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What is Having Trouble Breathing?

When your dog is having trouble breathing, he will have the feeling that he is short of breath; this is also called dyspnea. An increased respiratory rate, or tachypnea, is different than dyspnea; an increased respiratory rate does not mean that your dog is struggling to breathe. Most dogs will experience tachypnea before having trouble with their breathing. Signs you may observe when your dog is struggling to breathe include:

  • Coughing constantly, particularly at night
  • Intolerant to exercise
  • A change in his bark
  • Is often panting and stretching his neck out to breathe
  • His gums are blue-tinged
  • He has foam or froth coming out of his mouth
  • Using his abdomen to improve his breathing (you will see the sides of his stomach heaving more than usual).

There are a number of reasons why your dog may be having trouble breathing to include: 

  • Asthma
  • Infectious disease
  • Growth in the airway
  • Heart failure
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Metabolic conditions
  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Pneumonia
  • Trauma
  • Pulmonary embolism

How serious it is that your dog is having trouble breathing will depend on the cause; however, you will want to seek veterinary attention right away to determine why he is struggling to breathe and to begin treatment to improve his condition.

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Why Having Trouble Breathing Occurs in Dogs

Why your dog is having trouble breathing will depend on why it is occurring. For example:


If your dog has asthma, irritants will cause wheezing, coughing and your dog to breathe with his mouth open. Should he have a severe attack, his airways will be inflamed and constricted; this will limit the oxygen your dog is able to get and cause him to struggle to breathe. 

Infectious Disease

Should your dog develop an infectious disease like kennel cough, canine influenza or an upper respiratory infection, it may lead to his having trouble breathing. The illnesses will cause inflammation in the lungs and/or throat which will result in breathing difficulties. 

Growth in the Airway

If a growth develops in your dog’s airway (for example a cancerous growth) it can obstruct his breathing.

Heart Failure

Should your dog be experiencing heart failure, his heart will not be able to deliver enough blood to his body. As a result, fluid will build up in his lungs or abdomen and cause congestion. 

Chronic Bronchitis

Bronchitis is the inflammation of your dog’s bronchial airways and can be acute or chronic. The inflammation of the airways will lead to your dog having a hard time breathing.

Metabolic Conditions

This can include gastrointestinal problems that cause a low level of protein in your dog’s body as well as the collection of fluid in his chest and abdomen.

Laryngeal Paralysis

In laryngeal paralysis, the structure of your dog’s larynx is changed or its function is hindered. The larynx is the passage for air to flow into your dog’s lungs. A problem with this passageway can mean a reduced airflow and problems breathing.


Pneumonia is when there is an inflammation in your dog’s lungs and lower respiratory tract, possibly the result of a bacterial infection. Pneumonia can cause a lack of oxygen to your dog’s brain.


If your dog experiences trauma, for example from being hit by a car, he can experience a pulmonary contusion. This is when there are lesions present on his lungs after his chest wall has been injured. The pulmonary contusion can result in hemorrhage and swelling and may cause his lung to collapse.

Pulmonary Embolism

This is a blood clot to the pulmonary vessels and will lead to your dog suddenly struggling to breathe.

What to do if your Dog is Having Trouble Breathing

If you notice that your dog is having trouble breathing, it is important that you seek medical attention as this is definitely a sign that something is going on.

Your veterinarian will conduct a full clinical examination of your dog. It is likely he will ask you for information regarding his diet and any medications or supplements he is currently taking as well as whether he has experienced any trauma recently. In addition, you will likely be asked about any other symptoms you have observed in your dog, when you first noticed them and if there have been any changes. Your veterinarian will listen to your dog’s heart and lungs and gauge their health. The noises made in your dog’s lungs while he breathes will help with diagnosis.  

Based on what he sees during the examination, your veterinarian may want to take x-rays. In bronchitis, the x-rays may show a thickening of your dog’s bronchial wall. Bronchoscopy may be used so that your veterinarian can get a good look at your dog’s bronchial tubes. Should your dog have pneumonia, the x-ray will show inflammation in his lungs. A tracheal wash will help to determine the cause of the infection in your dog. Your dog’s blood and fecal material may also be tested. In the case of an infection, determining what caused it will help your veterinarian decide on the best course of treatment. If heart failure is suspected, an electrocardiogram may be administered.

Prevention of Having Trouble Breathing

There are things that you can do to minimize the risk of your dog developing one of the conditions that can cause him to have trouble breathing. To assist in maintaining his overall health, you can provide your dog with a balanced diet that meets his nutritional needs. In addition, you can make sure to provide him with the opportunity for plenty of exercise. Having your dog examined on an annual basis is important as it will allow your veterinarian to catch any issues that are beginning and start treating them before they become more severe.

To lessen the risk of your dog experiencing trauma, you can keep him on a leash when he is outside exploring, so that he can avoid getting into a fight with another animal or running out into a busy street.

Cost of Having Trouble Breathing

The cost of treatment for your dog having trouble breathing will depend on why the issue is occurring. For example, should your dog be struggling to breathe as a result of pneumonia, the average cost of treatment is about $550, while the average cost of treating laryngeal disease is $3,000. Regardless of the condition, the cost of treatment will vary based on the location and its cost of living.

Having Trouble Breathing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

5 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Breathing Difficulty

NANCY our dog seems to be having breathing trouble after climbing stairs. She is a Spitz/Pomeranian mix. About 5 years old. Loves to Eat. Approx. 33 lbs. Goes for walks several times a day. Do not notice shortage of breath only climbing steps. What Are Your Thoughts?
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Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Any breathing difficulty should be checked by your Veterinarian, but it is strange that the problem occurs only when climbing the stairs and not during walks or other forms of exercise; unless climbing the stairs causes some pain because of body positioning whilst walking on flat ground doesn’t, I cannot think of another reason. When a dog is in pain, their breathing can become different in response to the pain. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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10 Weeks
Moderate condition
-1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Rapid breathing

Just got my 10 week puppy today took her to the vet. She had rapid shallow breathing before and is just worsening the vet didn't really watch her breathing just said oh she's a puppy and they sniff alot. She did have hook and intestinal worms. Received meds at vet. She is now even at rest 80-100+ bpm. Breathing through nose and then panting w mouth open and extended neck periodically. I'm very concerned

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
It may be that Willow is sniffing a lot, but a respiration rate of around 100 breaths per minute and is extending her neck I would be concerned and return to your Veterinarian; there isn’t anything I can tell you to give at home but you should have her checked over again to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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4 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

she sometimes stiffens up like a seizure and makes
a weird noise. I think seizure. husband says clear
clearing bugars and snot

My chihuahua is having a hard time breathing. she's lethargic, her breathing is loud & deep sounding. her ears are hot. I thought maybe allergies because some times she chokes and coughs up mucus and white foamy stuff. also she is over weight.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations

Chihuahua’s can be prone to some respiratory problems, but it sounds like Lulu is having a hard time breathing and has discomfort; due to these severe symptoms and suspicion of seizure it would be best to have her checked out by your Veterinarian to be on the safe side. Allergies, foreign bodies, inflammation, tumours, narrow airways and other conditions may all cause similar symptoms; you could try to give some Benadryl at a dose of 1mg/lb two or three times per day to see if there is any improvement, but it would be best to visit your Veterinarian. A weight loss plan would help too. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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