The respiratory system includes the nose, throat, trachea and lungs. Air enters the nose and is carried down into the lungs, through a process referred to as inspiration. In the lungs, oxygen is transferred to the red blood cells, which then carry the oxygen to other organs in the body.
Diseases that interfere with the steps of respiration may cause fast breathing in puppies.
There are several causes for rapid breathing in puppies. Tachypnea is the term used for rapid breathing and this may or may not be related to respiratory distress, which is known as dyspnea.
If your puppy is breathing fast it is possible that she is perfectly healthy and is just trying to cool down after exercise or a stressful event; however, you should keep an eye on the signs of respiratory distress, which could indicate a more serious disease.
It is important to differentiate between tachypnea (fast breathing), dyspnea (respiratory distress) and panting. Tachypnea is characterized by a breathing rate that is higher than normal (more than 15 to 35 breaths per minute in puppies) and it usually occurs while your dog has her mouth closed.
On the other hand, panting is a fast breathing with the mouth opened. It is normal for your puppy to pant after performing a physical activity or when the environmental temperature is high, and this should not be confused with tachypnea.
Finally, fast breathing in puppies can be caused by respiratory distress, which in most cases, is caused by a disease. If your puppy has difficulty breathing he/she may show some of the following signs:
- Movements of the belly and chest while breathing
- Nostrils flare open when breathing
- Abnormal positions (e.g. elbows sticking out from the body)
- Noisy breathing
- The neck and head are extended
Causes Of Fast Breathing In Puppies
Your Puppy Is Trying To Cool Down
Your puppy may be breathing fast because she wants to cool down after exercise or because the environmental temperature is high. Unlike us, dogs are not able to regulate their body temperature by sweating.
Dogs have a small amount of sweat glands, which are mostly in the paw pads; however their main method for getting rid of heat is painting. After vigorous physical activity take your puppy to a cool place and provide her with a good amount of fresh water to help her cool off.
Your Puppy Is Stressed
Fear and stress will activate a series of neurological responses in your puppy that may lead to fast breathing. Puppies that are adjusting to a new environment or that are being trained may be stressed; try to introduce your best friend to new situations one at a time and train her in small sessions to avoid excessive stress.
Your Puppy Is Suffering A Medical Condition
There are several medical conditions that may make you puppy breath fast. When organs are not receiving enough oxygen the breathing rate is increased in an attempt to get more oxygen.
Respiratory and non-respiratory diseases such as heartworms, anemia, asthma and heart failure, can cause respiratory distress. Some of the diseases that cause fast breathing in puppies are originated by an obstruction of the passage of air from the nose to the lungs.
Inflammation of the abdomen may also cause fast breathing. If you see that your puppy is having trouble to breath you should take her to veterinarian immediately. Pain and fever may also make your puppy breath faster.
Respiratory Diseases that May Cause Fast Breathing in Puppies
- Narrowing and inflammation of the nostrils
- Tumors in the upper respiratory airways
- Soft palate congenital defects
- Swelling, collapse, paralysis or spasm of the larynx (throat)
- Collapse of the trachea
- Foreign bodies in the trachea
- Parasites (lungworms)
- Fluid in the chest cavity (Pleural effusion)
- Air in the chest cavity (Pneumothorax)
- Tumors in the chest cavity
Non-Respiratory Diseases that May Cause Fast Breathing in Puppies
- Left-sided congestive heart failure
- Neuromuscular diseases
- Cushing’s disease
- Abdominal diseases (masses, enlarged organs or bloating)
Should You Worry About Fast Breathing?
You should not worry about fast breathing if your dog is just painting or if it is only a transitory tachypnea, but if your puppy presents any of the following signs, it is possible that your best friend is sick and you should seek medical care immediately.
- Difficulty breathing
- Blue gums
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Excessive drinking or urinating
Treatment of Tachypnea in Dogs
Treatment of fast breathing will depend on the underlying cause. If your puppy is just painting you have nothing to worry about. If your best friend is scared or stressed you should help her to stay calmed and try to remove the stressor from the environment.
Finally, if your puppy is having respiratory distress she should visit the vet immediately to avoid the serious consequences of not having enough oxygen in the body.
Sederquist, S. (2015). So Your Puppy Has A Murmur…. Top Three Congenital Defects In Canines. ACVIM 2015. West Lafayette, IN, USA.
Fortney, W.D. (2010). The “Normal” Newborn Puppy and Kitten. Western Veterinary Conference 2010. Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, USA.
Dr. Stephanie Flansburg-Cruz (right) practices mixed animal veterinary medicine and she has a special interest in shelter medicine and animal welfare. Stephanie enjoys volunteering at local animal shelters, reading, writing and traveling.
Mary Nielsen founded MySweetPuppy.net and is a passionate dog lover, blogger, and part-time music teacher. She founded to share her ups and downs of being a pet parent to a bunch of adorable mutts. When she is not playing with them or teaching, you can find her experimenting in the kitchen.