Watching your dog sleep can be a calming and relaxing experience. If you're lucky enough to catch them dreaming, it can even be entertaining! But if you notice your dog breathing fast while sleeping, it can be disconcerting. Fast breathing can happen when your dog is both awake and asleep and there are both normal and abnormal causes.
While it's possible your dog is breathing fast because he's dreaming about chasing a squirrel up a tree, it's also possible that something's wrong. In most cases when you are concerned about your dog's rapid breathing, you should seek veterinary advice. However, let's look at some potential reasons your dog may be breathing fast while sleeping and when it's time to worry.
Why Is My Dog Breathing So Fast?
While it can be alarming to see your dog breathing fast while they're asleep, it's not something to immediately panic about. The respiratory rate of adult dogs ranges between 20-40 breaths per minute. During exercise, they can breathe up to 10 times faster. While your dog isn't exercising in their sleep, a dream can mimic certain symptoms of activity that leave them breathing faster than normal.
Puppies breathe fast in comparison to adult dogs. They also have more vivid and active dreams that lead to periods of fast breathing during sleep.
Like humans, dogs experience different sleep phases. During REM sleep or rapid eye movement, there is a huge amount of brain activity. Dogs breathe faster during this phase of sleep as they are tapping into energy reserves due to the extra brain activity. Puppies can be extremely active during their REM phase of sleep.
The temperature can have an impact on your dog's respiratory rate when they are awake and asleep. In hot temperatures, dogs pant to cool their body temperature down. Since they can't sweat, they may continue to "pant" or breathe fast even while they are sleeping to cool themselves.
If your dog is laying down for a nap after an intense period of exercise, this can also leave them breathing fast for a period of time. Their respiratory rate should decrease as they sleep, but naps after playtime are often accompanied by rapid breathing.
When Fast Breathing Is Abnormal
Both puppies and adult dogs breathe fast while they are dreaming, in certain sleep phases, in hot temperatures, and after exercise, but these bouts of quick breathing should be short. If your dog is breathing fast for short periods of time while asleep, this is likely the cause. Prolonged periods of fast breathing aren’t normal. If you notice that your dog is breathing fast while sleeping or appears to be experiencing respiratory distress, contact your veterinarian immediately.
As noted above, dogs breathe faster when trying to lower their body temperature. Panting is one way that dogs cool themselves off. However, excessive panting and rapid breathing can indicate that your dog is too hot and suffering from heat stroke.
If your dog has been in a hot environment for a long time or has been exercising in the heat, it's important to give them a space to cool off. Hydration is extra important in the heat.
Dogs with heat stroke breathe fast to try and increase the volume of moisture evaporating from their body. While this serves to decrease their overall body temperature, it also dehydrates them. Severe dehydration and respiratory distress require veterinary intervention and rehydration with intravenous fluids.
Anemia is a health condition caused by a lack of red blood cells in a dog's body. This condition can occur after blood loss due to trauma or an accident, but it is most commonly caused by an immune disorder. In this case, the dog's body attacks the red blood cells.
Since red cells transport oxygen throughout the circulatory system, anemic dogs are essentially lacking oxygen. Breathing fast is one way that a dog's body tries to compensate for this. Oxygen therapy may be required to temporarily replenish the body's oxygen supply, but it's important to get an accurate diagnosis to treat the condition.
Onions and garlic are two substances that not only make your dog sick but also cause fast breathing. If your dog is breathing fast while asleep and you think they may have consumed onions or garlic, it's time to see your vet.
Note that most dogs who experience onion or garlic toxicity will also have other symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and excess drooling or saliva production.
Heart conditions and fast breathing go hand in hand. If your dog's heart is struggling to circulate blood and oxygen throughout the body, their respiratory system kicks into high gear.
Most cardiac conditions have fast breathing as a symptom. Some, like congestive heart failure, can cause a backup of fluid in your dog's lungs, which also causes rapid breathing. If your dog has a known heart condition, they may need supplemental oxygen therapy or a change in medications. If it is a new condition, only your vet can give you an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Upper respiratory tract infections may leave your dog breathing abnormally fast. Rapid breathing, accompanied by increased respiratory effort, like using stomach muscles to aid in breathing indicates your dog is having trouble breathing and requires immediate veterinary attention. Treatment may require supplemental oxygen or antibiotics depending on the severity of the infection.
If your dog is in pain, they may experience rapid breathing. This is a normal part of the pain response and is alleviated when the dog experiences pain relief. Whether there is an obvious source of pain from an injury or you're unsure what the source of pain is, your vet can prescribe pain relief for your dog. They may also need to do a variety of diagnostic tests to determine the cause.
If your dog has experienced trauma, you may find them breathing rapidly. This can be due to anxiety after a traumatic event or a sign your dog is in pain. Some injuries, like broken ribs, can directly cause breathing problems. Whether your dog is breathing quickly due to pain or anxiety, it is important to have them seen by a veterinarian.
Anxiety and Depression
Dogs have an increased breathing rate when they are experiencing depression and anxiety, but the conditions can be differentiated by behavior.
Depressed dogs breathe fast but they also don't engage in their daily routine. They may refuse to eat or go for a walk. They may appear lethargic or have no energy. Your vet can make a diagnosis and recommend treatment options if your dog is experiencing depression. Often this is a symptom of something else, so a veterinary exam is the first step to treating it.
When dogs are anxious, they can also have breathing problems. If you notice your dog is breathing fast and you think they may be anxious, look for other signs. These include restlessness, an inability to settle, repetitive behaviors, or chewing. Anxiety also makes dogs hyper-reactive to noise and movement.
If there is a direct cause for the anxiety, such as fireworks or a thunderstorm, the best thing to do is wait it out and give your dog space. Some dogs can experience chronic anxiety and may need assistance in managing it.
Identifying Abnormal Breathing in Dogs
There is a difference between fast breathing that's normal and a dog experiencing distress. There's also a great variation in what your pet's normal respiratory rate is at any given time. So, how do you tell that your dog is breathing too fast? The answer lies in knowing what constitutes a normal breathing rate and knowing how to spot abnormal breathing.
- The normal respiratory rate for a puppy is 15-40 breaths per minute.
- The normal respiratory rate for an adult dog is 20-40 breaths per minute.
To count your dog's breaths, count how many breaths they take in 60 seconds. Be sure to count for a full minute and use a clock with a second hand. This number will aid you in determining if your dog is breathing abnormally fast.
The following are some other signs of respiratory distress:
- Engaging stomach muscles to help with breathing
- An unwillingness to get up or move around
- Blue-colored gums or bright red gums
- Excessive drooling
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Heavy breathing that is louder than normal panting
What To Do If Your Dog's Breathing Fast While Resting
Waking your dog is the easiest way to determine if your dog continues to breathe fast while awake rather than just a dream. However, be aware that dogs can be very disoriented when woken from REM sleep. Some dogs can lash out or unexpectedly act aggressively due to being scared and unaware of their surroundings. Be cautious when waking a dog breathing fast while napping - it's best to do so from a distance by calling their name to avoid an unnecessary and unfortunate incident.
If your dog is breathing fast while resting but not while awake, it is most likely that they were in the REM stage of sleep. However, if your dog's rapid breathing continues while they are awake, their fast breathing warrants further investigation.
If your dog is breathing fast but otherwise behaving normally, you should still contact your vet for advice. They may suggest monitoring your dog's breathing over a few days to see if it returns to normal.
Treatments for Fast Breathing in Dogs
How your pup's fast breathing is treated depends on the underlying cause. Some of the treatments may include intravenous fluids, medications, and pain control.
If your dog's breathing difficulties are caused by their environment, they may resolve with a return to normal body temperature.
Psychological factors like anxiety and depression can also cause fast or heavy breathing. If this is the cause of your dog's breathing difficulties, you may need to seek assistance from a certified dog behaviorist or start anxiety medications.
Regardless of the cause, most dogs will receive a full physical examination, oxygen, and rest if they are experiencing abnormal breathing.
Monitoring Your Dog's Activity Levels and Sleep
If you're concerned about your dog's breathing while they're asleep, you may also wonder if they are over-exerting themselves or not getting enough rest. Exercise is good for dogs, but sometimes they don't get enough recovery, and it can cause health problems. Dogs, like humans, aren't immune to overexertion. Some breeds, particularly working breeds, are capable of working themselves to the point of exhaustion. But there is something you can do to avoid this.
While they're known for their GPS tracking capabilities, Fi's smart collar tracks your dog's exercise and rest times to provide you with a strain score. This score lets owners know when their dog is experiencing overexertion before they experience symptoms like breathing issues, so you can make sure your dog maintains a healthy respiratory system and doesn't get too tired.
Activity trackers like the one from Fi give you information on your dog's sleep and activity status. You can detect when they may start to develop a health problem before it happens. Since many illnesses creep in undetected this is great news! Even if your dog is acting normal, they may still need some extra rest. This gives you a method of determining when they need more recovery time and can help you avoid breathing issues before they happen.
Breathing fast while asleep can be caused by dreaming, overheating, or napping post-exercise. However, it can also be a sign of a health condition. Looking for other symptoms can help you determine if your dog is experiencing respiratory distress. If you think that your dog isn't getting enough rest or is struggling with overexertion, the Fi smart collar can help you track your dog's breathing habits.
A dog breathing fast should be examined by a veterinarian to determine if something's wrong. Once you find a cause, you can take steps to help your dog maintain a healthy respiratory system.
For more helpful articles about pet-parenting tips, check out the Off Leash blog at TryFi.com.
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