Health Topics  >  Respiratory  > Breathing Difficulties

What are symptoms of breathing difficulties in dogs?

A normal dog should breathe as easily as they wags their tail – it should be effortless, natural, and simple. Sure, sometimes they may pant a little bit after playing a solid game of fetch, but usually that comes along with a goofy open-mouthed smile and you know it’s nothing to worry about.

But what about when it’s not so effortless? What about when your dog suddenly seems to be focusing on nothing but breathing?

Difficulty breathing can quickly cause distress both for dogs and their owners. While some cases turn out to be something as simple as allergies, other breathing issues can be urgent and life-threatening. It’s important to be on the lookout for changes to your dog’s breathing and let your veterinarian know what’s going on.


Labored Breathing

The term labored breathing means that there is extra ‘work’ going into the act of breathing. Medically, this is referred to as ‘dyspnea’.

Rather than the natural, effortless rising and falling of the ribcage, your dog might look like they’re working really hard to move that air in and out. They might extend their neck and flare their nostrils to get in as much air as they can. When standing, they’ll often space their front legs widely with their elbows turned out to make more room in their chest.

Dogs with labored breathing also tend to have more exaggerated movement in their belly when they breathe.  

When resting, you might notice their chest expanding much more dramatically than it usually does. They also may be hesitant to lie on their sides and instead lie more upright on their chests with their neck extended out between their front legs. 

Whether it’s sudden or more chronic, labored breathing is often a serious issue. 


Rapid Breathing

Sometimes, rather than taking big exaggerated labored breaths, some dogs with breathing troubles will take quick shallow breaths instead. A normal dog’s breathing rate is approximately 15-30 breaths per minute. So if a dog is at rest and taking more like 40-60 breaths per minute, there is likely an underlying issue


Excessive or Inappropriate Panting

While it’s normal for your dog to pant after chasing a ball on a warm day, there are occasions where panting is cause for concern. For example, if your dog is panting so hard that they have to stop and lie down, or they stumble while trying to walk. Some dogs might pant so hard that their tongue is sticking way out, and their gum color looks bright red instead of it’s normal pink. 

Other dogs may start panting a lot more frequently than usual, even when they’re just at home and should be relaxing. Any kind of unexplained or excessive panting should be cause for concern.