There are few things as “awww!” inspiring as a puppy or dog sleeping peacefully. Not all dogs do though; some will breathe fast through their nose while sleeping, and it can be a little concerning if you don’t know what it means.
Please don’t be too concerned though; the majority of the time fast nose breathing is perfectly normal for a sleeping dog. In this short guide I will explain what I have learned about healthy sleep behaviors are for a dog, and what rapid or heavy nasal breathing can mean.
Dog breathing fast through nose while sleeping
The most probable reason for your dog to be breathing fast through his nose whilst sleeping is due to REM sleep. Just like us humans, dogs can breathe quicker during REM sleep, and will often mean breathing out through their nose with short and rapid breaths.
REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is when your dog is in a very deep sleep. According to the VCA Hospitals vet website, this is what can happen:
“A deeper stage of sleep occurs, marked by rapid eye movements… during which brain waves are faster and irregular… muscles are more relaxed during REM, but the mind is more active, and the eyes dart rapidly beneath the eyelids. During this stage of heightened mental activity, your dog may whine, breathe rapidly, and move his legs.” (view source)
Young and old dogs are more likely to breathe fast through their nose during sleep
Puppies and seniors are more likely to breathe differently during sleep than middle aged canines. Most of the time this is no cause for concern, however, in some circumstances it may be indicative of a health issue.
The first check a dog owner should make to determine if the fast or heavy breathing is normal is the duration it lasts for. If your dog breathes fast for a few minutes while asleep that is normal, however, if it persists, veterinary care should be sought promptly.
Handy Hint: You might hear your dog making gurgling noises in his sleep. This is something different and is explained in this guide.
So how can you tell if your dog’s rapid breathing is from deep sleep or indicative of a health issue? Read on to find out what veterinarians and experts say:
When is fast nose breathing during sleep normal for dogs?
According to Live Science, dogs enter REM sleep approximately twenty minutes into a power nap. This is about the time when you would notice physical reactions indicating that a dog is in a deep sleep state.
You might observe your dog do some of the following things during REM sleep:
- Rapid breathing through their nose or mouth – it can sound like a deep sigh.
- Deeper breathing.
- “Paddling” their paws as though they are swimming.
- Kicking or stretching.
- “Talking”; woofing, barking or whimpering.
If they exhibit behaviors indicative of a deep sleep for a few minutes, then behave as they normally do when they wake up, there is no cause for concern.
I would also recommend that you don’t shake your dog awake when they are in a deep sleep. If they are dreaming or even having a nightmare, they could react badly and bite without meaning to.
When is fast sleep breathing abnormal in dogs?
If your dog is in REM sleep, or your dog is hot or he is actively playing or exercising, panting and quicker breathing through the nose is pretty normal. However, there are some occisions when you should be concerned when seeing rapid nose breathing during sleep.
For example, the VCA animal hospital website states that a normal breathing rate is approximately fifteen to thirty breaths per minute. This refers to when a dog is in a restful state, not physically active or sleeping.
How fast should a dog breathe while sleeping?
If you count more than thirty breaths per minute, this may be considered abnormally fast breathing and you should arrange for a your dog to have a veterinary appointment, as this may be an indication that your dog is suffering from a disease.
If you own a breed of dog who is flat faced or Brachycephalic, there is extra cause for concern if breathing becomes difficult for your dog, as these breeds of dogs are already at a higher risk for breathing related health issues or complications.
Related questions to sleeping
I hope that short overview on why your dog is breathing fast through his nose while sleeping has given you some insight.
Sleeping dogs can exhibit a few other strange behaviors, so here’s a quick Q&A on what to expect…
How long should your dog be sleeping each day?
Many of my readers have expressed concern about the amount of time their dogs sleep. The answer is surprising and will likely ease the mind of many concerned pet parents.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), a dog’s age and breed dictates what a normal amount of sleep looks like for individual dogs. Puppies may sleep for approximately twenty hours per day and adult dogs may sleep approximately ten to twelve hours a day, which makes sense, because it is hard work being so cute and amazing at everything.
Seniors may sleep longer than puppies or adults, and it is normal to get tired more easily with age. If you think your senior is sleeping too much, consider that part of the extra sleep may be normal and age related, or resulting from a change in schedule or an extra busy day.
However, if you notice changes in behavior, personality, and disruptions in your dog’s digestive system or other physical symptoms that are abnormal for your dog, arrange for a check-up with a trusted veterinarian promptly to ensure your senior maintains good quality of life and the longest possible life span.
Why do dogs sleep do much though?
The answer to this question is interesting. According to Sleep Help, dogs sleep longer than we do because their sleep cycle is shorter than ours. They require less time to reach deep sleep than humans do; we must have hours to dedicate to sleeping because it takes us longer to enter deep sleep.
Dogs can reach REM sleep in approximately twenty minutes, while it takes humans approximately ninety minutes to do the same according to Sleep.org. And as we’ve established, it’s during this very deep sleep that your dog can start breathing heavily through his nose!
It makes sense that dogs were designed this way if you think about it; in the wild, dogs have no choice but to hunt and rest based upon their daily circumstances. They do not have the luxury that humans do of being able to plan to go to the store to pick up ingredients for dinner and then sleep at the end of their day.
Survival becomes less complicated if you are able to achieve a healthy amount of sleep with power naps as the opportunities to hunt and rest present themselves instead of being forced to dedicate solid hours of your existence to sleep and run after meals you may or may not catch until you are weary during the day.
Although it is true that some dogs sleep because they are bored, that does not mean that a dog sleeping ten hours a day is specifically resulting from boredom.
In an article published by The New York Times, researchers shared the results of a study they conducted with wild dogs. Their observations showed that wild dogs spend approximately thirty percent of their time sleeping and they have no reason to sleep out of boredom!
Do dogs dream?
Dogs display similar brain activity to humans during their REM cycle of sleeping. While we cannot know for sure if dogs dream since they cannot tell us, this similarity in brain activity means that there is a good chance that dogs dream too.
However, since dogs sleep differently than we do, their dreams are most likely different from ours. Dreams only occur during deep REM sleep. Humans spend approximately twenty five percent of sleep in REM sleep while dogs only spend approximately ten percent of their sleep in the REM cycle of sleep.
The fact that dogs spend less time in REM sleep combined with the difference in our intellectual abilities means that dogs probably have more simple dreams than humans.
This might be another thing to add to the list of why being a dog is awesome; for these reasons it is likely they have nightmares less frequently than humans do.
Should we let sleeping dogs lie?
I referenced this earlier when I mentioned not waking up your dog if he is in REM whilst breathing fast through his nose – unless it’s a medical issue of course.
Owners who observe their dogs expressing physical reactions during deep sleep may be concerned that their dogs are experiencing a nightmare and want to wake them to stop them from being in a bad dream.
While this impulse is particularly strong for owners of rescued dogs who only want their dog to never suffer again, it is not recommended to wake a deeply sleeping dog. The person who wakes the dog risks injury to themselves or the dog.
Since dogs do not sleep as long as we do, if your dog is experiencing a nightmare, it would be short lived and they will quickly return to the reality where they are very loved and safe.
Is my dog having a seizure or dreaming?
A dog experiencing a seizure may exhibit similar physical reactions to a dog deeply sleeping in the REM cycle. However, according to Purina, there is a significant difference between a vividly dreaming dog and a seizing dog: seizures present more forceful physical reactions and they last longer than a dream.
A dog who wakes up from a dream only acts sleepy, while a dog recovering from a seizure will be anxious, confused, and struggling to regaining consciousness.
To conclude, a dog breathing heavily through his nose while sleeping doesn’t always indicate a problem. In fact, most of the time, the quick nose breathing is entirely natural. It is perfectly normal for dogs to breathe fast through their nose during deep sleep. Although it is normal, dogs do not stay in the REM state of sleep for extended periods of time, so this should only last a few minutes.
If the fast breathing persists longer than a few minutes, seek veterinary care for your dog.
If you are concerned about your dog’s breathing consistently even when they are awake, arrange for your dog to be examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible.
The bottom line is this; dogs entertain us while they are asleep when they act out their dreams in woofs and leg kicks. No one can deny that dogs enrich our lives with nearly everything they do, even when they are sleeping.
Sometimes dogs twitch and breathe so fast while asleep that they cause their humans concern; owners may question if their dog is deeply sleeping or actually having a medical issue that requires veterinary attention.
If you do suspect it’s not REM sleep, please seek professional support from a qualified vet.