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What is Breathing From the Stomach?

The medical term for difficult or labored breathing is dyspnea. If your dog is having problems breathing it can become a life-threatening emergency. The clinical signs for dyspnea may include your dog’s abdomen is moving along with his chest, flared nostrils, noisy breathing, excessive panting, anxiety, head held low, blue gums, and rapid or shallow breaths. Reasons for breathing from the stomach may be:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Foreign object
  • Trauma
  • Heat stroke
  • Infection
  • Enlarged abdomen

If your dog is having abdominal breathing it is important to remain calm and get him to a veterinarian as soon as possible.  It is a good idea to call the veterinarian’s office beforehand, so they are ready for your dog’s arrival.  As well, there are veterinary emergency hospitals that provide pet ambulance service.

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Why Breathing From the Stomach Occurs in Dogs

Congestive Heart Failure 

Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump the necessary amount of blood to the body. There are many reasons for the condition. The two most common causes in dogs are mitral valve insufficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy.  Additional symptoms may include coughing, decreased stamina, enlarged heart, fluid in the abdomen (right side congestive heart failure), and fluid in the chest (left-side congestive failure).

Foreign Object

Sometimes dogs can inhale items, which can become lodged in the trachea or bronchia.  The foreign object can cause labored breathing, wheezing, cyanosis, fever and coughing.  Hunting breeds are prone to inhale grass awns (foxtails) while following a scent.  Other common objects dogs inhale may include needles, fishhooks, small pieces of a toy and bones.


Trauma to the chest cavity can cause your dog to breathe from the stomach.  If your dog was hit by a vehicle, kicked or had a fall, he may have broken ribs, torn muscles, bruised lungs or tears in the diaphragm. Trauma to the chest cavity can also cause pneumothorax whereby air accumulates outside the lungs (in the chest cavity). Injuries to the chest can be very serious.

Heat Stroke

Dogs struggling with heat stroke can have abdominal contractions and labored breathing.   The normal body temperature range for a dog is between 38 to 39°C (100.5 to 102.5°F). Heat stroke occurs when the dog’s body temperature greater than 41°C (105.8°F).  Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition which must be treated immediately. Any dog breed can overheat because of an increase in environmental temperatures. Brachycephalic breeds (such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs) are more predisposed to heat stroke.


Labored breathing can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Puppies and older dogs with impaired immune systems are prone to develop respiratory tract infections.  Respiratory tract infections are highly contagious. Clinical signs usually occur 4 to 5 days after exposure to the bacteria or virus.

Enlarged Abdomen

An enlarged stomach can be caused by bloat (abnormal gas swelling), liver disease and heart failure.  The condition causes a fluid build-up in the abdomen, referred to ascites.  An enlarged stomach will cause respiratory distress and a distended stomach.

What to do if your Dog is Breathing From the Stomach

A standard examination by your veterinarian will include a urinalysis, blood tests and a palpation of the body. If clinical signs show that your dog is breathing from the stomach and thus is uncomfortable or in distress, the veterinarian may want your dog to have an electrocardiogram (determines heart rate and rhythm), an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), and x-rays of the chest and abdomen.  

Congestive heart failure may be treated with medications such as diuretics and vasodilators.  Your dog’s diet will have sodium restrictions. 

If your dog inhaled a foreign object, he may need to have a tracheoscopy, endoscopy, or a bronchoscopy to remove the object. General anesthesia must be administered for these procedures. 

Pneumothorax may require hospitalization to stabilize the air accumulation within the chest. Your companion may need oxygen therapy.  The veterinarian may recommend using a chest tube to remove the accumulated air in the chest cavity. Once your dog is released from the hospital, he will be have a restriction of activities for 1 to 2 weeks.

A dog suffering from heat stroke must be cooled down.  The veterinarian team may place wet towels on his paws and coat. To prevent dehydration your dog may be given fluids intravenously.  Antibiotics may also be administered to prevent a bacterial infection. Most dogs with heat stroke are hospitalized for 24 to 48 hours. 

If your dog is diagnosed with an infection he will need activity restrictions for 2 to 3 weeks. It is important that he eat a nutritional diet and drink plenty of water. He may be prescribed medication like cough suppressants, bronchodilators and antibiotics.

If your dog has been diagnosed with bloat the veterinarian may recommend having him hospitalized to help stabilize him.  Once stabilized, your dog may require abdominal surgery to help reposition the stomach.   The veterinary surgeon may recommend a gastropexy to help prevent bloat from happening again.  Once your dog is released you will receive post-operative instructions. Your dog will need to wear an Elizabethan collar (cone) so he does not lick or bite his sutures. He will be prescribed antibiotics and pain medications.

Prevention of Breathing From the Stomach

Congestive heart failure cannot be prevented but can be detected in the early stages.  Patients that are diagnosed and treated in the early stages of the disease have a better prognosis. There are diagnostic blood tests that can measure how much peptide hormones are being released by the heart.  These hormones are usually released when the heart is working too hard to pump blood throughout the body.

Trauma and the inhalation of foreign objects may be prevented by supervising your dog when he is outside.  A dog that is left outside for an extended amount of time may jump the fence. Once he is on the streets he can be hit by a car or become susceptible to animal abuse.  

Brachycephalic breeds, obese canines, seniors, and dogs with a heart condition should never be exposed to high heat.  They must be provided shade and plenty of water.  Do not leave your pet in a hot parked car. On a 90-degree day, it only takes 10 minutes for the inside of a car to climb to 110F. 

Some respiratory infections may be prevented by isolating (for 1 to 2 weeks) a newly adopted dog before they meet the other dogs in the household.  Additionally, there are vaccinations available, which can help prevent and/or reduce the severity of the infection. 

To help prevent bloat, it is recommended that larger dogs be fed two or three times a day instead of just one large meal. After feeding your dog, exercise, excitement and water should be restricted.

Cost of Breathing From the Stomach

Breathing from the stomach can be a sign of a dangerous health condition. The treatment of bloat can be expensive, with a cost of up to $5000. Treating heat stroke can average $5000. Congestive heart failure treatment can range from $800 to $8000, depending on the severity of the heart condition.

Breathing From the Stomach Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Australian Shepherd
2 Years
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Harsh breathing

Medication Used

Potassium bromide

My 2 years old Aussie (who has epilepsy) is very gassy tonight and acting very lethargic. Both of these things are very unlike him. He is taking very harsh breaths as well. I am just getting concerned it could be something more serious.

My American bully has rapid breathing and shallow breaths. Her belly feels bloated

My 11 year old staffie mix is stomoch breathing and stomoch looks swollen

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Jack Russell Terrier X
14 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Heavy Breathing

Male Jack Russell (14) occasional heavy breathing, head high neck stretched rib cage dramatic in/out with breathing poops normal eating less. Has no other symptoms of dispnea. Attacks last from 5mins - 15mins. Taking for a walk outside seems to stop it. Attacks 1 or 2 times a day but days without it. Happy and active for his age running around the farm still. Alert and chirpy.

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Bichon Shih tzu
17 Years
Serious condition
1 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

stomach breathing

17 yr Bichon Shih Tzu - stomach breathing came on overnight followed by lethargic actions and sometimes her back legs fall out from underneath her while on a short walk.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1611 Recommendations
That type of breathing can be caused by a heart or lung condition, and in 17 year old Biscuit, it would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible to see what treatment she may need. I hope that she is okay.

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