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Why Is My Dog's Heart Beating So Fast? Understanding Rapid Canine Heart Rates - PawSafe

Why Is My Dog’s Heart Beating So Fast? Understanding Rapid Canine Heart Rates

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why is my dog's heart beating so fast

If you’ve ever felt your dog’s chest and noticed their heart racing, it can be a bit worrying. A fast heartbeat in dogs could be a simple response to physical activity or excitement. Just like you might feel your pulse pick up during a jog or when you’re thrilled about something, dogs experience the same thing. Their heart rates increase to pump more blood to their muscles and brain, which is totally normal after a fun chase in the dog park or during a game of fetch.

But sometimes, a quick heartbeat can suggest something more is going on. It could be a sign of stress or fear, or it might point to a more serious health issue like dehydration, fever, or even cardiovascular disease. Paying attention to when and how often your dog’s heart seems to be beating fast can help you figure out if it’s a fleeting occurrence or something to chat about with your vet. To really get into this question, we consulted Dr. Ettinger in his work in canine cardiology.

Knowing your dog’s usual behavior and physical state helps a lot too. Dogs, just like people, have their own norms for heart rate, and what’s fast for one dog might be average for another. If your furry friend’s rapid heartbeat is accompanied by other symptoms like weakness, lethargy, or loss of appetite, it might be time to look into it further. Remember, you know your dog best, so trust your instincts if you think something’s off.

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When you notice your dog’s heart pounding at a rapid pace, it can be concerning. This section will explore what’s considered normal, reasons for an elevated heart rate during rest, and what speeds are harmful.

Defining Normal Canine Heart Rate

The normal heart rate for dogs varies depending on size and breed. A typical range is 60-140 beats per minute for a resting adult dog, but puppies can have a normal heartbeat up to 180 bpm. It’s essential to know your dog’s regular heart rate for accurate assessment.

How Do I Check My Dog’s Heartbeat?

To check your dog’s heartbeat, first, ensure your dog is calm. Now, follow these steps:

  1. Place Your Dog on its Right Side

    Lay your dog down on a comfortable surface, ideally on its right side for easier access to the heart.

  2. Locate the Heartbeat

    The heart is typically found on the left side, just behind the front leg. You can feel for the heartbeat with your hand or use a stethoscope if available.

  3. Feel the Heartbeat

    Place your hand flat against your dog’s left side, behind the front leg where the elbow touches the chest. You should feel the heartbeat here. If you’re using a stethoscope, place it in this area.

  4. Count the Beats

    Once you’ve found the heartbeat, count the number of beats for 15 seconds. Then, multiply this number by four to get the beats per minute (BPM).

  5. Record the BPM

    Keep track of the BPM and compare it over time. This will help you notice any anomalies or changes in your dog’s heart rate.

Remember, the average dog’s heart rate varies depending on the size of the dog:

  • Small breeds: 120-160 BPM
  • Medium breeds: 100-140 BPM
  • Large breeds: 60-100 BPM

If you find your dog’s heart beating fast consistently, it should be checked by a veterinarian.

Can a Dog’s Heart Beat Fast While They are Sleeping or Resting?

Yes, dogs can experience a rapid heart rate while sleeping or resting, often due to dreams or REM sleep. However, if their heart is consistently fast while at rest and not related to normal sleep cycles, this could indicate tachycardia or an abnormal heart rate that might need veterinary attention.

What Is A Dangerously High Heartbeat For A Dog?

A dangerously high heartbeat is known as tachycardia and can exceed 140 bpm in larger dogs, and even higher in smaller breeds. Prolonged elevated heart rate, especially if paired with symptoms like weakness or collapse, requires immediate veterinary care to prevent severe health issues.

Breed-Specific Considerations

When you notice that your dog’s heart is racing, remember that their breed can provide useful clues as to why. Some breeds have heart rates that are naturally quicker, and others are prone to specific heart conditions that affect heart rate.

Size and Its Effects on Heart Rate

You might be curious as to why your small dog seems to have a faster heart compared to the calm thump you feel when patting a Great Dane. Generally, small dogs, like Cocker Spaniels, tend to have quicker heart rates than larger dogs. For example, whereas a small dog’s heart might beat 120 to 160 times a minute, in giant breeds it could range from 60 to 100 beats. That’s because larger animals have slower metabolisms and their hearts don’t need to beat as fast to circulate blood throughout their body.

Common Heart Conditions in Certain Breeds

Breed-specific heart conditions can also play a role in your dog’s heart rate. Boxers are known to be at risk for Boxer Cardiomyopathy, a condition that can lead to an abnormally fast and irregular heart rhythm. 

Meanwhile, bulldogs are often affected by brachycephalic syndrome, which can impact breathing and heart rate. It’s crucial to be aware of these breed-specific health issues, as they could explain why your dog’s heart is beating rapidly. If you own a breed that’s susceptible to heart issues, keeping an eye on their heart rate can be particularly important.

17 Common Causes of Rapid Heartbeat In Dogs

vet listening to rapid heartbeat on a Corgi

Your dog’s rapid heartbeat could be a sign of something simple like excitement or could indicate a more serious condition. It’s important to understand common triggers and when to seek veterinary care.

1. Excitement & Fear

When your dog gets excited or scared, it’s normal for their heart to beat faster. This is due to a surge in adrenaline, which prepares their body for ‘fight or flight.’ If the rapid heartbeat calms down after the excitement or fear subsides, it’s typically not a cause for concern.

2. Exercise & Dehydration

Just like in humans, a dog’s heart rate increases with exercise. This is perfectly normal and should return to regular levels after a rest. If the heart rate stays elevated long after the exercise has ended, this could be a sign of an underlying issue. A dehydrated dog may have a faster heartbeat and they may also be trying to cool down if they are overheating.

3. Supraventricular Tachycardia

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a condition where the heart suddenly beats much faster than normal. It’s not just about your dog being overexcited; SVT can be a serious medical issue. If you notice signs of SVT, it’s important to seek advice on diagnosis and treatment as it can be life-threatening if left untreated.

4. Bacterial Endocarditis

Bacterial endocarditis is an infection of the heart’s inner lining or the heart valves. It happens when bacteria enter the bloodstream, and for your dog, this can mean a rapidly beating heart. If you suspect this condition, a vet visit is crucial.

5. Myocarditis

Myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, can also cause an increased heart rate. It may be due to infections or immune diseases. You’ll want to look out for signs such as weakness or lethargy alongside a fast heartbeat.

6. Congestive Heart Failure

With congestive heart failure, your dog’s heart struggles to pump blood effectively, which can lead to a fast heart rate. Watch for coughing and difficulty breathing, as these are serious signs that need immediate attention.

7. Sinus Tachycardia

Sinus tachycardia is a fancy way of saying your dog’s heart is beating faster than normal. It can be a response to physical activity, but if it’s happening at rest, it’s time to check with your vet.

8. Stress and Anxiety

Just like you, your dog can feel stress and anxiety, leading to a rapid heartbeat. Be mindful of changes in your dog’s environment or routine that could trigger these feelings.

In each of these cases, your best course of action is to consult with your vet. They can assess your dog’s condition and recommend the best treatment to keep your furry friend’s heart healthy.

9. Other Heart Diseases

When your dog’s heart is beating fast, it’s important to consider that heart conditions other than the primary disease might be at play. Let’s take a closer look at some related health concerns that might affect your dog’s heart rate. These disease can include dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) or mitral valve disease (MMVD).

10. Respiratory Conditions

Your dog’s fast heartbeat might be related to respiratory conditions. Issues like pneumonia or bronchitis can make breathing harder, which often leads to a faster heart rate as the body tries to get enough oxygen.

11. Pancreatitis and Bloat

Pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, and bloat, a rapid expansion of the stomach, can both cause significant discomfort and distress, potentially speeding up your dog’s heart rate.

12. Severe Pain

If your dog is in severe pain, from conditions such as arthritis or injury, their heart rate can increase as part of the body’s response to pain.

13. Gastrointestinal Issues & Nausea

Problems in the gastrointestinal tract or nausea can also be stressful for your dog, which may result in a higher heart rate.

14. Atrioventricular Block

An atrioventricular block is a type of heart rhythm issue where the transmission of the electrical signal that controls heartbeats is partially or completely blocked. This can cause an irregular heartbeat, which sometimes manifests as a rapid beat.

15. Splenic and Organ Disease

Diseases of the spleen and other organs, such as liver or renal disease, could lead to an elevated heart rate due to the stress they place on your dog’s overall system.

16. Poisoning and Toxins

Finally, if your dog has been exposed to poisoning and toxins, their heart rate might increase as their body tries to combat the harmful substances.

17. Infections

When your dog’s heart is racing, it might be more than just excitement. Infections can cause a significant increase in heart rate. Imagine your dog’s body like a busy city — when there’s trouble, everything ramps up, including their heart, to fight off the invaders.

  • Canine Parvovirus (CPV): This nasty bug can send your dog’s heart rate soaring. With symptoms like diarrhea and a high fever, it’s no walk in the park.
  • Heartworm Disease: It doesn’t just affect the lungs; it can also make your dog’s heart pump faster. No preventive meds? Your furry friend might be at risk.
  • Pericardial Effusion: Sometimes, infections lead to fluid around the heart, making each beat harder and faster.

Quick Check-List:

  • 🌡 Fever? Check if your dog feels warmer than usual.
  • 💨 Breathing fast? Watch for any unusual panting or struggle.
  • 🐛 Preventatives up to date? Missing a dose could mean trouble.

Remember, your vet is your ally. If you notice these signs, get your four-legged companion checked out. They’ll appreciate your keen eye and timely help!

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Issues

old dog with rapid heart beat from heart failure

When your dog’s heart beats too fast, this may be a sign of heart issues like heart disease or cardiomyopathy. Recognizing the signs early can help manage your pet’s condition and improve their quality of life.

Physical Indicators of Heart Problems

  • Rapid Heart Rate (Tachycardia): If you notice your dog’s heartbeat is much faster than usual, they might be experiencing tachycardia. This could be the result of heart disease or other underlying conditions.
  • Difficulty Breathing: Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing may accompany heart problems. You might see your dog panting more than usual, even at rest.
  • Coughing: A persistent cough could indicate congestive heart failure or other heart issues.
  • Swollen Belly: Fluid buildup often leads to a swollen belly. This is a symptom related to congestive heart failure.
  • Weakness or Collapse: Weakness or a sudden collapse are severe signs and require immediate veterinary attention.

Behavioral Changes to Monitor

  • Lethargy: Dogs with heart issues may become less active. They could appear lethargic or uninterested in activities they usually enjoy.
  • Loss of Appetite: A significant decrease in appetite might signify a health issue, including possible heart problems.
  • Fainting: Also known as syncope, fainting can occur if your dog’s heart isn’t pumping blood effectively.

Remember to keep an eye out for these signs and consult your veterinarian if you notice any of them. Early diagnosis and treatment can lead to a better prognosis for your furry friend.

Diagnosing Heart Conditions

When your dog’s heart is racing, it’s important to pinpoint the cause. Your vet may suggest several tests to diagnose the issue accurately.

Common Diagnostic Tests

Your vet might start with an EKG (electrocardiogram) to measure your dog’s heart rhythm. The echocardiogram is another key test, acting like an ultrasound for the heart to show its structure and function. A Holter monitor could be sent home with you to record your dog’s heartbeat over 24 hours. Urinalysis and blood tests often accompany these to check for underlying issues that could affect the heart. For dogs suspected of having a specific type of tachycardia, they might receive a trial of sotalol or lidocaine under veterinary care to see how they respond.

Interpreting Test Results

Understanding test results is crucial.

  • An irregular EKG can indicate an arrhythmia, and specific patterns might suggest which part of the heart is affected.
  • With an echocardiogram, the vet looks at the heart’s size, wall thickness, and pumping ability.
  • If your dog’s been given sotalol or lidocaine, observing changes in heart rhythm can guide the diagnosis towards, or away from, certain types of tachycardias.

Remember, timely and accurate diagnosis is the first step toward getting your dog the right treatment.

Treatment and Management

When your dog’s heart is racing, identifying the appropriate treatment and management strategies is critical. It’s important to address both the medical and lifestyle aspects to support your dog’s health effectively.

Medications and Procedures

In cases of heart failure or arrhythmia, veterinarians may prescribe medications to manage the condition. These can include diuretics to remove excess fluid from the body, as well as drugs to improve heart function or control heart rate. Surgical procedures or other medical interventions might be necessary if your dog has an underlying illness, such as myocarditis, that’s causing the fast heart rate. Regular follow-ups are essential to adjust medication dosages and assess the effectiveness of the treatment. Understanding your pet’s blood types is also valuable in case transfusions are needed during medical treatments.

Lifestyle Adjustments and Care

Alongside medical treatment, you can make lifestyle adjustments to help manage your dog’s condition. If your dog is weak or showing signs of exercise intolerance, you’ll need to modify their activity levels to prevent overexertion. Create a calm environment to help reduce stress, which can exacerbate heart problems. Ensure a healthy diet that supports cardiac health, and keep up with regular check-ups to monitor your dog’s condition. It’s crucial to work closely with your veterinarian to come up with a care plan that’s tailored for your dog’s specific needs.

How Can I Calm My Dog’s Rapid Heartbeat?

If you notice your dog’s heart is beating quickly, it’s important to help them relax. Start by finding a quiet space where they can settle down without distractions. Speak to them in a soft, reassuring tone to help lower their stress levels.

Here are a few steps to calm your dog:

  • Gentle Petting: Slowly stroke your dog’s fur, which can help release calming hormones.
  • Soothing Music: Play some quiet music; it can be a great way to reduce anxiousness in dogs.
  • Steady Breathing: Let your dog synchronize with your calm breathing by taking slow, deep breaths near them.
  • Plenty of Water: Make sure fresh water is available; dehydration can increase heart rate.

If your dog’s rapid heartbeat is due to excitement:

  • Stay calm yourself: Your dog can pick up on your energy.
  • Limited Exercise: Engage in calming activities like a gentle walk.

However, if the rapid heartbeat persists or you’re concerned, it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian. They can rule out any underlying health issues like heart conditions or anxiety disorders. Sometimes, a professional trainer might be recommended to help you manage your dog’s behavior if excitement or anxiety is the cause, as elaborated in The Heartbeat at Your Feet.

What Are The Symptoms Of Heart Failure In Dogs?

When your dog has heart failure, you might notice some worrying signs. Your furry friend can show different symptoms, and it’s important to keep an eye out for them. If you spot these, a trip to the vet is a good idea:

  • Trouble breathing: You could see your dog panting more than usual, even when they haven’t been active.
  • Less pep: Your dog might seem tired or less inclined to play and go for walks.
  • Coughing: A persistent cough that doesn’t seem to go away can also be a sign.
  • Swollen belly: Sometimes, their belly might look bloated because of fluid buildup.
  • Weight changes: They could lose or gain weight unexpectedly.
  • Fainting or collapse: In serious cases, your dog might faint or suddenly collapse.

Here’s a quick list to help remember what to watch for:

  • Persistent cough;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Reduced ability to exercise;
  • Behavior changes;
  • Weight loss or gain; and
  • Swollen abdomen.

If you notice these symptoms and they seem to get worse or just won’t go away, it’s really important to talk to a vet. They can figure out if these signs are due to heart failure or maybe something else that’s affecting your dog’s health. Remember, acting quickly can make a big difference for your dog’s comfort and health.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you’ve noticed your dog’s heart beating rapidly, you might be feeling concerned. These FAQs address common worries about quick heartbeats in dogs, their potential causes, and when it’s time to seek veterinary help.

Should I worry if my dog’s heart seems to beat quickly?

Yes, it’s important to be attentive to changes in your dog’s heart rate. While occasional rapid heartbeats can occur due to excitement or exercise, consistently fast heart rates might signal a health issue that requires a vet’s examination.

What causes a dog to shake and have a rapid heartbeat?

Dogs might shake and experience an accelerated heart rate due to stress, fear, anxiety, or more serious conditions like pain, poisoning, or heart disease. If shaking and rapid heartbeat persist, consult with a vet.

Is it normal for an old dog to have a fast heartbeat?

Older dogs can have faster heart rates as a result of aging-related health changes, but it’s not always ‘normal’ and might indicate underlying health complications. Monitor your old dog’s heart rate and report any concerns to your vet.

What should I do if my dog’s heart rate is fast and they are panting?

If your dog’s heart rate is elevated and accompanied by panting, it could be a sign of overheating, stress, or respiratory or cardiovascular issues. Offer water, rest, and if the condition doesn’t improve, get professional veterinary assistance.

Final Thoughts

When you notice your dog’s heart racing, it’s critical to understand the potential causes. Heart issues can range from infections to chronic diseases, and recognizing these can be vital for your dog’s health.


Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


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.

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.