Shortness of Breath in Dogs

Picture of a charles king spaniel

Dyspnea (difficult breathing) can show up in our canine friends for a plethora of reasons. It is most commonly associated with respiratory problems, but it can also appear if the dog’s cardiovascular health is affected, for example.

In today’s article, we’re looking at several possible causes of shortness of breath in dogs, how it can be diagnosed, treated, and what you can do to prevent it in the future.

What Is Shortness of Breath?

In order to know whether something is wrong with your pooch or not, we first have to tell you that the normal respiratory rate in dogs is 15-20 breaths per minute. If your dog doesn’t have any underlying conditions and he or she hasn’t been diagnosed with a respiratory problem that causes tachypnea (fast, short breaths), you will clearly notice when shortness of breath appears.

You can calculate your dog’s number of breaths per minute by using a stopwatch (which is included in most smartphones nowadays).

Do consider that the respiratory rate increases if the dog has been engaging in exercise if it’s hot outside and he/she has been sitting in the sun, or for various such physiological reasons. In any case, your Fido should never breathe for more than 35 times in a minute as this is an abnormal respiratory rate.

What Causes Shortness of Breath in Dogs?

As previously mentioned, shortness of breath and mild difficulty breathing, in general, can sometimes show up as a result of the dog’s activity level. However, the dog should calm down in a matter of several minutes. If you see that your dog takes short and shallow or deep breaths for more than 15 minutes following an exercise session, you might want to keep an eye on him/her and try to cool your dog down.

When it comes to pathological reasons, shortness of breath can be caused by the following conditions:

If the dog is in pain, there’s a high likelihood that he or she will take shorter breaths than usual, too.

Tachypnea and panting can be caused by other health problems, such as the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Some medications
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Metabolic acidosis
  • Unusually high thyroid hormone levels
  • Anemia
  • Hypoxemia (too little oxygen in the dog’s blood)
  • Blood clots in the lungs


What does shortness of breath in dogs look like? Well, while it might be different from one animal to the next, there are some classic signs that you can notice. For instance, some dogs might take fast and short breaths as if they were ventilating. Others might breathe with their mouth open, or their nostrils would flare while breathing.

Some dogs can exhibit ‘abdominal’ breathing, which is never a good sign. If the gums or the tongue turn blue and the dog is showing the same symptoms, you should get your canine companion to a vet clinic as soon as possible — there’s not enough oxygen going into your dog’s bloodstream, which could lead to a fatal outcome.

What Should You Do?

If you notice any of the symptoms that we have mentioned, the best way of going about things would be to go to the vet clinic as soon as possible. Unfortunately, with respiratory problems (and this applies to all animals and people, not just dogs), time is of the essence.

If the issue is severe and your dog doesn’t receive veterinary assistance, you might lose your canine companion.

If shortness of breath is something that you have noticed in your pooch somewhat regularly, try to film the next episode with your phone so that you can show your vet how it manifests.

Diagnosing and Treating Shortness of Breath in Dogs

Since this is a clinical sign and not a disease per se, the veterinarian will have to perform a number of tests in order to find out what’s wrong with your dog. These can range from a complete blood count to biochemistry. If the cause is suspected to be located in the dog’s thorax, it’s quite likely that he or she will have to performed an X-ray on, too.

In dogs that are older or that are showing specific symptoms of heart conditions, your vet might recommend a heart ultrasound, as well. Once the cause is discovered, your dog will receive the right treatment, which can involve the following:

  • Medications that can help your dog breathe easier (anti-inflammatories and bronchodilators)
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Specific medications for the disease that was diagnosed (antibiotics for bacterial infections etc)
  • Heart medications if your dog’s suffering from a heart condition

Your vet will also recommend that you avoid taking your dog out for strenuous playtime sessions that could have a negative impact on his or her health. Slow walks are best in this case, so take your dog out for walks in the morning and in the evening, but avoid getting him/her too excited.

Preventing Shortness of Breath in Dogs

Although prevention is worth a pound of cure, you can’t really prevent this problem if you don’t know what’s going to cause it. Naturally, you can avoid leaving your dog in the car when it’s hot outside, make sure that he gets enough fresh water and fresh air, and do your best to prevent a heat stroke, but that’s most of what you can do.

In terms of heart or respiratory conditions, you can merely prevent them by taking your dog for regular checkups at the vet clinic once, twice, or even three times a year after the age of 7.

If your dog suffers from a chronic respiratory issue such as asthma, it is imperative that you keep your pooch’s living environment as clean as possible. The same rule applies to dogs that suffer from allergies.



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