We all love to watch our pets catch some shut eye after a long bout of exercise. But what if it seems like your puppy is breathing fast or more heavily while they sleep? Is breathing fast in puppies a problem that you need to worry about?
There are a number of reasons why you might see this, and many of them are normal. As a new puppy owner, it is okay to feel stress and anxiety with understanding your puppy.
Detecting fast breathing in your puppy is no small feat either. Because they're so small, even more so in some breeds, it's often hard to make out whether they're breathing fast while sleeping more than usual.
But don't worry, as we'll give you some tips for how to check your puppy's breathing rate to know if they are healthy.
Below, we'll also explain why puppies often breathe fast while asleep, as well as understanding the natural sleep stages of a dog.
Why Is My Puppy Breathing Fast?
Bear in mind that there are often innocuous reasons for your puppy breathing fast, and many should cause no concern. If you've just come back from a long and vigorous walk, accompanied by a hotter temperature, your puppy is bound to be breathing more rapidly than usual.
If your puppy appears to be breathing rapidly while asleep, it's most likely because of the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep cycle. Much like in humans, this sleep cycle triggers dreaming, which can impact body movement. You might see fast movement of the eyes, faster and heavier breathing, and twitching.
Let's explore the different stages of your puppy's sleeping patterns.
Puppy Sleeping Patterns
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), dogs typically spend around 20% of the day at their most active, around 30% awake and sedentary, and around 50% sleeping.
A dog's sleeping cycle is fairly similar to our own, though they'll rotate through each phase of sleep at a quicker rate than we do. Often, they'll go through around 20 sleep cycles per night compared to our 4 or 5 cycles.
In phase one, your dog is sleeping lightly. At this stage, their breathing should be deep and steady, and there'll likely be no movement or twitching. This is known as NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. Your pup's heart rate and blood pressure will drop slowly in this phase, and they can be easily startled by sounds in their environment.
The second phase is your dog's REM sleep phase, which often kicks in after around ten minutes. They'll twitch, make soft noises, and may indeed breathe more heavily if dreaming. They're more difficult to wake during this stage, and you should try to avoid doing so. Startling a dog from REM sleep can cause them to briefly lash out in confusion.
Throughout their slumber, your dog will alternate between these cycles. You can usually notice when they're in a period of REM sleep based on the signs outlined above.
Heavy Breathing is Often Normal While Sleeping
While heavier breathing is usually associated with REM sleep, puppies, in general, tend to breathe more quickly than older dogs when they're asleep. Much of your pup's growth and development occurs while they're snoozing, and this process demands a lot of oxygen.
What's more, puppies are very active - often more than their adult brothers and sisters. High levels of energy expenditure lead to a higher heart rate and faster breathing, and it takes time for the body's pulse and oxygen levels to return to normal.
So, expect them to breathe more heavily and heavier panting if they're tuckered out from intense exercise and playing. Which is usually not a sign of a health condition. They just need time to rest and their breathing fast will settle down.
How to Check Your Dog's Breathing Rate
While resting, most pups will have a breathing rate of around 10 - 35 breaths each minute. That said, this can vary depending on which vet you ask. Your own veterinarian can advise on your specific breed and the breathing rate that's considered normal for them.
Nevertheless, you can check your dog's breathing rate while they're resting to get an idea of what's normal for them and to make sure it is nothing to worry about.
This way, you can monitor for any changes in the future and more quickly determine if something might be wrong if they are starting to breathe faster.
- Prepare a thirty-second timer.
- Watch them as (s)he sleeps; count the rise and fall of their chest.
- Start the timer, counting the number of times your pet's chest rises.
- When the timer expires, double the number you've counted to get your pet's breathing rate.
- Be careful not to touch or startle them while in close proximity, as they can bite if disturbed during REM sleep.
Even if your puppy's breathing is normal right now, it's worth carrying out this quick check to establish a baseline that you can compare against in future. This could help you avoid worrying about a problem that may not exist.
Breathing Habits that May be Concerning
While fast breathing is most often not a cause of concern, it can be tied to a number of medical conditions; some are minor, while others might require more prompt attention. In most cases, though, you're likely to spot other signs and symptoms if your pup's fast breathing is associated with a medical issue.
Below, we've covered ten of the most common medical conditions that can lead to more rapid respiratory rate in your puppy. Bear in mind that this isn't an exhaustive list and shouldn't be considered an alternative to having your dog checked over by the vet:
1. Laryngeal paralysis
Your pet's throat contains small muscles, which are called laryngeal flaps. Like in humans, these flaps move to accommodate eating and drinking, or breathing. However, there can be problems in the nerves that control these muscles.
If this problem presents itself, it can reduce the level of movement that these muscles have, which can create air resistance. This means that less air gets into the lungs, which can make your puppy breathe more heavily to get oxygen.
In puppies, it's more likely that this issue will be caused by neck trauma. Experts aren't quite sure what might cause this problem in older dogs. But watch out for raspy breathing, a change in the sound of your pup's bark, and difficulty breathing after activity.
2. Tracheal collapse
The trachea is often called the windpipe; it's the large, tube-shaped funnel that carries air into the lungs. In some dogs, the rigid cartilage that makes up much of the trachea can soften over time, resulting in problems breathing.
However, this tends to be in older dogs, and particularly in breeds like Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, and Shih Tzus.
3. Respiratory infections and pneumonia
Simple infections can lead to heavier breathing, particularly when they affect the lungs. If a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection localizes itself in the trachea, it's less likely to cause breathing problems. But if it spreads into lung tissue, your dog might start breathing more heavily to draw sufficient oxygen.
When your pup's lungs are impacted by an infection, this is often known as pneumonia. If you notice that your puppy has a fever or is increasingly lethargic, as well as breathing more heavily, these symptoms could mean that your dog has contracted an infection.
4. Heat stroke
Dogs lack the same kind of sweat glands that humans have; while we have them all over our skin, dogs only have them in their paws. As a result, they can struggle to cool off effectively, which is why they'll often pant to release heat.
Unfortunately, panting isn't as effective as sweating. In extremely hot environments, dogs can't cool themselves down quickly enough. Again, like in humans, this can lead to heat stroke. Above 106 degrees Fahrenheit, your dog can get into serious trouble.
Watch out for heavy panting, disorientation, vomiting, and a change in gum color.
5. Heart disease
Heart disease can of course lead to breathing difficulties in puppies who can't pump oxygenated blood around their body efficiently enough. This could be caused by electrical disturbances, cardiomyopathy, and valve disease, among other conditions. Essentially, dogs can suffer many of the same heart problems as humans.
If your puppy's heart is struggling to pump blood, your dog will likely start breathing more heavily to compensate for the lack of oxygen. This problem compounds as the condition gets worse.
If your dog has cardiovascular problems, you might also notice that they struggle with exercise, develop a cough, or collapse.
6. Pain or discomfort
If your puppy is in pain for any reason - and there can be a number of conditions or causes - then they may breathe more heavily. Unfortunately, dogs are experts at masking pain. They may simply hide themselves away, or they may present their paw to you, but it's not always immediately obvious that they aren't simply asking for a hug.
There are many causes of pain in dogs, which aren't always linked to biological problems. Canine arthritis, torn ligaments, tooth abscesses, and other problems can contribute to discomfort that might make your puppy breathe more rapidly.
Other lung conditions
Fast breathing can be linked to other, minor conditions that affect your pet's lungs. While they can be uncomfortable, they're less severe than some of those we've outlined above: for example, asthma and kennel cough.
Asthma isn't as common in dogs as it is in cats, but it's typically caused by an allergic reaction; this could include anything from mold spores and dust mites, to pollens and perfume. You might notice coughing, wide-mouthed panting, wheezing, and general difficulty breathing.
Kennel cough is also known as canine infectious respiratory disease. It's a common problem in facilities housing a large number of dogs, such as kennels and daycare establishments. You might also notice a runny nose, a cough, sneezing, lethargy, and a loss of appetite, according to the AKC.
When to Contact Your Vet
Don't panic if you catch your dog breathing quickly, and remember that it could be something completely innocent, like exercise or an overactive dream! But if you're at all concerned and have anxiety about your dog's breathing, then we recommend you get in touch with your vet.
While we've outlined several conditions and associated symptoms above, consider speaking to your vet if you notice the following symptoms in your pup:
- They appear pale, with red or blue-tinged gums
- They have a reduced appetite
- They're very lethargic and don't want to exercise or move
- Their breathing is noticeably heavy and labored
- They're breathing with a gaping mouth, even when resting
If your vet's concerned, they'll perform a full physical examination of your pup. This helps to determine whether your pet is suffering from any medical problems that are affecting their breathing, and where those problems might be originating from.
Trust Your Instincts
You know your dog and what is normal for them, so trust your own instincts and know what is a cause for concern. Deciding when to seek help can be difficult, but if you have any doubt, seek professional help.
At best, you'll discover that your puppy is absolutely fine, but if a medical condition is lurking, you'll be able to resolve it before it becomes more of a problem.
It is best for you to start paying attention and knowing your breaths per minute of your dog if you are concerned about your puppy breathing fast while sleeping. There are several reasons that are reasons to not be concerned with if you see your dog breathing fast.
Simple things like stress or an elevated body temperature from heat can cause panting and change how your dog breathes. The breathing can also simply be elevated from playing with you or other adult dogs or puppies. Make sure to note what your dog was doing before hand if you are worried about your dog's health.
For more helpful articles about pet-parenting tips, check out the Off Leash blog at TryFi.com.
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