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What is Breathing Quickly?

Healthy dogs will normally breathe quickly or pant in response to exertion, heat, or even emotional distress. When breathing becomes unusually rapid, shallow, or occurs in excess with minimal exertion and without excessive heat, it may indicate a more serious issue. In these cases, it is important to examine the animal as it can indicate a more serious medical issue and in some situations, the dog may require veterinary assistance.

  • Anemia
  • Breed disposition
  • Eclampsia
  • Emotional distress
  • Exertion
  • Fever
  • Heart disease
  • Heat or heat stroke
  • Obesity
  • Pain
  • Respiratory disorders

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Why Breathing Quickly Occurs in Dogs

There are many reasons that your dog may exhibit rapid breathing or panting behavior, from the very mundane to the serious. Although panting is a natural behavior for dogs, excessive panting, inappropriately rapid breathing, and panting that is accompanied by other symptoms should be further evaluated. 

Anemia

Anemia is the reduction in the number of red blood cells that are circulating in the blood, and it can occur due to blood loss, the destruction of blood cells, or decreased production of red blood cells. Red blood cells contain the hemoglobin that carries the oxygen throughout your dog’s body, and when their numbers are reduced the body becomes starved for oxygen, and the dog attempts to compensate by breathing more rapidly. 

Breed Disposition

Certain breeds of dog are prone to rapid breathing, panting, and even overall shortness of breath. Most of these breeds are brachycephalic animals, such as Boxers, Bulldogs, and Pugs, and it is doubly important to become familiar with their normal breathing patterns. Brachycephalic dogs are predisposed to respiratory ailments and heat stroke, so any changes in their breathing patterns should be addressed immediately. 

Eclampsia

Also known as milk fever, this disorder is restricted to pregnant or nursing dams and is potentially fatal. This calcium deficiency is caused by either poor nutrition or an underactive parathyroid gland and is more common in the dam’s first litter. If your pregnant or nursing dog shows an increase in their breathing rate coupled with convulsions, elevated temperature, or stiffened muscles and joints, immediate medical attention is required. 

Emotional Distress

Stress causes many of the same physiological responses for canines as it does for humans, including increases in respiration and heart rate. Dogs that experience chronic stress may have delayed wound healing, depression, and even accelerated aging. 

Exertion

This is one of the most common reasons for dogs to pant, and is generally a sign of a good workout rather than trouble. If your dog takes longer than normal to recover from exercise, is panting heavily after mild exertion, or the if the dog is panting more intensely than is normal for that companion, you will want to end the exercise and call a veterinarian.  

Fever

A normal temperature for canines is around 101 to 102.5 Fahrenheit. Dogs with elevated body temperatures may pant in an attempt to cool themselves. 

Heart Disease

Heart disease and mild and moderate heart attacks often present with difficulties breathing due to reduced oxygen circulation. Along with the difficulty breathing , the dog may also tilt their head, show symptoms of generalized pain, and experience stiffness in the forelimbs.  

Heat or Heat Stroke

Canines are only able to sweat through their paw pads and depend their tongues to regulate their body heat. Heatstroke can occur when the dog’s body temperature reaches 104 degrees or above and will include other symptoms, including a bright red tongue, reddened or pale gums, and thick or sticky saliva. Heatstroke is a serious disorder which requires veterinary care to prevent further complications.

Obesity

Dogs who are obese tend to overheat more easily than dogs of normal weight, and exercise can be more strenuous for the overweight dog. Although overweight dogs are more likely to naturally pant than their slimmer counterparts, obese dogs also have a higher incidence of heart and respiratory illness, so the dog should be monitored for additional symptoms. 

Pain

Panting and rapid breathing are natural canine responses to pain as well. If your dog begins breathing rapidly with no obvious indications as to why, you will want to examine your companion to see if there are any other signs of pain such as flinching when touched, limping, or an unusual posture. 

Respiratory Disorders

Disorders that affect the respiratory system, such as asthma, laryngeal paralysis, or pneumonia, are frequently characterized by rapid and shallow breathing.

What to do if your Dog is Breathing Quickly

Because panting is a normal part of your dog’s temperature regulations system, in many cases, nothing will need to be done at all. Although panting is a natural canine response to the heat, it can also be an indication of heat stroke. If your dog is showing additional signs of heat stroke, such as a bright red tongue, thick, sticky saliva, or reddened or pale gums, it is important to lower the animal’s core temperature. This may be achieved by wetting the dog completely with cool or lukewarm water and allowing circulating air to cool the skin. Cold water should never be used as this can cause the patient’s temperature to drop too rapidly. 

If the breathing is excessively rapid or if it is occurring in the absence of heat or exertion, further evaluation of the situation will be required, and any additional symptoms will guide both the diagnosis and treatment. If your dog is showing signs of pain, an elevated temperature,  or weakness, you will want to contact a veterinary professional to determine if the animal needs to be brought into the clinic for examination. At the clinic, the dog will generally undergo a full physical examination, including standard blood tests, such as a complete blood count, urinalysis, and biochemical profile. The results from the general examination and tests will help guide your veterinarian in making a treatment plan for your specific situation.

Prevention of Breathing Quickly

Although rapid breathing and panting are frequently a normal and healthy canine behavior, many of the diseases and disorders that cause abnormal rapid breathing can be prevented. If you have a pregnant or nursing female, you can usually prevent eclampsia from developing by ensuring that they are getting enough calcium. Dogs that are obese tend to become fatigued earlier than more fit dogs, and they are much more likely to develop cardiovascular difficulties that can trigger shallow, rapid breathing, so being diligent about feeding and exercising your pet in the proper balance is crucial. 

To prevent heat stroke, you should ensure that your pet has adequate ventilation and hydration on warmer days, as well as prevent overly strenuous exercise. It is also beneficial to take your companion in for check-ups on a regular basis to have them assessed for any signs of cardiovascular or respiratory disease and be sure to keep up-to-date on all vaccines.

Cost of Breathing Quickly

While getting your dog out of the heat or giving it a rest may work for simple overheating or exertion, many of the conditions leading to rapid breathing require medical care and the cost for conditions related to an increased breath rate can vary considerably, depending on the final diagnosis. Where increased rate of breathing due to obesity generally averages around $220 to treat, more serious conditions can be considerably more expensive, averaging around $1500 for eclampsia, $2300 for heatstroke, and $8000 for treatment for a heart attack.