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Why is my puppy breathing fast? Vet's guide to abnormal signs

why is my puppy breathing fast?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Have you noticed that your puppy is breathing fast and wondered what it could mean? A panting puppy is often a good sign, especially after a good romp in the park or a rousing game of fetch. But what happens when your puppy is panting and he hasn’t been exercising? Or what about when your puppy is breathing fast during sleep? Is it a sign of your dog dreaming or something more sinister? 

The good news is these episodes can be normal, but it’s important to know what to look for that could signal a problem. Breathing fast can be a sign of heart disease or lung disease, so you definitely don’t want to ignore this important symptom.  

So, how do you know when a puppy breathing fast is normal or not?  Read on to learn more about puppy breathing and when to take your puppy to the vet for this potential problem.

Why is my puppy breathing fast?

There are several things that can cause a puppy to breathe faster than normal. Some are normal and no cause for concern, while others can be serious. Some causes of fast breathing in puppies can include:

  • Exercise 
  • Heat 
  • Dreaming
  • Stress or excitement 
  • Heart disease 
  • Lung disease 
  • Pain 

In a healthy puppy, a short lived episode of fast breathing that quickly resolves and is not accompanied by any other symptoms is unlikely to be of concern. However, if the fast breathing does not resolve or is accompanied by other changes in health or behavior, it’s best to see your veterinarian for further evaluation. 

A puppy sleeping on the sofa

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Puppy breathing fast during sleep 

Like humans, dogs experience two types of sleep: REM sleep (rapid eye movement), and non-REM sleep. During non-REM sleep, the dog is immobile and does not dream. In REM sleep, the dog may twitch, move the limbs, and breathe heavily as he dreams.  

This is normal sleep behavior and does not indicate any sort of health concern.  If your puppy is breathing heavily during sleep, he is simply dreaming about chasing his favorite ball!  

The heavy breathing should quickly resolve if your puppy is woken from sleep, however, there’s no need to disturb your puppy to check. Breathing heavily during sleep is not a problem and does not mean that your puppy is in any kind of distress.  

Signs of abnormal breathing in puppies 

How do you know when your puppy’s fast breathing is truly abnormal? A normal resting breathing rate in puppies is 15-40 breaths per minute when the puppy is relaxed and quiet.  

The respiratory rate can naturally be higher if the puppy is excited or has recently exercised. Once the puppy calms down, this breathing rate should go back to the normal 15-40 breaths per minute range.  

If the breathing does not return to normal on its own within a short period of time or if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as coughing, increased effort to breathe, changes in the color of the tongue or gums, or other changes in health or behavior, then this is a sign that the rapid breathing is abnormal and should be evaluated by a veterinarian.  

Breathing problems are serious and can progress very quickly, so if you suspect your puppy is having trouble breathing, don’t wait! Seek veterinary care right away.

Puppy wearing a collar

(Image credit: Berkay Gumustekin/Unsplash)

When to visit your vet 

If your puppy’s rapid breathing is persistent or is accompanied by other symptoms, it may be time to see your veterinarian for an evaluation.  Your veterinarian will perform a full head to tail physical examination, including measuring your puppy’s respiratory rate and listening to his heart and lungs.  

Your veterinarian may also recommend some additional diagnostic testing such as radiographs (x-rays) to evaluate your puppy’s heart and lungs.  Once the cause of your puppy’s rapid breathing is identified, your veterinarian will develop a treatment plan to help get your puppy back to his healthy, happy self.  

Depending on the cause of the breathing problem, treatment could include medications or surgery, or a referral to a specialist for further care.

Summary

Fast breathing in puppies is often a normal occurrence, especially when it happens during sleep. Puppies dream just like we do and they may twitch, move, or breathe rapidly during REM sleep when they are dreaming.  

Puppies can also breathe fast if they are excited or after exercise, such as playing with a favorite toy or running to greet the guests that just arrived at your door!  At these times, it is not unexpected to see your puppy breathing faster than normal.

If your puppy breathes faster than normal when he is calm and quiet, and the episode does not resolve within a short amount of time or is accompanied by other respiratory symptoms, then it may be time to see your veterinarian for further advice and care.  

Fast breathing can be a sign of several illnesses in puppies, including heart disease and respiratory illnesses. As always, if you are concerned about your puppy’s health or behavior, see your veterinarian for further advice.

Dr. Elizabeth Racine is a small animal general practice veterinarian covering all things pet health and wellness.  Her special interests include veterinary behavior, nutrition, and internal medicine.  As a freelance writer, Dr. Racine has written content for major companies in the industry such as the American Kennel Club, Merck Animal Health, Bayer PetBasics, Elanco, and CareCredit.  In her free time, Dr. Racine enjoys playing trampoline dodgeball, hiking with her beagle Dasher, and spending time with her three mischievous cats.  Dr. Racine can be found at www.theveterinarywriter.com (opens in new tab) and at https://www.linkedin.com/in/eracinedvm/ (opens in new tab)