Every pet parent has at one point or the other stared at their pet for hours on end. This acts as a stress reliever for us as pet parents, and also as an assurance that our pet is fine, relaxed, and healthy.
As dog parents, you might have noticed that your dog tends to pant or breath heavily. This is more or less normal as long as they are breathing heavily after a heavy exercise, a rough playing session, or by being out and about. As dogs do not have sweat glands, this is their way of cooling off. They should usually settle down within 30 minutes to an hour after activity, and breath normally.
Normal breathing in dogs is around 15-35 breaths per minute. It may go up to 40 for older dogs or puppers. Anything above 40 is considered to be abnormal if there is no known reason to be panting so hard.
For instance, other than playing around and moving about, you may notice that they breathe harder at times during their sleep. This is also fairly normal as it might be because of their dreams.
But only a pet parent knows their pet their best, so if you feel that your pet is breathing hard or panting for no known reason if your gut is telling you that something is wrong, then immediately consult with a vet. It could be nothing, or it could be fatal, best if we are informed on time.
Having said that, let’s have a look at a few instances where you should call your vet immediately if you notice the following symptoms –
- The dog is breathing heavily even while resting: If in case the heavy breathing is due to their dreams, it should subside within a few minutes. If the heavy breathing persists, then you need to consult a vet. Similarly, if you know your dog has not been active and yet is breathing heavy, consult with a vet immediately.
- The dog has pale, bluish gums: Have a look at your dog’s gums, and if it seems pale and blueish, that means that the dog is not getting enough oxygen, and this can be fatal. Call your vet as soon as possible.
- Your dog seems stressed: If you notice unusual behaviour such as loss of appetite, restlessness, seeming scared, and breathing heavily as well, your dog could be in pain or distress and needs medical attention right away.
- Your dog is breathing heavy and making noises: Any noise accompanied by heavy breathing – such as wheezing, snorting, or honking noises – needs to be checked out by a vet immediately.
- Coughing and panting: This could mean your dog is suffering from a respiratory disease, which needs immediate medical attention.
- Panting with a partially open mouth: If your dog is panting for no reason, that too with a partially open mouth, then they require immediate medical assistance.
Now that we know what signs to look out for, let’s have a look at some of the causes behind a dog breathing heavily.
As mentioned earlier, dogs do not have sweat glands, and thus use panting as a way of cooling off. They will breathe excessively and with difficulty if their bodies are overheated.
Heat Stroke is a fatal condition that needs medical attention right away. You can try to cool off your dog with air-conditioning and applying a wet cloth to their bodies until you reach the vet.
Flat-faced dogs such as pugs, terriers, and bulldogs are more susceptible to heat strokes, as they cannot pant as heavily as the other dogs who have a longer snout.
Laboured breathing or breathing with abdominal strain are signs of heart failure. Since the heart cannot pump blood effectively, there is less oxygen circulating in the body, making the dog breathe in more rapidly to make up for the low oxygen.
This also leads to fluid build-up in the lungs, as the blood isn’t pushed out quickly enough. This is why you would tend to see your dog trying to take deep breaths, to compensate for their lungs feeling heavy and constrained.
Stress, Anxiety, and Pain:
Dogs breathe heavily when they are stressed or anxious about their situation. The situations could vary – could be a vet visit, could be new people, fireworks, or any other perceived threats. You would understand that they are anxious, if along with heavy breathing they are averting their gaze, excessively licking their lips, and being able to see the white of their eyes.
They would pant or breathe heavily while resting if they are injured or in pain. Dogs do not like to bring attention to their injuries, and so this would be a tell-tale sign that something is not right with them along with other signals, such as low appetite, lethargy, or limping.
Onions and garlic, whilst adding a burst of flavour to human foods, are absolutely restricted for dogs. They are poisonous to your dogs and can lead to fast breathing, diarrhoea, and vomiting, which can further lead to anaemia.
Anaemia is a serious illness for dogs and if not treated immediately can prove to be fatal for your dogs. So be wary of feeding them table scraps!
Some small breed dogs are more susceptible to this condition, where the dog’s airways narrow down to a very small diameter, not allowing enough oxygen to get in. Since the dog is not getting enough air to breathe, they tend to show signs of respiratory distress, such as heavy breathing.
Dogs, just like us humans, have small flaps covering their trachea, to prevent food and water from entering the windpipe. These flaps retract on their own to allow air to pass by while not eating. If one or both of these flaps fail to retract, then the dog does not get enough air to breathe in, resulting in heavy breathing while making a honking noise as well. Labradors are more prone to this condition, and immediate medical attention is necessary.
Cancer of the lungs or cancer anywhere else in the body that has now spread to the lungs can cause laboured breathing in dogs. Certain cancers can also lead to fluid in and around the lungs. These conditions can lead to your dog breathing heavily or other respiratory distress.
Any viral, bacterial, or fungal infections can infect the lungs, nose, and airways. This can lead to coughing along with respiratory distress. Kennel cough is a very common infection among dogs and would show these symptoms.
Pneumonia can develop in dogs that have fluid build-up in and around their lungs. This can happen if they breathe in the water while drinking too fast, or even due to laryngeal paralysis, where the flaps did not close in time to prevent water from going into the lungs.
And finally, maybe nothing is medically wrong with your dog, and the heavy breathing may just be due to them being over-excited, exercising heavily, or rough playing. They may also have inhaled some dirt or other irritants, which would also cause some shirt-lived wheezing. These signs should die down soon, and your dog will be back to breathing normally within an hour.
All these signs are only relevant to dogs, as cats do not pant at all. If you notice your cat panting or breathing heavy, no matter the reason, you need to consult with a vet immediately.
As a pet parent, it can be disconcerting to see our pet in pain or distress. Keep an eye out for anything abnormal, and if you sense something is just not right, trust your instincts and do not hesitate to call your vet as soon as possible. In case your vet is not available or you're unable to take your pet to the clinic, you can consider online vet consultation.
Many veterinarians now offer virtual consultations, where they can diagnose your pet's condition and recommend appropriate treatment. These online consultations can be a convenient option, especially if you live in a remote area or have a busy schedule.
However, it's important to remember that online consultations have limitations and may not be suitable for emergencies or severe health issues. In such cases, it's always best to seek immediate veterinary care.