Why Is My Dog’s Breathing Heavy?


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Dog owners may sometimes notice that their dog is breathing more heavily than normal, and ask an important question, 'why is my dog breathing so heavily?'

This can be a cause for concern, as it might mean that the dog is having difficulty breathing.

In this article, we will explore some of the reasons why a dog might be breathing heavily and provide tips on how to help if your dog is having trouble getting enough air.

Common causes of heavy breathing in dogs

Unfortunately, there are many, many reasons why dogs breathe heavily, and most of them are actually normal reasons - warm weather, trying to cool down, and the like. (source)

That said, if you have a full medical history of your dog since birth, it can be easier for you to identify if it's unusual heavy breathing.

There are a few health problems that can cause labored breathing in dogs, including:

Allergies or asthma

Dogs with allergies or asthma may have difficulty breathing due to inflammation and swelling of the airways.


Bronchitis is an infection of the bronchi, which are the large airways that carry air to and from the lungs.

Bronchitis can cause coughing, chest congestion, and difficulty breathing.

Heart disease

Dogs with heart disease often experience shortness of breath as well as other symptoms such as coughing and wheezing.


Usually happens when your dog is outside in the sun, or in a hot environment for an extended period of time, without water or cooling down.

Pulmonary edema (fluid in lungs)

Pulmonary edema is a build-up of fluid in the lungs caused by heart failure or other medical conditions.


When your dogs eat something poisonous or toxic, this can trigger your dog to pant a lot.

The usual substances that can cause this at home are raisins, rat poison, chocolate and even antifreeze.

Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA)

This autoimmune disease can cause your dog's white blood cells to attack it's own red blood cells.

This causes indirect suffocation and forces your dog to breath heavily to get the oxygen it needs.

Typically, your dog will show a yellow tinge on their ears, tongue and bellies.


How to help your dog breathe easier

If you think your dog might be having difficulty breathing, there are a few things you can do to help.

Keep your dog cool and hydrated in warm weather. Make sure they have plenty of water and shade to rest in.

If your dog is panting heavily, offer them small amounts of water or ice chips to lick.

Do not give them large amounts of water to drink all at once, as this could cause them to vomit or aspirate the fluid.

Elevate your dog's head if they are having trouble breathing lying down.

This will help keep airways open and make it easier for them to breathe.

Seek veterinary care if the heavy breathing persists or is accompanied by other symptoms!

When to take your dog to the vet

If your dog's heavy breathing is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, you should seek veterinary care immediately:

  Coughing while breathing heavily

   Wheezing, or looks like they're nearly out of breath all the time

   Difficulty walking or standing

   Swelling of the legs or abdomen

   Vomiting and/or diarrhea

   Pale gums or other signs of anemia

   Unusual discharge from nose or eyes

   The tips and insides of their ears are white, or yellow

   coughing up blood or pinkish fluids

   bluish gums

If you notice any prolonged symptoms of the above, please bring them to the vet clinic or animal hospital immediately.

How to tell if your dog is having a medical emergency

If your dog is having trouble breathing, it is always best to err on the side of caution and seek emergency veterinary care.

However, there are a few things you can look for to help determine if your dog is experiencing a true medical emergency.

If their gums are pale, yellow or bluish, this could be a sign of anemia or shock and requires immediate medical attention.
If they are vomiting blood or any other fluids that are pink in color, this could be a sign of internal bleeding and also requires urgent medical care.
If one or more of their legs appears swollen or bloated, this could be a sign of heart failure and fluid build-up in the lungs (pulmonary edema)

How can I prevent my dog from developing heavy breathing in the first place?

There are a few things you can do to help prevent your dog from developing heavy breathing, including:

Keep them at a healthy weight 

Overweight dogs are more likely to develop respiratory problems.

Feeding them a balanced diet and avoiding table scraps

Table scraps can cause nutritional imbalances that can lead to health problems, or be toxic to them (especially when the food has garlic, onions, ginger and the like)

Provide plenty of fresh water and exercise

Dogs who get enough exercise and drink plenty of fresh water are less likely to develop respiratory problems.

Take them for regular checkups with the veterinarian

Regular vet checkups will help identify any potential health problems early on, before they have a chance to become serious.

What about heavy breathing in puppies?

Generally speaking, puppies tend to breathe a lot more than adults, and can be anywhere from 50 - 100% more than adults.

That said, if you do believe that your puppy is breathing heavily, unnaturally fast, then you should bring your puppy to the vet to have them checked out too.

about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.

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