Dog Breathing Fast? We Look at Heavy Panting While Sleeping & Awake

Fast breathing in dogs is common and in most cases, not something to be too concerned about. Although there are occasions when a dog breathing fast can be a symptom of something more serious. Learn more and see whether your dog’s heavy breathing requires a trip to the vets.

  • Is rapid breathing in dogs something to worry about?
  • My dog is breathing fast, should I be worried?
  • What causes your dog to breathe fast while sleeping?

The answer to these questions and more can be found below:

The respiratory system of a dog is similar to ours and consists of the nose, throat, windpipe and lungs Air travels from the nose to the lungs where the oxygen is transferred to the red blood cells which in turn carry it to the organs enabling them to function correctly.

The normal respiration rate for dogs is between 15-50 breaths every minute depending on age and breed.

A sleeping pooch would be closer to the lower end, while a recently exercised dog would be nearer the top end.

A puppy breathing fast while sleeping is usually nothing to worry about as they have a faster heart rate than adult dogs and this should slow down as they get older.

Small dogs often breathe faster than larger dogs even when relaxed.

So how do we know when to worry and when not to?

All dogs pant to cool themselves when they have been active when the weather is warm or they become stressed or over-excited.

A dog breathing fast while sleeping is usually dreaming about chasing squirrels.

But when should you become worried about your dog breathing fast and what should you do?

Tachypnea is the term for rapid breathing in dogs and unless consistent or combined with other symptoms is usually nothing to worry about.

Laboured, difficult breathing or Dyspnea is more serious and you should consult your vet immediately as it could be the sign of a serious problem. Read on to find out:

  • What could be the cause of your dog breathing fast and/or heavy?
  • What can you do about it?
  • When to seek medical attention?


Dogs do not sweat like humans, the only sweat glands they have are on their foot-pads, they pant and it is quite normal for them to pant heavily and breathe rapidly after exertion or when they are hot, especially short-faced breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs and Pekinese.

However, if your dog is breathing fast or panting heavily for longer than expected in warmer months it may be a sign of heatstroke which is potentially life-threatening.

A dog’s normal body temperature is 100-102.5°F and they can suffer serious consequences even death with a small increase of only 3 or 4 degrees. Always provide your hound with a shaded area to relax in the summer and don’t exercise during the hottest part of the day.

Never, ever leave your pet in a car on hot days even for a short amount of time. It’s against the law.

When a dog’s body can’t cope with extreme temperatures heatstroke develops quickly and can cause multiple internal organ dysfunction.

If you think your dog may be suffering from heatstroke cool them down with cool but not cold water as this may cause them to go into shock. let them drink as much as they want and cover them with wet towels to bring the temperature down. It is important to get them checked out by your vet even if they seem to have recovered as heatstroke can cause damage to the major organs.

Medical Conditions

There are a number of medical conditions that can result in a dog breathing fast in fact because rapid breathing and panting are the way a dog copes with stress and pain it can be a symptom of almost any medical condition. However, some of the most common causes of fast breathing in dogs are here.

Mitral Valve Disease

Around 10% of our canine companions suffer from heart disease with Mitral Valve disease being the most common. This can occur in pooches of any age although smaller and older dogs are more susceptible. Certain breeds are also more likely to suffer with this condition, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is 20 times more likely than other breeds to contract this disease and should have regular screenings from a young age to get an early diagnosis of any problems.

When a dog suffers from MVD, the heart valves don’t work as they should, which causes blood to leak back into the left atrium and if not detected early it can cause the heart to become enlarged which in turn puts increased stress on the valves.

It is important that you get your dog checked out by the vet if you suspect this could be an issue as monitoring and early treatment is vital to stop it from developing into congestive heart failure which is a much more serious problem.

Congestive Heart Failure

Did you know that more dogs than people suffer from heart disease? If you notice your older dog breathing fast it may be a symptom of congestive heart failure. Recent studies have shown that a high percentage of dogs suffer from this condition in later life.

The heart muscles deteriorate over time causing it to pump inefficiently in turn this causes a build-up of fluid in the stomach and around the internal organs. Accurate diagnosis in the early stages gives a guide as to which of the numerous treatments that your local veterinary surgeon can provide will extend your four-legged friends by months even years after the initial diagnosis.


Don’t panic! Rapidly breathing in dogs rarely indicates cancer without other noticeable symptoms beforehand. However, lung tumours (Adenocarcinoma) are the exception and can cause coughing, panting, and rapid breathing. This form of cancer is more common in dogs over 10 years of age and could be the cause of older dogs breathing fast or more heavily than usual. Adenocarcinoma can develop in any dog but Boxers have been found to be more at risk of developing the disease than other breeds.


If your dog is not getting enough oxygen it will result in fast or heavy breathing one of the main causes of this is anaemia. Usually caused by a severe flea or Hookworm infestation, it is more common in puppies and younger dogs which is why it is essential they are given regular worm and flea treatments from a young age.

For more about the best worming treatments for dogs.

Another type of anaemia seen in older dogs happens when the production of antibodies kills the red blood cells resulting in an increased heart rate, weakness and difficulty breathing. It is diagnosed by blood tests and treatments are readily available although in severe cases your dog may require a blood transfusion.

Cushing’s Syndrome

Cushing’s Syndrome is caused by a benign pituitary gland tumour resulting in too much production of a hormone called cortisol. It is more common in older dogs and can be tricky to diagnose as the symptoms vary.

If your dog is breathing fast or panting heavily along with any of these other symptoms you need to get him check for Cushing’s. With medication, your four-legged friend can lead a normal active life but will need regular blood tests and check-ups for the rest of his days to ensure the treatment is effective.

  • Urinates more often
  • Loses hair
  • Increased Thirst
  • Tired and Inactive
  • Thinning Skin

Poison or Ingestion

Some dogs will chew furniture, others love to chew wood. Most dogs chow down on just about anything, whether they are supposed to or not and this could be the cause of your dog shallow breathing or panting heavily.

As well as the obvious things that could be causing an obstruction such as chicken bones or the odd ingested sock, they could have eaten a toxic plant, some household substance or even some common foods that we humans enjoy that are extremely poisonous for our canine friends. If you suspect your pet has swallowed something is important to get them checked out by your vet immediately.

Is Shock the Cause of your Dogs Fast Breathing?

If your dog is breathing fast after being hit by a car or fight with another dog it more than likely, could be suffering from the shock which can potentially be life-threatening.

Shock is the medical term for loss of circulation, resulting in blood pressure falling and the organs not receiving the blood they need to function.

Shock in dogs can also be caused by allergic reactions to insect bites or food, whereas septic shock can result from infections and diseases such as pneumonia and heart failure.

If you think your dog’s fast breathing is a result of shock you must seek medical attention urgently as it can be extremely serious.

Collapsing Trachea or Upper Airway Obstruction

Dogs that have naturally narrow or short airways or have been bred to emphasise their flat faces (brachycephalic breeds) can suffer serious problems with their respiratory system although invariably cute these breeds usually snore and can’t cope with excessive heat.

The compressed tissues in the nose and back of the throat restrict airflow causing difficulty breathing. Any inflammation or swelling in the airway will prevent them from getting enough oxygen so they will tend to breathe faster. These breeds include

  • Chow Chow
  • French Bulldog
  • Boxer
  • Boston Terrier
  • King Charles Spaniel
  • Shih Tzu
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Shar-Pei
  • Dogue De Bordeaux
  • Bullmastiff
  • Newfoundland
  • Affenpinscher
  • Japanese Chin

Other breeds such as Poodles and Pomeranians have tracheas that don’t conform to the usual oval shape which can also result in breathing problems.

If you have a dog that suffers from brachycephalic airway syndrome it is important not to let them become overweight as this can exacerbate the condition. Don’t let them get overheated or subject them to stress. It is also essential to be aware of your dog’s normal breathing and see a vet if it changes. The condition tends to worsen as the dog gets older, and sometimes surgery is necessary.


If your bitch has recently had a litter of pups and is breathing faster and more heavily, it could be a sign of Eclampsia or milk fever as it is commonly known. A dog breathing fast in this instance needs help. This is an emergency condition and can be life-threatening. Caused by a drop in blood calcium levels it usually occurs when the puppies are between one and five weeks old. If you suspect your nursing bitch has eclampsia stop the pups from suckling and seek immediate veterinary attention. As long as the condition is treated promptly your dog should make a full recovery


A dog that is suffering pain in any part of its body will breathe faster therefore if your dog’s fast breathing can’t be accounted for by exercise or heat is important to check them over to make sure they haven’t suffered an injury or are suffering from internal pain, run your hands over the legs neck and abdomen gently watching for a reaction and seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

Stress can also cause rapid breathing in dogs and some breeds like Poodles are extremely sensitive to stress. Noise, traffic even a visit to the vets can be very stressful for some of our pets which can result in us wondering “Why is my dog breathing fast?”

Therefore, it is important puppies are introduced to as many social experiences as possible when they are young hopefully this will reduce them becoming stressed out as they get older. Inconsistent training and punishment can also cause a dog to become stressed as they don’t understand what we want.


So there you have it. 9 out of 10 times there is nothing to be worried about your dog breathing fast most of the time it is due to something perfectly normal. However, if it continues, is accompanied by difficulty breathing or any other symptoms it is important to get your faithful friend checked out by a professional to rule out other causes.

Dogs can’t let us know when they are suffering, so it is important as responsible owners that we watch out for anything out of the ordinary to ensure if there is anything wrong the vet can catch it early. After all, we all want our best friends to live long and happy life. For more articles about canine health its here.

John Devlin

Hi, my name is John, and I am the founder of Dogsbarn – a UK-based website dedicated to helping the owners of furry friends enjoy life with their four-legged companion. We currently own two golden retrievers, George and Henry, who love running around in the park together. We are thinking about adding a third – called Frank! Our mission is to provide excellent guides and introduce great products we’ve bought or come across online.