathing.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to medication, lifestyle changes can also aid in the recovery from heavy breathing. Creating a comfortable and calm environment can minimize stress and over-exertion, preventing instances of heavy breathing in dogs.

Preventative Measures for Heavy Breathing in Dogs

While treatment is important, prevention is always better than cure. Regular monitoring of your dog’s health can help detect early signs of conditions that may lead to heavy breathing.

Let’s take a look at some of these preventative measures.

Regular Checkups

Regular veterinary checkups can identify underlying conditions that may lead to heavy breathing in dogs, such as congestive heart failure or lung problems. Diseases that cause heavy breathing can often be treated more effectively when detected early, a benefit provided by consistent veterinary examinations.

Environmental Management

Managing your dog’s environment can also help prevent heavy breathing. Maintaining a cool environment is crucial in preventing heavy breathing episodes and aiding recovery.

Proper hydration also plays a key role in helping dogs recover from episodes of heavy breathing.

medium close up shot of a dog sleeping peacefully on the floor and dog breathing heavy


So, there you have it. Understanding why your dog breathes heavily, recognizing symptoms of respiratory distress, knowing when to seek veterinary help, and taking preventative measures can all contribute to your dog’s overall well-being. Remember, your dog’s health is a journey, not a destination. So, keep a close eye on their behavior, consult with your vet regularly, and ensure they live in a comfortable environment. After all, their happiness is your happiness, isn’t it?

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I be worried if my dog is breathing heavy?

Yes, heavy breathing at rest could be a sign of serious health issues in dogs, so it’s important to monitor your dog’s breathing and consult a vet if the problem persists or if their gums are pale or turning blue.

Do dogs breathe fast when in pain?

Yes, dogs may breathe fast and have a more shallow breathing pattern when experiencing pain, and you might also notice them panting. Watch out for changes in their abdominal and chest movements.

Is it normal for my dog to breathe fast while sleeping?

Yes, it’s totally normal for dogs to breathe fast while they sleep, especially during the REM cycle. Puppies tend to breathe even faster, with a typical resting respiratory rate of 15-40 breaths per minute.

How do you calm a dog with heavy breathing?

To calm a dog with heavy breathing, try to relax and speak in a calm voice while gently petting them. Providing a cooling bed or turning on a fan can also help. Just being close to your pet can make a big difference.

What is the normal resting respiratory rate for dogs?

A healthy resting respiratory rate for dogs is typically under 30 breaths per minute, while puppies may have a slightly higher rate of 15 to 40 breaths per minute. Make sure to monitor your dog’s breathing for any irregularities!

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