Why Is My Dog Breathing Heavily?

It is likely you will be concerned if your dog is breathing heavily. Here we look at some of the most common causes of breathing problems in dogs.

It is likely you will be concerned if your dog is breathing heavily. Here we look at some of the most common causes of breathing problems in dogs.

Panting is a natural occurrence with dogs. It’s normal for dogs to pant, especially when they’re hot, excited, or energetic.

Because dogs cannot sweat like their humans, they need to breathe fast to allow air to circulate efficiently through the body. Fast breathing allows a dog’s body to get back to a normal temperature.

But heavy breathing can also be the symptom of more serious underlying diseases. If your dog is breathing heavily at rest, it can be a red flag for a number of serious health issues.

Dog panting and breathing difficulties can affect all ages and breeds of dog, though certain breeds are more susceptible simply because of the way they’re made – the narrow nostrils of short-faced breeds, such as bulldogs, make them more at risk of genetic breathing problems.

Knowing your dog’s normal breathing and panting, will make it much easier for you to recognize weird breathing patterns and changes. Healthy, adult dogs typically take 10 to 30 breaths per minute, depending on their size. Puppies generally breathe at a higher rate.

Breathing is naturally slower when dogs are relaxed or asleep, and naturally faster when up and awake and active. In fact, when exercising, your pooch will breathe faster – perhaps by as much as 10 times, which means they’ll breathe in 100 to 350 times each minute.

Now that you have an idea of what is normal, let’s talk about what might be a cause for concern.

Reasons for Heavy Breathing in Dogs

When your dog is breathing rapidly, heavier than normal it may be a sign of the following.

Heat Stroke

In order to help regulate their body temperature, humans sweat through special glands in their skin when they get hot. However, dogs only have sweat glands in their paws. This is not enough to help them cool off completely, so they rely on panting as a primary mechanism for dissipating heat.

Normally, a dog’s body temperature ranges between 100.2° and 102.5°F. When a dog’s body temperature increases past 104°, he enters the danger zone. With a body temperature above 106°, heat stroke can happen.

Dogs that are susceptible to heat stroke will start to pant heavily if they become hyperthermic in an effort to try and cool off.


When a dog is in pain, he is unable to directly tell us. Heavy breathing can be a sign that your dog has an injury or illness and is in pain. You may even notice a change in the movement of the abdominal muscles or those of the chest. Both sets of muscles are involved in the breathing process.

If you suspect your dog was injured or experiencing trauma, perform a body check of your dog to see if there are any cuts, wounds or sensitive areas that cause him pain.

On the other hand, an injury may be internal. So if you suspect your pet may be in pain, don’t delay. Seek veterinary care right away.

Heart Failure

Like people, dogs can suffer from heart failure. And just like people, dogs may show some of the same symptoms, including breathing difficulty.

If your dog’s heart isn’t pumping oxygen around the body like it’s supposed to, then heavy breathing will be his way of trying to get some relief from being short of breath all the time.

Most commonly, congestive heart failure presents by persistent coughing and difficulty breathing even while resting.

As fluid pools in the lungs or abdomen due to congestive heart failure, breathing becomes even more difficult.

The ailment can worsen over time and if you suspect your dog’s heavy breathing is due to heart failure, take him to your vet for diagnosis and treatment.


Sometimes dogs have been exposed to toxic substances or even just eaten treats that just aren’t suitable for dog metabolisms.

Symptoms of poisoning in dogs can vary tremendously depending on the type of poison they’ve encountered. Toxins that affect the respiratory system may cause wheezing, labored breathing, shortness of breath, slowed breathing, and difficulty breathing.

Moreover, you may also see the gums turn blue in color. This is a sign that your dog isn’t getting enough oxygen and can be a life-threatening situation.

If the lungs are affected by a poison, then usually you will notice a fast breathing rate. If your dog is struggling to breathe you may see a lot of abdominal movement. They may move their elbows away from their body and stretch their neck out and breathe through their mouth.

This is in an attempt to aid the movement of air into their lungs.

Stress and Anxiety

Just like humans, animals are susceptible to the effects of stress and anxiety. Thunderstorms, car rides, or meeting new dogs can all cause anxiety, and your dog’s physical signs and body language are the only way he can tell you he’s uncomfortable.

When a dog gets stressed or anxious, its heart rate increases. This means that more oxygenated blood is pumping through the body, demanding more oxygen from the system.

When dogs are stressed, they may breathe heavier than normal as a way to calm or cool themselves. In addition to panting excessively or breathing fast, anxious dogs may also yawn when not tired, cower and tremble, or become destructive or aggressive.

For stress or anxiety, special training with a certified dog behaviorist may be required.


While many things can cause a dog to have fast, heavy breathing, knowing the symptoms of possible ailments that cause a dog breathing heavy or a dog breathing fast can be life-saving and help your dog feel better.

To tell if your dog is breathing abnormally fast, count your dog’s breaths for a minute while they are resting or sleeping. Anything under 30 breaths per minute is considered normal, anything above 35 may be a cause for concern.

If the breathing rate is fast without good reason, and especially if your dog is showing other symptoms, it is important to make contact with your local veterinary clinic as soon as possible.

The vet can also help you create a plan on addressing heavy breathing if your dog has a medical condition.