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Labored Breathing in Dogs

Labored Breathing in Dogs

Your dog might pant without trouble breathing. Labored breathing means they struggle to breathe. Our Little Elm vets describe labored breathing in dogs and what to do if your pet has breathing problems.

What is Labored Breathing in dogs?

In order to be able to recognize when your dog is having trouble breathing, it's important to distinguish between breathing quickly (tachypnea) and actually struggling to breathe (dyspnea).


  • Tachypnea is quick breathing during exercise. When your dog runs and pants, it doesn't mean they have trouble breathing.


  • Dyspnea is the term for labored breathing in dogs. This term means that your animal is having difficulties breathing, or is short of breath.

Labored breathing is a veterinary emergency that requires immediate action, but how can you tell if your pet is struggling to breathe properly? When  dogs are experiencing breathing difficulties, the symptoms they will exhibit may be different.

What are the signs of labored breathing in dogs?

When a dog is having difficulty breathing, you are likely to notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Exercise intolerance (most notably, when you take them for a walk)
  • Persistent cough, especially at night
  • An increased respiratory rate > 40 bpm
  • Stretching the neck out to breathe
  • An unusually hoarse-sounding bark
  • Sighs of anxiety, such as restlessness or pacing
  • Constant panting
  • Sitting up with a wide stance to breathe (front legs/elbows spread out)
  • Belly heaving in and out more as they breathe
  • Foaming or frothing at the mouth
  • Blue-tinged gums

What should I do if my pet is having difficulty breathing?

If your dog shows breathing problems, visit the vet! Labored breathing is a vet emergency. The vet must find the cause to help your pet breathe easier.

What causes labored breathing in dogs?

Dogs aren't always susceptible to the same conditions, but some of the most common health issues that can lead to breathing difficulties in either type of animal include:

  • Asthma
  • Infectious diseases 
  • Growths in the upper airway
  • Heart failure
  • Cancer
  • Metabolic issues
  • Pneumonia
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Trauma

How is labored breathing in pets treated?

After your pet has had a thorough examination, the treatment prescribed by your veterinarian will depend upon the underlying cause of your pet's breathing difficulties. Some treatments for labored breathing include:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • IV fluids
  • Steroids to reduce airway inflammation
  • Bronchodilators to expand the airway and increase airflow
  • Diuretics to treat fluid in the lungs

Additional diagnostic testing may be required in order to pinpoint the precise cause of your pet's breathing difficulties. Diagnostic testing could include chest or abdominal x-rays and electrocardiogram or echocardiogram to check heart function. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog is struggling to breathe normally, urgent care is required. Contact our Little Elm CA vets or visit our daytime emergency animal hospital right away. Our experienced vets have experience in diagnosing and treating labored breathing in dogs.

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Healthy Paws Veterinary Center is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Little Elm companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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