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

Two happy puppies running through the house
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Is your new puppy breathing fast? If so, you may be wondering if this is normal or whether it warrants a trip to the vet. Thankfully, while there are a few medical conditions that can cause fast breathing in our canine companions, there are plenty of normal reasons that are all part and parcel of your pup being a pup.

A panting puppy is usually a good sign, especially if your little fur friend has just spent time playing with the best puppy toys or has been out for a walk. If your puppy has been startled by something and given themselves a bit of a fright, or they find something exciting, this can also cause their breathing to accelerate.

However, why is my dog panting so much may be feeling like more of an urgent question if your puppy hasn’t been playing or if they’re breathing fast in their sleep. Thankfully our expert vet, Dr. Elizabeth Racine, says that examples like these tend to be very normal. That being said, it’s important to note that in a small number of cases, fast breathing may indicate lung or heart disease.

To help you figure out why your puppy is breathing fast, Dr. Racine is here to walk you through some of the most common causes, the warning signs to be on the lookout for that may indicate a medical issue, and when it’s time to take your puppy to the vet. 

Elizabeth Racine
Dr Elizabeth Racine

Dr Elizabeth Racine graduated in 2017 as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. She now specializes in veterinary behavior, nutrition, and internal medicine. Dr Racine also  works as a freelance writer, writing for major companies in the industry such as the American Kennel Club. 

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. 

Puppy breathing fast during sleep

A puppy sleeping on the sofa

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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. Is your dog twitching in their sleep? If so, this is likely them in REM sleep which can cause them to move their limbs and breathe heavily as they dream.

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.

When to visit your vet

Puppy wearing a collar

(Image credit: Berkay Gumustekin/Unsplash)

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.

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 - although it is important to know the answer to how far can a puppy walk and how much exercise they can do in general to ensure you're not over-taxing them.

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.

Looking for more great puppy content to help you navigate that first year of their life? Find out how much sleep does a puppy need? and should you play tug of war with your puppy? for more expert advice.

Elizabeth Racine, DVM

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 and at https://www.linkedin.com/in/eracinedvm/