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What is Breathing Heavily?

It is likely you will be concerned if your dog is breathing heavily. This symptom may be the result of numerous health issues and should be considered in conjunction with any other symptoms experienced. Heavy breathing can occur in dogs of any age and quick treatment is important to avoid complications. If your dog is struggling to breathe or his breathing is labored, it is called dyspnea. If he is breathing fast, it is known as tachypnea. The following conditions may lead to heavy breathing in your dog:

  • Heat stroke
  • Pain
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heartworm infection
  • Chronic illness
  • A disease that impacts his nose
  • A disease that impacts his lungs and small airways

How serious your dog’s heavy breathing is will depend on why it is happening. It will be important that you bring your dog in for an examination so that your veterinarian can determine whether his heavy breathing is the result of something minor or a more serious health condition.

Why Breathing Heavily Occurs in Dogs

The reason for your dog breathing heavily will depend upon its cause. For example:

Heat Stroke

After exertion, you will see your dog breathe heavily. Certain breeds of dogs are more likely to experience this as a result of having short snouts (Bulldogs, Boston Terriers and Pugs, for example). Heavy breathing or panting can also be a symptom of heat stroke. Other symptoms of heat stroke include thick saliva, a bright red tongue, vomiting, diarrhea or coma.

Pain

Heavy breathing can be a sign that your dog has an injury or illness and is in pain. Should the heavy breathing occur suddenly, it can be the result of an injury. Other symptoms of pain and trauma may also be present, to include a decrease in appetite, anxiety, licking a particular place, and restlessness. While you may not see an injury, the damage can be internal. 

Congestive Heart Failure

Should your dog be experiencing congestive heart failure, he may experience respiratory symptoms. Congestive heart failure happens when your dog’s heart is damaged and does not pump enough blood through his body, causing his cells to not receive enough oxygen. His respiratory system will work extra hard to compensate for this and his breathing will be labored. This will cause retention of fluid in his lungs and body cavities. Other symptoms of heart failure in your dog include less tolerance of exercising, a blue or grey tint to his gums, trouble breathing, and coughing. 

Heartworms

Heartworms are a parasitic worm that can infest your dog’s heart and lungs; they are spread by mosquito bites. In a severe infestation, your dog may breathe heavily, as well as cough (possibly coughing up blood) and retain fluid in his abdomen.

Chronic Illness

Cushing’s syndrome and respiratory disorders are chronic illnesses that can cause heavy breathing in your dog. In Cushing’s syndrome, your dog’s adrenal glands may begin to produce too much cortisol, leading to heavy breathing, hair loss, excessive hunger and a pot-belly.

Disease Impacting Nose

Heavy breathing may occur in dogs that have certain diseases in their nose, for example: tumors, bleeding and bacterial or viral infections. 

Disease Impacting Lungs and Small Airways

Heavy breathing is a symptom of a bacterial or viral infection like pneumonia. This can occur as a result of pulmonary edema, tumors, heartworm infection and bleeding in the lungs. Should your dog experience issues with the small airways in his lungs, like asthma, allergies or tumors, he may also display heavy breathing.

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What to do if your Dog is Breathing Heavily

If you notice that your dog is breathing heavily, it is important that you contact your veterinarian. Should you observe signs of heat stroke in your dog, you will want to wrap him with towels that are soaked in cool water to lower his temperature prior to taking him to the clinic or animal hospital. 

Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination of your dog, and ask you for information regarding the symptoms you have noticed and when you first noticed them. Your veterinarian may ask you about your dog’s diet, and whether he is currently taking any medications and/or supplements. The gums of your dog will be viewed as their appearance will help your veterinarian determine if enough oxygen is getting to his organs. While examining your dog, your veterinarian will look to see if there are any signs of an injury or pain from an underlying condition. 

Your veterinarian will take your dog’s temperature; should your dog’s temperature be elevated, your veterinarian may consider heat stroke. A stethoscope will be used to listen to your dog’s heart. Should he have any concerns about your dog’s heart, further testing may be conducted. Your veterinarian will assess your dog’s lungs to see if there are possible issues leading to his heavy breathing. 

Depending on what is seen during the physical examination, your veterinarian may request a blood and urine sample for analysis, which will help to determine if there are heartworms or underlying diseases present. Chest x-rays may be taken to help view the heart and lungs to look for any changes. An electrocardiogram can be used to measure electrical activity of your dog’s heart as well as its rate and rhythm, allowing abnormal rhythms to be determined. An echocardiogram can be done in order to see the pumping efficiency of your dog’s heart. Treatment for your dog will depend upon your veterinarian’s diagnosis. Should your dog be having significant breathing difficulties, supplemental oxygen will be administered and in some cases chest tubes will be used to eliminate fluid around your dog’s lungs.

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Prevention of Breathing Heavily

There are things that you can do proactively to avoid some of the conditions that can lead to heavy breathing in your dog. To avoid heat stroke, for example, it is important that you don’t leave your dog in a parked car and if he is left outside in hot weather he should have appropriate shade and a lot of fresh clean water. Heartworms can be prevented in your dog by giving him a preventative medication as directed. It is important that you provide your dog with a healthy diet and the opportunity for plenty of exercise in order for him to maintain both his emotional and physical health. Regular check-ups for your dog are helpful as it will allow your veterinarian to catch any potential health issues early.

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Cost of Breathing Heavily

The cost of treatment for your dog’s heavy breathing will vary based upon its cause, the condition’s severity and where you live. The average cost of treatment for heartworms, for example is $1,800 while the average cost to treat congestive heart failure is $2,500.

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Breathing Heavily Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Pit Bull

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Five Years

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2 found helpful

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Noisy Breathing

Breathing heavy through his nose

Dec. 20, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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2 Recommendations

Noisy breathing can have many causes including a blockage (from e.g. a polyp or mucus), a respiratory infection, heart disease etc. A vet visit is best so we can listen to his heart and lungs and determine what is going on. In some cases, additional testing (such as a chest xray) may be needed. At home, ensure the air is free from dust, smoke and cooking fumes. Allow him to rest and avoiding using a neck collar.

Dec. 20, 2020

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Maltese

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Heavy Breathing And Diarrhea

My dog breathes very heavily and he has diarrhea

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. The medication that he is on should help with the diarrhea, but may take a little time. If he continues to have a problem, it would be best to follow up with your veterinarian, as they are able to see him and get treatment for him.

Oct. 9, 2020

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Shih Tzu

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Five Years

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0 found helpful

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Heavy Breathing When Seeing Me

When I get home my dog breaths very heavily but in a way that she cannot breathe and it is only when I get hone

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. Without being able to see what she is doing, unfortunately, it is difficult to say what might be happening. It would be best to video the episodes if possible, and have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment for them.

Oct. 15, 2020

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mixed bread

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Eleven Years

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Heavy Breathing

1:30 this morning she started breathing, ear are really hot, she hurt her back leg Friday night. She's drinking a lot of water.

July 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Ellen M. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Hello, thank you for your question. I am sorry to hear that your dog isn't feeling well! Without examining your dog, it's very hard for me to know what's going on. What you describe sounds like it could be consistent with a fever. It could also be due to pain - when they are panting or breathing harder, they tend to drink more water, and she could be breathing harder if her leg is hurting. I recommend having her seen by her veterinarian today. She needs a thorough physical exam, and may need treatment if she has pain or a fever. I hope that your dog starts feeling better soon!

July 28, 2020

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Hercules

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Staffordshire pitbull, boxer, dalmation

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10 Months

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

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Panting
Heavy Breathing

My 10.5 month old puppy breaths heavy and pants when we take him on a walk its been pretty warm outside but he even breaths heavy when playing inside in the house in the air conditioning he doesn't pant in the house just breaths heavy why is this?

Sept. 7, 2018

Hercules' Owner

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Kona

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Border-Aussie

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13 Days

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

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Breathing Difficulties

13 y/o dog with heart failure groaning when resting or sleeping. No rapid breathing. Appears comfortable but this a new behavior we have noticed. Could this be related to his heart failure? Possibly need medication adjustment?

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Bella

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Pit bull

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7 Years

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

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Short Breathes. Vomiting Water

My 7 yr old fixed female pit is a house dog, but she woke up from a nap taking short breaths and vomited a little water. I gave her 2 tums & small amount of food. She did one diarrhea and urinated when walked outside for a short distance. She's back inside and still has shortness of breath.

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Spaz

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Pug

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15 Years

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Moderate severity

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Hearing Loss
Breathing Heavy

My dog Spaz and I were sleeping in bed, under the covers, when I was awoken by his heavy, excellerated breathing. When I picked him up he was very hot and the bed was saturated by where is mouth had laid. I tried to get him to drink from his water bowl with no success. I tried putting his head very close to a water bowl where his tongue (Hanging out" would touch the water, but with little success. so I took a cold wet cloth to his body to cool him off. I finally have him sleeping next to me breathing normally, but the whole episode lasted about 1 hr. Spaz is a 15yr old pug with severe arthritis in his back. It has affected the nerve damaged in his hind legs, so walking is difficult. He does a lot of "hairball" hacking, and has had a couple of seizures. He has lost the hair off his tail and is down to 16 lbs. I know his time is near,but is this episode just another sign of his old age or is it something more? Is it painful? I have not been able to give him any pain meds because he has a very sensitive stomach. He is on a special diet. I would appreciate any help you can give me. My finances are tight, so I have to be careful on making vet appts. just so they can tell me "he's old."

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