Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
My Puppy Is Breathing Fast. Should I Worry?
Rapid breathing in puppies can be a mind-boggling phenomenon, especially for new puppy owners who may be wondering whether their puppy's rapid breathing is something they should be concerned about. Although rapid breathing in puppies might seem quite unusual when you hear it for the first time, it is quite commonplace in hyper-rambunctious pups at their peak of juvenile life. It is, therefore, not surprising for a healthy new pup to exhibit this otherwise worrisome behavior.
While in most circumstances there's a reasonable explanation behind rapid breathing in puppies, it's important to recognize that there are instances when certain disease processes or medical conditions could trigger an increased breathing rate in young dogs.
A puppy's rapid breathing may, therefore, be divided into two categories: normal, physiological causes and the worrisome pathological ones. Understanding the differences between these two is, therefore, important so that you know what steps you should take. Usually normal, physiological causes often include scenarios where you would expect seeing an increased breathing rate: such as taking your puppy for a romp in the yard or the onset of strong emotions such as excitement, fear, or stress. Pathological causes for rapid breathing in puppies, on the other hand, are often the result of medical conditions.
The circumstances leading up to the situation is ultimately what distinguishes both causes, but as earlier advised, it's always best to play it safe and consult with your veterinarian if your puppy's breathing pattern appears abnormal before jumping to conclusions.
If you notice any abnormal breathing in your puppy, it is important that you do not pass this condition off as a mere fleeting occurrence which could soon disappear. A trip to the vet is always the best course of action when in doubt in order to ascertain the gravity of the situation and treat any likely illnesses that may have sprung up.
Did you know? Tachypnea is the medical term used to describe any form of abnormal rapid breathing. It's a common term used by many doctors and veterinarians.
Normal Breathing Rate in Puppies
At what point can a puppy breathing rapidly be a cause for serious concern? A good place to start is through an assessment of the normal breathing rate expected to see in puppies. Now, for most dogs, consider that according to the Animal Emergency Center the normal breathing rate is anywhere between 10 and 30 breaths a minute; whereas, in puppies, it may be a bit higher, generally anywhere between 15 and 40 breaths per minute.
Now that you have the average breathing rate in puppies, the next question is how can I tell how fast my puppy is breathing? Sure, you can tell when your puppy is breathing fast by watching the fast movement of his chest, but how fast is too fast?
Getting Your Pup's Respiratory Rate
To determine what breathing rate your pup lies within, and how to count it, first, you need to make sure your puppy is calm and relaxed. Also, you need to make sure he is also not actively panting. In other words, your pup must have his mouth closed without the tongue sticking out as described a few paragraphs below).
Finding a dull moment when your pup is calm may sound easier said than done considering how active puppies are, so you will have to catch your puppy at a moment of relaxation. By getting your puppy's respiratory rate when he is relaxed, you can obtain a baseline number that you can compare to when you notice any rapid breathing that concerns you.
So once your puppy looks and acts relaxed, you can start counting the number of times your puppy’s chest area rises and falls as he inhales and exhales (this counts as one breath, by the way) and record this particular cycle.
An Easy Short Cut
Now this task of counting your puppy's breath may sound challenging to do for a full minute when you have an active, hyperkinetic pup!
When your puppy is sleeping quietly or resting calmly, watch his chest move air in and out. Consider that one breath is counted as one in-and-out movement. Next, use a stopwatch to time 30 seconds and count how many breaths your pup takes in this time frame. Once you got that number, multiply that number by 2 (30 X 2 = number of breaths in 60 seconds). This will give you the number of breaths your puppy takes in one minute. Need a further short cut? Another option is taking your puppy's breaths for 15 seconds and multiplying that number by 4 (15 X 4 = number of breaths in 60 seconds).
You may want to do this calculation a few times over the next couple of hours just to ensure that you are getting a consistent finding. The goal here is to determine if your puppy’s breathing rate falls within the safe breathing range mentioned above and if there’s any need to consult the vet.
Panting Doesn't Count!
Remember, this breathing rate check should be done only when the pup is relaxed and not when he's actively panting with his tongue sticking out such as after a walk or after playing hard in the yard or when he's out and about in the dog's days of summer. Catching your puppy when he is panting and recording his respiratory rate as such times would produce a wrong reading and defeat the purpose of the entire observation.
Just consider that according to veterinarian Dr. Debra Primovic when a dog starts panting his breathing rate may go from 30 to 40 breaths per minute to an astounding 300 to 400 breaths per minute! Talk about fast!
So as seen, when a puppy or dog is panting, his respiratory rate increases dramatically, which can be understandably alarming for new puppy owners, but it is the norm considering that dogs cannot sweat from the skin the same way as humans do and therefore need to cool themselves down quickly.
Puppy Breathing Fast in the Crate/Car
Now, this is likely a case where your pup is not necessarily exerting itself physically or because he feels hot (unless your crate is obviously in direct sun, which it shouldn't be or it's really hot in the house). In many cases, a puppy panting or breathing rapidly in the crate is doing so because he is being exposed to a situation he is not comfortable. Does you pup exhibit this behavior every time you place him in the crate? or when he goes at for a car ride?or perhaps when the grand kids come over? Chances are, your poor pup may be stressed!
In this case, your puppy's rapid breathing is based on this specific contexts, meaning that it happens specifically in this, exact precise circumstance. For instance, once your puppy is allowed out of his crate after a car ride, since he has reached his destination, unless there are no other stressful events going on, he should go back to breathing normally as the process of homeostasis kicks in.
While this type of breathing is anxious breathing is just temporary, it's important to take notice. If your puppy is stressed in the crate, you need to take small steps to help him learn that being crated is a great thing. Practice several times a day, tossing treats in the crate and letting him enjoy a toy or treat in there. Great things happen in the crate!
You may want to keep the crate open the first times so that your puppy doesn't feel trapped. Unlike what you may have heard in the past, puppies are not den animals, and as such they are not born liking crates or play pens, they need some positive happenings in there to learn to accept them!
Same goes with car rides, make them fun and make sure your puppy doesn't get car sick. Stress and motion sickness are not a nice combination!
Puppy Breathing Fast While Sleeping
Why is my puppy breathing fast during sleep? Most new pup owners get concerned when their pups exhibit weird, dramatic displays while asleep.
They may be concerned about seeing their puppy twitching, paddling and whining during his sleep when he should be just relaxing and catching some zzzs, just like humans do.
This makes sense, as we likely expect a puppy's breathing rate to slow down when they are sleeping as it happens with us. However, if they are dreaming then they can breathe quite quickly. So what looks worrisome is often simply a little pup that is only “acting out” his dreams!
Perhaps your little camper is dreaming about chasing a squirrel up a tree or playing a game of chase with another pal at the park. Whatever he is dreaming about, rest assured that the puppy's rapid breathing will stop and return back to its normal rate once he awakens and he is done processing his day's adventures.
Still concerned? You can always video what you're seeing and show it to your vet at your next appointment. There's nothing more comforting than peace of mind.
However, you may want to see your vet sooner than later if your puppy is panting or coughing for no reason, if his breathing rate fails to go back to normal upon waking up of if he is having trouble finding a comfortable position to sleep.
So as seen, puppies, like humans dream and their REM stage (that stands for Rapid Eye Movement, by the way) can be quite dramatic to watch at times. It is however important that you resist the urge to want to wake your puppy up just because you think he is having a bad dream. Sleep is very important to puppies as that's when they basically get to do a lot of growing and developing, so yes, as the saying goes, let those sleeping puppies lie!
Puppies tend to have much faster heart and respiratory rates than adult dogs, even at rest. It is not uncommon for them to dream when sleeping and have a fast heart and respiratory rate. As long as his gum and tongue color remain nice and pink, and he is able to play hard I would not worry too much.
— Dr. Kara
Puppy Breathing Fast From Disease
Tachypnea, in other words, the medical term for rapid breathing, is therefore a concern when there are no obvious explanations. Therefore, unlike the above scenarios we have seen, there is no obvious explanation for a puppy's rapid breathing to occur, in other words, the puppy didn't exercise, his environment is not hot, and there seems to be no reason for the puppy to be stressed out or excited. The rapid breathing has no plausible explanation and it doesn't seem to want to subside.
Another medical term to be concerned about is dyspnea, a term used to depict laboredbreathing. This is something you need to be worried about if you ever happen to witness it. Basically, the term is coined to describe respiratory distress caused by some pathological disorder. The puppy's breathing seems to take some work on his part. The pup may be using his abdominal muscles to breath as when he breathes it takes effort. There may be be gasping noises as the pup takes shallow breaths. The gums may turn pale, white or blue (cyanotic) This is the type of breathing that you want to worry about as it often warrants immediate veterinary attention.
Puppies experiencing dyspnea because of some underlying disease, may tend to exhibit signs suggesting difficulty breathing. For instance, a puppy having trouble breathing may be assuming abnormal positions meant to help increase intake of oxygen such as keeping the head and neck extended or the elbows held wide apart, away from the body.
What diseases or conditions can cause a puppy to breathe fast and/or have difficulty breathing? There are several respiratory and non-respiratory disorders known for these signs. Anemia, heart problems, circulatory problems, heartworm disease, pneumonia, infections, fever, dehydration, pain, shock or perhaps some side effect from a medication or exposure to a toxin, are all potential triggers that may cause changes to a puppy's normal respiratory rate.
Luckily, these disorders and conditions are often accompanied by other symptoms in addition to the increase in respiratory rate so that they will alert you that something is not right. Indicators of problems include coughing fits, pale gums (normal dog gums are bubble gum pink), lethargy, loss of appetite, congestion, and exercise intolerance. The tricky fact is that sometimes puppies may mask their symptoms or owners may fail to recognize them.
A word of caution is needed with puppies belonging to brachycepalic dogs breeds, basically, those dog breeds with smudged-in faces and a short and wide skull. English bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers are just a few examples of brachycephalic dog breeds. Puppies of these breeds tend to overheat easily from exercise or hot weather due to their conformation (stenotic nares, elongated soft palates) so make sure you keep them safe from exhaustion by keeping an eye on their breathing rates when it's hot or when they're exercised.
So is my puppy's rapid breathing a concern? The answer is that it depends. What was your puppy doing when you took notice? Was your puppy playing? Was it hot? Was your puppy sleeping? Was your puppy stressed? In most of these cases, the puppy's rapid breathing has an explanation and the breathing returns back to normal once the triggering event is over.
Of concern is unexplained rapid breathing especially if labored or accompanied by other worrisome symptoms such as a fever, pale gums, lethargy or a runny nose and coughing. So as seen, when something doesn't seem right, it's always best to err on the side of caution and see a vet, especially when it comes to something as serious as abnormal, rapid breathing in puppies.
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your puppy is breathing rapidly for no apparent cause or is acting sick, please report to your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2017 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 08, 2020:
Hi Paul, this sounds like something that should be checked by a vet.
Paul Hunter on September 08, 2020:
Hi we have an 8 week old English bulldog and she has just started to breath with what sounds like a chest infection for no apparent reason is this normal?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 08, 2020:
If your puppy is not dreaming, and you notice the breathing even when he is awake, or if your puppy has other symptoms such as weakness, coughing, not eating, digestive problems or anything else, it would be important seeing the vet to play it safe.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 08, 2020:
Breathing should slow down during sleep, but rapid breathing at some point during the deeper sleep is rather normal as it's often sign the puppy is dreaming. However, if your puppy has other symptoms like a cough or say, a poor appetite then a vet exam may be important so to rule out a lung infection, parasites or a heart condition.
Melynda valli on August 07, 2020:
hey my name is melynda and i just got this puppy abot a week ago and tonight he started breathg really hard what should i do about it
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 01, 2020:
Hi Sally, in what circumstances did you notice your puppy breathing fast?
Sally on December 30, 2019:
I just got a puppy and he is breathing fast
Larry on January 03, 2019:
educational. Lots of info but didnt say much about rapid breathing during sleep..
Liz on September 18, 2018:
Teen breathing fast just seems to be moving faster and seems to be wheezing is that normal
Vanessa on May 12, 2017:
So is this normal for puppies to breath fast when they are asleep