Why Is My Puppy Breathing So Hard & Fast? (Sleeping or Awake)

why is my puppy breathing so hard

Puppies are no strangers to acting all weird, and at times, these unusual traits such as breathing hard and fast while sleeping, or even breathing rapidly when awake are just part and parcel of their personalities.

One of the more worrying behaviors that puppies commonly display is hard or fast breathing at night, or when standing. Although this trait may seem unusual, it is quite customary amongst healthy and rambunctious pups and is usually nothing serious.

However, in some rare cases, hard or fast breathing (especially if it is prolonged or continuous) could be a sign that your pup is suffering from a related disease or medical condition.

The short answer is below, but please do read on for a more in-depth explanation, so you know what to look for.

Why is my puppy breathing so fast? Most puppies will breathe fast when sleeping due to REM sleep. Just like us humans, puppies can breathe quicker during REM sleep, and will often mean breathing out through their nose with short and rapid breaths.

If the puppy is awake, the rapid hard breathing could be related to over-exertion. You see this a lot with brachycephalic dog breeds such as French Bulldogs.

However, when a puppy breathes hard or fast, it might not necessarily mean this. Therefore, being able to understand the difference can help you to decide whether your puppy’s breathing habits are a cause for alarm or completely harmless.

Why puppies breathe fast or hard at night

Whilst most of the hard breathing can be put down to the REM sleep, it’s key to understand what the normal breathing rate for a puppy is.

Understanding your puppy’s breathing rate is one of the best ways you can determine whether anything sinister is happening with their health.

For example, an adult canine’s normal breathing rate is around 10 to 30 breaths a minute, with some variation depending on the age and breed of the dog.

puppy asleep
French Bulldog puppies are renowned for fast and hard breathing at night.

However, this breathing rate is not quite the same for puppies. Instead, their breathing rates are a little higher on average, ranging between 15 to 40 breaths per minute.

Although this difference between younger and older dogs may seem almost negligible, it often accounts for many owner’s anxieties.

For example, it is not uncommon for the owners of new puppies to already have one or two other dogs at home. When compared with these older canines, young puppies can seem like they are hyperventilating or struggling to catch their breath, especially when excited or playful.

This often triggers bouts of stress and anxiety in their well-meaning owners.

How do you accurately determine your puppy’s breathing rate?

The below is best used when a puppy is breathing hard after exercise, rather than being asleep.

Thankfully, if you find yourself in this scenario, or are just curious about whether your puppy breathing too hard or fast when awake is normal, determining this is a relatively easy and straightforward process.

First and foremost, you should take your puppy into a quiet room that is free from distractions and give them time to relax and settle down. Likewise, if your pup has just been engaged in rigorous play, ensure they have had a drink and that they are no longer panting.

Occasionally, this task may seem almost impossible with very young pups, as they are likely to be full of energy throughout the day. However, taking them out on a short and vigorous walk (as long as they are old enough) before trying this can help them to calm down immensely.

Similarly, throwing a ball for them to chase in the garden can also do the trick if you are unable to leave your home. Once they have finally settled down, make sure that their mouths are closed (no tongue lolling) and begin counting their breaths.

The easiest way to determine this is by setting a timer and recording how many times their chest rises and falls within one minute. Always make sure that you are only counting the breath once both the exhale and inhale have been completed, otherwise, the reading will be inaccurate.

You can also use this method when your puppy is breathing hard when asleep.

Once you have finished this task, compare your puppies breathing rate to what is considered normal for their age category.

If your puppy’s breathing rate falls outside the ordinary and is too fast, you should immediately contact your vet and schedule an appointment to find out why this is happening.

In comparison, if they are breathing normally you can breathe (pun intended) a sigh of relief and relax. Additionally, this baseline number can be useful in other ways; for example, allowing you to compare their current breathing rate to their previous if you suspect something is wrong in the future.

When is fast or hard breathing considered normal in a puppy?

Although it can be alarming to observe your puppy breathing hard and fast after a run in the park, you should not be too concerned. Panting is entirely normal for dogs, regardless of their age.

In fact, according to canine behavior experts, dogs can take up to an astonishing 300 to 400 breaths per minute after particularly vigorous bouts of exercise.

puppy playing with ball
Exercise can also result in your puppy breathing fast.

Unlike humans, dogs lack the ability to sweat, instead, relying on panting to cool themselves down so that they do not overheat. Therefore, you should be mindful to keep your young pooch hydrated during the hotter months.

Your puppy could be breathing hard could be due to stress

Stress and anxiety can be another common factor that can cause puppies to breathe fast and hard. This behavior is often observed by owners after introducing their pups to their new home for the first time.

Unfortunately, new environments, scary sights, and unfamiliar sounds can be terrifying for bewildered pups who have recently been separated from their moms.

Many puppies will continue to breathe rapidly for the first few weeks of their lives in a new household, becoming nervous or scared by unfamiliar situations and people. Thankfully, this behavior usually lessens over time as they become more comfortable in their environment.

Your puppy could be breathing hard in their sleep

Lastly, puppies will often breathe erratically during sleep, sometimes taking faster or more labored breaths whilst experiencing a frightening dream.

Typically, other behaviors will be present during dreaming, such as whimpering, tail wagging, soft barking, leg kicking.

Fortunately, these traits are completely normal, and should not be a reason for you to wake them – unless you suspect they are experiencing a particularly distressing nightmare.

According to Live Science, puppies enter REM sleep approximately twenty minutes into falling asleep at night. This is about the time when you would notice physical reactions indicating that a puppy is in a deep sleep state.

You might observe your puppy start breathing fast or do some of the following things during REM sleep:

  • Rapid hard and fast through their nose or mouth.
  • Deeper breathing.
  • Twitching and sudden movements.
  • “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 puppy 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 to be worried about your puppy breathing fast

In general, most cases of rapid or hard and fast breathing in puppies prove to be nothing serious. However, every owner should be aware of potential medical causes to prevent the worst from happening.

Always take your puppy to the vet if you notice a sudden and drastic change in their breathing or are unsure as to whether they are breathing normally.

1. Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)

Labored breathing or shortness of breath, commonly known as dyspnea, can quickly turn life-threatening in both puppies and dogs if not dealt with quickly. Puppies suffering from this condition will often struggle to breathe entirely, collapsing or showing signs of distress after the simplest of exercises.

The majority of times, dyspnea is an underlying symptom of a more serious disease or condition, such as kennel cough, heart disease, bleeding in the lungs or chest, infections, worms, and pneumonia.

However, dyspnea is dangerous by itself and can cause dogs to struggle to get enough oxygen into their bloodstreams, leading to serious complications and sometimes even death.

“It is important to differentiate a dog’s normal panting (quick, shallow, open-mouth breathing after exercise or when they are hot) from an increased breathing rate due to heart failure (noted as fast breathing or extra breathing effort present even at rest).” (view source)

2. Tachypnea

Tachypnea, also known as polypnea, is the medical term for an increased rate of breathing in dogs. At times, identifying what is causing tachypnea can be difficult, seemingly having no immediate cause.

Many puppies will develop tachypnea and start breathing hard or fast at random, usually whilst resting or outside of exercise. When identifying if your pup is suffering from tachypnea, consider any factors that could be responsible and eliminate them from your puppy’s environment (stressors, lack of water, etc).

If they continue to breathe fast and hard after you have taken these actions, make sure to book an appointment at your vet immediately.

Symptoms arising from serious diseases associated with tachypnea (such as anemia, heart problems, circulatory problems, and heartworm disease) can include coughing, blue gums, fatigue, weight loss, excessive drinking, vomiting, and diarrhea.

“Before any testing is performed, consider any factors that may be causative (heat, stress, overexertion) and eliminate them from your pet’s environment. If tachypnea persists despite removing the possible cause, and/or signs are long standing or progressive, it is important to seek veterinary attention and have tests performed on your pet.” (view source)

Conclusion

The first few months after bringing a new puppy home are often both a joyful and anxious experience for all dog owners. Although it is a delight to watch them play with their toys and explore their world, it is also anxiety-inducing when they exhibit unusual behaviors or bizarre traits.

When your puppy starts to breath fast and hard, it’s something that can be distressing, particularly if this is your first time owning a dog.

It is true that puppies are prone to health issues during their formative months, it’s not always cause for concern. But please consult your vet if you are at all unsure. I am not a vet, this guide is purely based on experience and my own research.

Every year, countless puppies are taken to the vet by their worried pet parents, only for them to find out that their pooch is in perfect health. Despite this, being cautious is not a bad thing when it comes to your puppy’s well-being.

But being able to spot the difference between a health issue and a personality trait can prove difficult for untrained eyes, and sometimes a trip to the vet is the only sensible course of action to prevent a serious problem from occurring.

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Marc Aaron

I write about the things I've learned about owning a dog, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips I've picked up along the way.

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