Dog Difficulty Breathing

Difficulty Breathing in Dogs: 5 Causes Why

Medical Contributor:

Dr. Tiane DeVore

Sep 25, 2023

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If you have a dog, you know that dogs can pant from time to time. This is usually related to exertion and play or could be caused by fear or anxiety. This kind of intense breathing is normal, but dogs should not have trouble catching their breath when they are at rest or when they are not being very active. If your dog seems to be having trouble catching its breath, you might need to learn more about why dogs can struggle to breathe.

Main Causes 

The more dog owners know about this condition, the less likely it will be for pets to suffer from health conditions that need immediate treatment. It is usually quite serious when a dog cannot breathe normally, and you do not want to take a wait-and-see attitude about this kind of health issue. Dogs with difficulty breathing need to be seen by a vet as soon as possible so they do not suffer from more advanced health risks.

Listed below are the 5 main causes:

1. Foreign Objects

Younger dogs are more at risk for this kind of health concern than older dogs since they are curious and tend to put everything they see into their mouths. If your dog has ingested part of a toy or they have eaten an item they found around the house, they might have gotten this item lodged in their throat. Larger items like balls can also get stuck in a dog’s throat and cause serious breathing distress.

Never try to remove the object in your dog’s throat on your own. You should rush your dog to the vet right away to have them remove the object safely. If you are too far from a vet to get your pet help in time, call the vet and ask what to do in order to remove the object safely. There are specific ways that you can remove large items safely, but things like needles and fish hooks might cause major damage if they are removed incorrectly.

2. Bacterial or Fungal Infections

Dogs can get throat infections and things like pneumonia, just like people. This can lead to generalized breathing distress that worsens over time without treatment. Your vet will need to check your dog out to see if they have a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. Serious illness like pneumonia may require blood work and radiographs to reach a diagnosis. The treatment for each of these kinds of infections is different.

Once the vet has a diagnosis in hand, your pet can begin treatment. Some kinds of infections can take weeks to clear, and your pet will need to take all of their medication(s) from start to finish in order to get better.

3. Heart Failure or Fluid on the Lungs

Heart conditions and fluid on the lungs can also cause labored breathing in dogs. This is more common in older dogs, but younger animals can also suffer from these conditions. Some breeds are more likely to have heart and lung issues at a young age, and things like heartworm disease and other kinds of infections can also lead to these conditions if left untreated.

These are often serious concerns that can be treated in the early stages far more effectively than they can be treated in more advanced phases of the disease. Getting your pet an early diagnosis and starting treatment for these issues can make all the difference when it comes to keeping them comfortable.

4. Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a broad term that describes contagious illnesses that dogs can get when they spend time at the dog park, boarding or grooming facilities or places like dog shelters. This is an infection or inflammation of the trachea or the windpipe, and it can lead to coughing, sneezing, and other kinds of cold-like symptoms. Dogs with more advanced cases might be depressed, have a fever, stop eating, and might also seem to have trouble breathing along with their other symptoms.

Kennel cough can be viral or bacterial, and the treatment protocol for each is different.  There are tests your veterinarian can run to determine which kind of kennel cough you are dealing with to ensure that you are treating your dog’s condition appropriately. Dogs with labored breathing related to kennel cough will need to see the vet right away to avoid secondary problems that require hospitalization.

5. Pain or Fever

Sometimes dogs with a high fever or dogs that are in a lot of pain will seem to have trouble breathing. The increased respiratory rate associated with pain or fever might not indicate a problem within the respiratory tract, and is more likely to indicate the body is feeling strain elsewhere which is being expressed through increased heart and respiratory  rates.

Pain and fever need to be addressed by a vet, and you should be sure that your dog gets in to be examined right away. A very high fever can be life-threatening, and intense pain can cause your dog to stop eating and drinking like they normally would. It is always best to find out the root of this kind of problem so that your dog can feel better sooner.

Difficulty Breathing in Dogs Can be Associated with Other Health Concerns

There are many health concerns that can lead to your dog having difficulty breathing. You will need to take these symptoms seriously if your dog’s breathing rate and effort have changed. The sooner your dog is assessed for serious health conditions, the more likely it will be they avoid long-term health issues. Labored breathing can be a sign of parasitic infection, lung infection, illness, pain, or injury to the chest wall.

Due to the wide array of reasons that your dog might be showing signs of labored breathing, you will need to be sure you get your dog to the vet for an examination. This will help you to know why your dog is breathing rapidly or struggling to catch their breath so you don’t neglect serious medical conditions that need attention.

If you notice your dog struggling to breathe, or you are seeking further information please call any of our Veterinary Emergency Group locations today. Our teams are available 24/7 to help guide you in the best direction in order to make sure your pet gets the care they need as soon as possible.