The reality is a little different. Dogs can breathe in through both the nose and mouth, and panting is actually a form of heavy breathing. So let's put our noses to the ground and sniff out the facts about how dogs breathe, and what you can do if your pet is suffering from breathing difficulties.
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Signs of Abnormal Breathing
Unfortunately, there are several illnesses and conditions that can cause your dog to suffer from breathing difficulties, and in some cases, mouth breathing can be a symptom of a deeper health problem. Common canine breathing difficulties include:
- Labored breathing (dyspnea). You may notice that your dog is working harder to breathe than may seem necessary, for example, if they haven't done any exercise or experienced any excitement yet they're still struggling to inhale a sufficient amount of air. Symptoms can include the chest and stomach moving more than normal, flaring nostrils, neck and head held low, and noisy breathing.
- Fast breathing (tachypnea). Signs to watch out for include a faster breathing rate than is normal for your pooch, a closed or partially open mouth, and shallow breathing.
- Panting. While panting is a normal way for dogs to cool themselves, it can also indicate a breathing problem. Signs include fast and shallow breathing, mouth open wide, and a lolling tongue.
If your dog isn't breathing normally, it's essential that you get your pet to the vet as soon as possible. Your vet will give your furry friend a thorough examination to determine what's wrong and whether there's cause for concern.
- Raspy panting
- Head bobbing
- Tongue hanging
- Working harder to breathe than necessary
- Flaring nostrils
- Noisy breathing
- Shallow breathing
- Excessive panting
- Any other abnormal breathing habits
The Science of Dogs Breathing Through Their Mouths
There, it moves to the red blood cells, which carry that all-important oxygen to the body's major organs. At the same time as oxygen transfers to a dog's red blood cells, carbon dioxide moves the other way into the lungs, where it is then exhaled from the body through the mouth or nose.
The second function of a dog's respiratory system is to keep them cool. While dogs can sweat through their paw pads, they don't have sweat glands and they can't sweat through their skin like we do to help lower body temperature. As a result, they need to rely on this faster breathing to expel warm air from the body and replace it with cooler air from outside.
Dogs pant when they exercise, when the weather is hot, and sometimes even when they're completely content. Some dogs pant as a sign of anxiety, such as if they're about to head into an exam room to see the vet, or if they're ever in a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable.
However, abnormally heavy panting could indicate that your dog is suffering from heat stroke, an extremely serious condition that requires urgent veterinary attention. Unless your dog's body temperature is returned to a normal level quickly, heat stroke can be fatal.
Labored breathing has a variety of potential causes, including everything from having a foreign object lodged somewhere it shouldn't be to infections, allergies, heartworm, or pneumonia. Fast breathing could be caused by low oxygen levels in the blood or even anemia, so it should be thoroughly investigated by a veterinarian straight away.
Treating Breathing Difficulties
With this in mind, it's important to develop an understanding of exactly what represents normal breathing for your dog in all sorts of situations — lying on the lounge, playing in the yard, running around the dog park, and so on. This way you'll be well prepared to pick up on any telltale signs that could indicate that your pooch is not breathing properly.
If you do notice your dog having breathing difficulties, the critical thing to remember is that it could potentially be a life-threatening emergency. Don't "sleep on it" overnight and see how your dog is going in the morning — seek medical help as soon as you can.
You'll need to provide a full history of your dog's health, describe the onset of symptoms, and detail any events that could have potentially caused any problems to develop. Your veterinarian will then observe your dog's breathing and give them a thorough examination to try to pinpoint the source of the problem.
To sum up, while mouth breathing can be a medical emergency, it's also a perfectly normal behavior for a healthy dog. The key is knowing the difference between regular mouth breathing and mouth breathing that requires immediate veterinary attention.
And remember, if anyone labels your dog a mouth breather, it's not an insult — it's merely a fact of life.
How to React to Your Dog Breathing Through Their Mouth
Calmly observe them. Often mouth breathing is a normal way of taking in oxygen for your pooch.
Look for signs of abnormal breathing, such as labored breathing, rapid breathing, or any other kind of irregularity.
Watch your dog if they begin to pant excessively, as this can also be a sign of a health issue.