Out of Breath in Dogs

Why is my dog out of breath?

What is Out of Breath?

There are several circumstances which can lead a dog to become out of breath. Although panting may be a sign of breathing difficulty, it can also be seen when the dog is trying to cool down or when the dog is uneasy. When the dog is having trouble breathing you may also see that both the chest and abdomen moving when the animal breathes in, flaring nostrils, and coughing, and the head will generally be extended out from the body and held low.  

  • Anemia
  • Asthma
  • Bacterial or viral infections
  • Blockages in the airway
  • Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome
  • Bronchitis
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Disorders affecting the throat
  • Heartworm
  • Pleural effusion
  • Trauma

Why Out of Breath Occurs in Dogs

There are many conditions that can lead to difficulty breathing, and most of them can become serious relatively quickly. 


The loss or destruction of a large quantity of red blood cells is known as anemia. Red blood cells are responsible for distributing oxygen throughout the body, and when their numbers are reduced far breathing becomes less effective.  


Dogs, like humans, are commonly afflicted with asthma. This disorder can be triggered by exertion, allergens, or other irritants in the air. 

Bacterial or Viral Infections

Certain viral and bacterial infections, like kennel cough and  influenza, can make breathing much more challenging. Some of these infections are mild and short-lived, but others can be life threatening if not addressed quickly. 

Blockages in the Airway

Objects that get lodged in the airway can also obstruct breathing. It is important when attempting to remove obstructions, a tool, such as long tweezers, should be used rather than the rescuer's hand and fingers.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

This disorder is limited to brachycephalic dogs and can cause secondary problems. Severe cases of BOAS may require surgery to correct the abnormality and allow the dog to breathe more freely. 


Although bronchitis is frequently caused by viral and bacterial infections, other situations can also lead to the inflammation of the bronchial tissues. Environmental irritants like smoke or chemicals can irritate and inflame the bronchial tissues as well, instigating episodes of bronchitis. 

Congestive Heart Failure

Difficulty breathing due to congestive heart failure is usually accompanied by coughing, lethargy, and in some cases by abdominal distention. If these symptoms are occurring, particularly if they are accompanied by blue-tinged mucous membranes or gums, you should transport your animal to the veterinarian right away. 

Disorders Affecting the Throat

Certain disorders that affect the throat area can also interfere with breathing. Some of these disorders, such as esophageal weakness and vascular ring anomalies, are congenital whereas others, like esophagitis and esophageal stricture, are acquired. 


When dogs are infested by the parasite Dirofilaria immitis, better known as heartworm, the worms can clog the heart and block the blood supply to the organs, including the lungs. This can interfere with the animal’s intake of oxygen, causing difficulty breathing.

Pleural Effusion

Pleural effusion is a condition in which fluid fills the space between the chest wall and the heart and lungs. This pressure against the heart and lungs may cause the animal to have difficulty getting a full breath.


Certain injuries may also cause problems with breathing. For instance, an injury to the ribs can cause restriction or even a puncture to the lungs, and swelling in the abdomen can interfere with breathing as well.

What to do if your Dog is Out of Breath

If your dog is showing mild signs of respiratory distress, the primary objective would be to get them somewhere relatively cool, calm, and quiet to allow them time to relax. If the signs of distress continue longer than ten minutes, increase in intensity, or if they are occurring frequently, a veterinary professional should be consulted as soon as possible. If the animal is in distress when you bring it into the clinic, supportive measures like IV fluids and supplemental oxygen will typically be administered before the examination takes place. When examining your pet, the veterinarian will generally start with a physical examination where they will check the color of the gums and mucous membranes, check to see if there are any obstructions in the airway, and check for physical damage that may be interfering with the patient’s breathing. Any injuries that are found will be treated, and any obstructions will be carefully extracted. 

The lungs and the heart will be carefully listened to with a stethoscope and standard diagnostic tests, including a urinalysis, fecal float, complete blood count, and biochemical profile, will be completed to check for any parasitic infestations as well as any bacterial or viral infections or chemical imbalances. In some cases, additional imaging techniques such as x-rays and ultrasound technology may be utilized to get a better view of the heart and the respiratory system. Some of the conditions, including brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, moderate to severe esophageal disorders, congenital heart failure, and some forms of trauma, may require surgical intervention to correct. Medications may be recommended, and depending on the final diagnosis could include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, expectorants, or antihistamines.

Prevention of Out of Breath

Many of the conditions that can lead to breathing difficulties can be triggered or exacerbated by obesity, so ensuring that your dog is on an appropriate daily diet and receives an adequate level of exercise can be very helpful in preventing these conditions from developing. If your animal has a condition like pleural effusion or congestive heart failure, however, it is important not to allow them to overexert themselves. Ensuring that your dog receives regular medical evaluations may help to uncover some problems before they lead to breathing difficulties, and administering heartworm prevention medications regularly will thwart the parasites. For dogs that have mild esophageal issues, it may be wise to utilize a harness rather than a traditional collar in order to prevent any additional pressure on the neck and throat area. It is also important to ensure that items that could obstruct the airway are not left in your dog’s reach so that they do not accidentally cause themselves to choke by getting it stuck in their throat.

Cost of Out of Breath

The cost for disorders that cause shortness of breath can expensive, varying somewhat depending on the underlying condition. Esophageal conditions generally run between $2000 and $3000 to treat, treating pneumonia generally costs around $2800 and congenital heart defects average around $4500. 

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Out of Breath Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals


Yellow Labador




8 Years


1 found this helpful


1 found this helpful

I have an 8 year old yellow lab that just started to breath heavy (2 weeks +-) and appears to be very weak. She has a tumor under he left eye that is cancerest and require having a tooth removed. She is now have problem standing for short period of time and I am wondering if it related to the tumor

Jan. 25, 2018

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

1 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. It would be a good idea to have Maggies assessed by your veterinarian. She may be having cardiovascular or heart problems, or may have a disease that is making her weak and breath heavily. Your veterinarian will be able to look at her, run any blood work or lab tests that might be necessary, and determine what the cause of her signs is so that she can get treatment. From what you describe, it doesn't seem that these problems would be related to either her eye tumor of her tooth, but your veterinarian will be able to make sure that is true. I hope Maggie is okay.

Jan. 25, 2018

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