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Breathing difficulties in dogs

Difficult or laboured breathing is called dyspnoea. It can manifest in different ways and be of varying severity, but it is potentially life-threatening and can cause great suffering to your dog. If your dog is having difficulty breathing, go to a vet immediately.
Breathing difficulties in dogs

What do you do if your dog is struggling to breathe?

  • Contact a vet immediately
  • Keep calm and try to calm your dog - not getting air is seriously anxiety-inducing, but stress can make it even worse
  • Make sure your dog isn't or getting overheated. If they are, cool them down with something like a wet towel. Heatstroke can cause breathing problems, especially in flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds, but breathing problems can also trigger heatstroke

Symptoms of breathing difficulties in dogs

A dog with breathing difficulties tries to stand or sit as long as they can, and then lies down on their chest. Dogs have the most difficulty breathing when laying on their side or back. Your dog may breathe with its mouth open and the corners of their mouth pulled up. Nostrils may widen and the abdominal muscles will be engaged. Breathing may be loud and rapid.

A dog's mucous membranes become bluish or purple and pale in the event of a lack of oxygen. A dog with heat stroke has very red mucous membranes. 

"During repeated checks, a dog should not have more than 30 breaths per minute at rest. Feel free to count your dog's breathing while he sleeps, so you know what is normal for your dog" explains Klara Lundh Ringborg.

Dog barking or excessive panting

Hissing is a dog's way of regulating its temperature and is a normal reaction when it's hot or during heavy exertion. Excessive panting may indicate incipient hyperthermia (heat stroke). If a dog has been in heat, a hot car, moved a lot when it's hot outside so you suspect overheating, cool them down. Flat-faced dogs and large dogs with thick warm fur are more sensitive to heat stroke. Being overweight also increases the risk of heat stroke.

What can cause breathing difficulties?

Your dogs breathing problems could be caused by something stuck in their airways.

Other common causes of breathing problems are otherwise anatomical factors such as narrow nostrils, long soft palate, narrow nasal cavity or a narrow trachea. Pulmonary edema caused by, for example, heart failure can cause breathing difficulties and even pneumonia.

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