Labored Breathing in Dogs

Dogs of any age may have to deal with breathing difficulties due to many different reasons. If not treated early, these breathing problems can learn to life-threatening complications. Difficulty or labored breathing is called dyspnea, whereas fast breathing is referred to as tachypnea. If you notice your dog not being able to breathe properly, you should seem immediate veterinary help.

Symptoms of Labored Breathing in Dogs

Your dog will show several signs and symptoms when experiencing labored breathing. If it's dyspnea, you will see the chest and belly move while breathing. Your dog's nostrils may also flare while breathing. Sometimes, your dog will breathe with an open mouth with elbows stuck out from the body. Some dogs will hold their heads low in front of their bodies while breathing. You may also hear noise while your dog is trying to breathe.

The symptoms will be slightly differently when your dog is suffering from tachypnea or fast breathing. The obvious sign is that your dog will be breathing faster than normal with mouth closed. However, if your dog is panting, you will notice fast breathing and shallow breaths with open mouth.

Causes of Labored Breathing in Dogs

There can be different underlying causes of why your dog is panting heavily. Here are some of the most common causes.

1. Heatstroke or Poisoning

Dogs will pant and breathe heavily after exertion. It's more common in certain breeds such as bulldogs, Boston terriers, and pugs, which is mainly due to their short snouts. In some cases, heavy panting is one of many signs of heatstroke. Dogs will also breathe heavily when they consume a toxic substance. It is best to visit your veterinarian, especially if you cannot find any obvious reason for breathing problems in your dog.

2. Chronic Illnesses

Some dogs show signs of labored breathing due to chronic illnesses such as Cushing's syndrome, heart failure, or respiratory disorders.

  • Heart Failure: Just like humans, dogs can suffer from heart failure, and the condition accompanies with certain symptoms such as reduced exercise tolerance, breathing difficulty, and coughing. The underlying cause will determine the treatment option your veterinarian selects for your dog. Common treatment options include medications such as diuretics and ACE inhibitors.
  • Cushing's syndrome: Due to certain reasons, your dog's adrenal gland may start producing too much cortisol. This will make your dog to breathe heavily and show other symptoms such as hair loss, excessive hunger and thirst, and a pot-bellied appearance.

3. Injury and Pain

Heavy panting can be your dog's way to tell you about injury and pain. If your dog is breathing heavily all of a sudden, this could be because of an injury. You will also notice other signs of pain or trauma, such as reduced appetite, enlarged pupils, anxiety, restlessness, a reluctance to lie down, and licking at the pain site. It is important to seek veterinary care because sometimes an injury may be internal and only a veterinarian can diagnose the root cause of trouble.

4. Diseases of the Nose

You may see signs of labored breathing in dogs due to certain diseases of the nose. Some dogs breathe heavily only because they have small nostrils, while others will pant more due to tumors, bleeding, or infection with bacteria or viruses.

5. Diseases of the Lungs and Lower Windpipe

Heavy breathing is one of the signs that your dog has a bacterial or viral infection such as pneumonia. This could also happen due to pulmonary edema, tumors, infection with heartworms, and bleeding into the lungs.

6. Diseases of the Small Airways in the Lungs

Any issue releases to the small airways in the lungs will also result in labored breathing in dogs. Some of the most common issues include tumors, asthma, allergies, and infection with viruses or bacteria.

Diagnosis of Labored Breathing in Dogs

In order to diagnose the underlying cause of labored breathing in dogs, you have to provide your vet with information about onset of signs, your dog's overall health, and possible incidents that might have occurred before the condition. Your vet will perform a physical examination as well to observe your dog's breathing pattern. They will also listen to his chest to find evidence of fluid in the lungs or a heart murmur. They will also check your dog's gum color to determine if all the organs are receiving enough oxygen. In some cases, veterinarians make dogs cough by pressing on their windpipe, which is completely normal. To deal with serious breathing difficulties, your vet may give your dog oxygen before asking for any tests. Blood tests are usually necessary to identify the underlying disease conditions – your vet may also order ultrasound or x-rays to examine the heart and lungs.

Treatment of Labored Breathing in Dogs

You can take some homecare measures to make your dog feel better, but they won't always work. Therefore, it will be better off taking your dog to your vet without wasting any time. Here's what you should do in case of an emergency.

What to Do at Home

  • Don't panic and keep your pet calm.
  • Your dog may be choking on a foreign object. Carefully put your hand in his mouth and sweep your fingers across the back of his throat to dislodge the item. Don't do it if you're confident enough or cannot see the object. You may end up pushing it further back in his throat.
  • Never use any rescue-breathing techniques on a conscious animal. It won't prove effective and you may even hurt yourself in the process.
  • Inform your veterinarian that you're on your way.

When to See a Vet

You don't need to worry if your dog is panting after excitement, exercise, or in hot weather. However, you should call your vet if your dog starts panting all of a sudden or you feel your dog is in pain. Also, seek veterinary care when the panting is intense and constant, and your dog's gums or tongue appears white or blue.

What Your Veterinarian Will Do

Your vet will do a few things before deciding how to treat your pet.

  • They ill first ask you a few question to understand the history of breathing problem.
  • They will perform a physical exam to find the cause of breathing abnormalities.
  • They will order blood and urine tests as well as CBC and other imaging tests to determine the root cause of trouble.

However, your veterinarian won't proceed with normal examination if your dog is experiencing serious breathing difficulties. In this case, they will first give your dog supplemental oxygen by putting them in an oxygen cage. Sometimes, they also decide to use chest tubes to eliminate any fluid around the lungs.

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