Being a brand new pet parent can be stressful, as we don’t always know what to do when a situation like a puppy breathing fast arises. A quick scan on the internet will see multiple searches for problems like “8 week old puppy breathing fast while sleeping.”
In many cases, puppies breathe fast from stress or anxiety, so we always suggest investing in calming dog beds and keeping their environment peaceful. However, sometimes rapid breathing is called tachypnea, which is often a sign of serious medical conditions.
To answer the question of what we can consider normal and abnormal breathing in puppies, we’ve consulted the work of Elizabeth Rozanski, DVM, and Daniel Chan, DVM. We will look at the mechanism behind a dog breathing fast, the possible reasons for puppy panting, and when it may be an emergency.
Why is my puppy breathing fast?
A puppy breathes faster when exercising, stressed, excited, or when they are hot. However, rapid breathing is also the result of nausea, lung conditions, heart issues, infections, asthma, blood issues, or abdominal. Therefore, heavy breathing in puppies is often a serious symptom.
What is a puppy’s normal respiratory rate?
When puppy’s breathing while resting, they should take 15 to 40 breaths per minute, with smaller breed puppies usually breathing faster than large dog breeds. Puppies faster than an adult dog’s breathing rate of 10 to 30 breaths per minute.
To know if your puppy’s breathing is abnormally fast, you need to know what normal breathing looks like. Assuming you get your puppy completely healthy, take the time to write down how many breaths they take in a minute when resting and sleeping.
You can also take note of your puppy’s pulse to gauge their resting heart rate. Doing this can ensure you know when your puppy is breathing much faster than they normally would.
17 common reasons for tachypnea or fast breathing in puppies
Before we get into all the possible causes of rapid breathing or respiratory distress, let’s briefly look at the main three mechanisms that affect how fast a puppy breathes:
1. Puppies breathe fast from exercise
So we may all remember from school that when we breathe in, we fill our lungs with oxygen. This oxygen then enters our blood supply to get to all the cells that need it to live. When we breathe out, we breathe out carbon dioxide. A dog breathes exactly the same way.
Of course, the more active dogs are, the more oxygen their cells need for energy. So they need to breathe faster to get rid of the carbon dioxide and get in more oxygen. The harder the cells need to work, the more oxygen a puppy needs, so panting is just a natural result of physical activity.
2. Breathing because of stress hormones
The second mechanism that makes a puppy breathe faster is cortisone or their stress hormone. As soon as the puppy sees or experiences something exciting, stressful, or scary, their brain dumps cortisol in the system.
This speeds up their heart rate and their breathing. It’s a simple survival strategy to ensure the puppy gets enough oxygen if they need to run very fast. But too much cortisol in the system isn’t always a result of actual danger, as many dogs can suffer from anxiety and even have panic attacks.
3. Breathing to thermoregulate (cooldown)
Finally, puppies don’t have many natural ways to cool down. In fact, dogs aren’t really that great at cooling down in general, which is why it’s important to know how hot is too hot for dogs.
Dogs can’t sweat in most places on their body (only through paws).
By panting, they send hot blood and moisture to their mouth and nasal passage. This lets the heat escape their body, and they cool down by breathing in cooler outside air. It’s vital to pay attention to how hot it is as dogs are extremely vulnerable to heat stroke, which is absolutely deadly.
Furthermore, even hypothermia can cause a dog to breathe fast in the earlier stages, although breathing will slow down as it progresses and the dog goes into shock.
Puppies who have the most problems with heat include:
- Heavy flews (upper lips) like mastiffs, who struggle to get enough air into their mouths past their heavy lips.
- Puppies with short noses (brachycephalic dogs) like pugs. The short noses make cooling down much harder for them.
- Puppies with thick coats like Malamutes,
- Puppies with dark or black coats that retain heat.
- Newborn puppies cannot regulate their own body temperature in the first weeks of life can easily succumb to both heatstroke or hypothermia.
4. Nausea, pain, or injuries makes puppies pant excessively
Puppies often pant when they are nauseous or when their tummies are so full they may need to regurgitate. You may see some drooling and heaving prior to vomiting, and this is one reason many puppies pant in the car. Just like children, motion sickness is common in puppies.
See this article for what to do when dogs are vomiting.
Of course, pain can induce rapid breathing too. Puppies will usually vocalize heavily when they are hurt (whimpering, howling, and crying), but sometimes injuries aren’t immediately obvious. Internal bruising, and puncturing in the lungs can cause massive breathing issues.
Bleeding internally can also cause hyperventilation. As we will discuss below, if a puppy begins to lose blood, they won’t have enough to carry oxygen to their cells, and will the respiratory rate should increase to compensate for the lack of oxygen.
Be on the lookout for pale or white gums in your dog as this could usually indicate a veterinary emergency.
5. Congenital obstructive breathing issues in puppies
Structures in a puppy’s airway are often to blame for breathing issues and usually result in loud, noisy breathing. It may also cause reverse sneezing, sleep apnea, and a variety of breathing disturbances.
Some of the most common issues in puppies affect our beloved brachycephalic breeds like Pugs, the Cavalier King Charles, Bulldogs, Bullmastiffs, and other short-nosed breeds. The most common issue is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). Puppies with the condition are born with all kinds of abnormalities in their airways that cause lifelong breathing issues.
Some defects like laryngeal paralysis will usually only affect older, large dogs like Great Danes, but puppies born with collapsing tracheas may suffer from breathing issues young in life. Collapsing tracheas happen when the cartilage in the throat is so weak it collapses. It is most common in tiny breeds, like the Teacup Min Pin, but can happen in any dog.
6. Foreign objects in the airway (puppy choking)
If your puppy is suddenly wheezing, gasping, and struggling to breathe, it’s vital to open the airways when choking. See this video for help with a puppy that is choking:
7. Asthma & Allergic Reactions in puppies that affect breathing
Just like human children, asthma and allergic reactions can dangerously affect a puppy’s ability to get air. A puppy may gasp or take quick, short breaths if an allergy affects the airways.
As the structures in the airways start to swell, the airways may start to close. The lungs may also become filled with fluid and inflamed, stopping the oxygen from reaching the blood vessels. Signs to look for include:
- The sudden struggle to breathe
- Wide open mouth
- Blue or white gums
- Sudden weakness.
Take your puppy to the vet immediately, as they can go into anaphylactic shock. If you suspect your puppy is struggling with an asthma attack, here is a quick video on how to help them.
8. Viruses & infections that cause fast breathing in puppies
With puppies, we always have to be aware of the dreaded viruses that can affect them and attack their respiratory system. Puppy infections and contagious diseases that cause fast or heavy breathing include:
- Kennel cough
- Canine Distemper
- Canine Coronavirus
In these cases, you may often see puppies breathing very shallow breaths, very fast. You will also see other issues like weakness, fever, and refusing to eat. These are all mostly illnesses that need veterinary treatment.
9. Lung disorders and puppy breathing problems
Lung disease is a natural culprit for respiratory distress in puppies. Lung cancer is possible, but luckily this is extremely rare in young dogs (but more common in older dogs). Conditions like pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) are usually related to the heart (which we discuss next) but may also happen because of one of the diseases we discussed above.
Seizures may also cause fluid in the lungs and increase the respiratory rate. Other common issues with the lungs are usually related to trauma and injury, such as a rib puncturing the lung or something bruising the lung.
10. Heart disease and breathing issues in puppies
In older dogs, we often see heart disease causing coughing, shallow & fast breathing, blue gums, and other serious symptoms. This is particularly the case with the deadly Chronic Heart Failure (CHF). The heart’s job is to pump blood to the lungs. If it can’t do that job properly, the dog needs to breathe faster to compensate for the lack of oxygen. Luckily, it’s unlikely that a puppy has CHF.
But they can have other heart issues, such as
- Patent ductus arteriosis
- Pulmonic stenosis
- Aortic stenosis
- Or ventricular defects, among others.
A vet will usually pick up on a heart murmur with these kinds of issues. Most of these are birth defects, and your vet may need to fix some with surgery. Of course, any disease that attacks the function of the heart will affect the airways for the same reason, as the lungs and the heart are closely connected. So if you note persistent coughing, wheezing, and shallow, labored breathing in your puppy, be sure to check out the heart.
11. Breathing issues in newborn puppies
One phenomenon that is extremely common in newborn puppies is gasping for air. This is because they often have fluid in their lungs when they are born. This can resolve naturally, but since newborn puppies are extremely vulnerable, it is essential to help remove the fluid from their lungs so that they can breathe easily as quickly as possible.
This video will show what to do with a gasping newborn puppy:
12. Organ and abdominal swelling
Another reason for fast breathing in puppies is any kind of swelling or pressure in the abdomen. If a diseased organ begins to swell, it puts pressure on the lungs and creates less space for the dog to inhale properly. There can also be congenital disabilities where the organs in the abdomen can migrate to the thorax and compress the lungs.
Likewise, there could be swelling in the abdomen from blockages (such as something they are getting stuck in the intestines), a build-up of fluid, or a twisted intestine. Many of these are life-threatening conditions, and swelling in the stomach areas should be taken seriously.
13. Parasites and breathing issues in puppies
Parasites are a common reason for swelling in the abdomen. Puppies with distended or swollen tummies often have a worm infestation. Aside from the many health complications related to intestinal parasites, it can cause faster breathing as the swollen tummy puts pressure on the lungs.
14. Poisoning and medications
Poisoning is one of our worst nightmares. When a dog has ingested something toxic, they will often begin to breathe very fast, very suddenly. Poisoning can be a variety of toxins, but one common one is allium poisoning (garlic or onions), as it attacks the red blood cells.
Sometimes medications can cause fast breathing in puppies too. These include any form of cortisone like Prednisone for inflammatory conditions or itching.
But be on the lookout for any culprit, such as rat poison or human medications.
We have established that the three most important elements in a puppy’s normal respiratory rate are their lungs, heart, and of course, the blood. Anything that affects either the amount of blood the dog has, whether it can travel properly (such as if the blood vessels are constricting), or whether they have enough red blood cells can affect whether they have enough oxygen.
If they don’t have enough viable blood to carry oxygen (we call this hypovolemia), they need to breathe faster to compensate.
Puppies can become hypovolemic because they are losing blood internally or externally due to injury. Or they may have a disease or toxin that is attacking their red blood cells. This could be autoimmune problems, parasites, poisons, or a number of other health conditions to check for.
16. Neurological conditions that cause rapid breathing in puppies
The brain also affects a puppy’s respiratory rate. Many neurological issues could be to blame, including conditions that cause seizures. Brain injuries like a concussion or bleeding on the brain can also be an issue.
So if rapid breathing seems to be a problem for your dog, always have your vet do a full health check to rule out all problems.
17. Puppies who breathe faster when sleeping
It may seem contradictory, but if you’re googling something like “9 week old puppy breathing fast while sleeping reddit,’ don’t be too distressed. When puppies enter the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleeping, they breathe faster. You may also hear vocalizations and see twitching while they dream. This is normal.
Short-nosed puppies like Bulldogs can also suffer from conditions like sleep apnea that will disturb their breathing. So in some cases, it may be a problem with their airways relaxing so much in sleep that it causes an obstruction. This may need surgery.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why is my puppy breathing fast while resting?
Unless a puppy is showing other signs of illness or respiratory distress, breathing faster is a normal reaction during REM sleep when they are dreaming. Breathing is more shallow, rapid, and irregular when puppies dream. Some breeds, like Bulldogs, also suffer from sleep apnea.
Why is my puppy breathing fast in the car?
Puppies usually pant in cars because of excitement or stress over a new environment. They may also have motion sickness or be overheating, so be aware of stress signals like drooling, lip licking, or yawning.
You can also see our article on why dogs whine in cars to help with this issue.
A puppy breathing fast and panting is perfectly normal when they are anxious, excited, hot, or exercising. But medical reasons for excessive panting include nausea, organ problems and diseases, asthma, birth defects, and even parasites.
If you see your puppy breathing excessively and there are no obvious reasons for it, it may very well be a medical emergency. Since puppies need oxygen to live, don’t hesitate to treat this problem as a medical emergency.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.
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