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Why Is My Dog Breathing Fast While Sleeping?

Does your dog breathe fast while sleeping or resting? An increased respiratory rate can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition – especially if the dog’s breathing remains fast for more than a few minutes.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to measure your dog’s breathing rate, what’s considered a normal respiratory rate range, and the potential causes of this issue. We’ll also go through other symptoms to watch for and when to contact a vet.

How Fast Should Dogs Normally Breathe When Sleeping?

Why Is My Dog Breathing Fast While Sleeping?

A dog’s respiratory rate varies depending on breed, age, and whether they have underlying health conditions.

But as a general rule, an adult dog should maintain a breathing rate of 15-35 breaths per minute when resting or asleep.

A low respiratory rate usually isn’t something to worry about – unless there are other symptoms of illness.

However, if your dog’s breathing rate is above 30-35 breaths per minute when resting, then this could indicate a medical issue.

Continuous fast breathing should always be investigated by a vet. But if fast breathing is combined with other symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, pale gums, coughing, behaviour change, or a distended stomach, then you should contact a vet immediately. It may be a medical emergency that requires urgent treatment.

Tip: Keep in mind that panting is normal canine behaviour. Dogs can’t sweat, so they pant to cause water evaporation, which provides a cooling effect. Panting should quickly return to a normal breathing rate when the dog is resting though.

How To Measure Your Dog’s Respiratory Rate

It’s important to accurately measure your dog’s breathing rate. You can use this data to check whether breathing settles back into a normal rhythm, or if it remains elevated for extended periods.

Here’s how to measure a dog’s respiratory rate:

  1. Wait until your dog is sleeping soundly.
  2. Don’t touch your dog, as this could startle them. Instead, watch their chest until you can see when they are taking a breath.
  3. Set a timer for 60 seconds and count how many breaths your dog takes during that time.
  4. Repeat the process several times, with a 15-30 minute gap, to get a more accurate result. 

Tip: Keep a log of your dog’s breathing rate so you can see how it changes over time. An ongoing record of your dog’s respiratory rate is a useful tool for noticing potential health issues.

5 Reasons Your Dog Might Breathe Fast Or Heavy While Sleeping

1. Dreaming

Fast breathing when sleeping isn’t always caused by a medical condition – your dog could just be dreaming!

If your dog is having an exciting dream, such as chasing a squirrel or scavenging for food, then their heart rate and breathing rate will increase. Faster breathing is often accompanied by twitching or kicking, rapid eye movement, and even vocalisations.

Canine dreams typically last 1-3 minutes. The dog’s breathing rate will then settle back to a healthy level.

If your dog’s breathing rate doesn’t quickly return to normal, or you can’t see other signs of dreaming, then you should contact a vet.

Note: Puppies often dream more than adult canines, but all dogs can have dreams.

2. Heart Disease or Failure

Heart disease is one of the most common health conditions to cause faster breathing.

When the heart isn’t able to pump enough oxygenated blood around the body, the dog must breathe faster to bring in more air.

Heart disease can also cause fluid to build up in the lungs when the dog is lying down. This leads to difficulty breathing and regular coughing. It also often forces the dog to move around a lot when resting.

Senior dogs are more likely to suffer from heart disease, but heart issues can affect dogs of any age. For example, puppies may suffer from a congenital heart defect, causing symptoms such as tiredness, weakness, and a consistently high breathing rate.

So, if you notice your dog is breathing faster when resting, watch for other symptoms of heart disease. These can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Coughing
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Unsettled sleep
  • Weakness
  • Collapse or fainting

Contact a vet immediately if you notice these symptoms. While heart disease isn’t curable, it can be treated to slow the progression and increase your dog’s quickly of life.

3. Lung Conditions

Any condition that makes it difficult for a dog to take a full breath will increase their respiratory rate. After all, if the lungs aren’t working efficiently, then the dog must breathe at a faster rate to ensure enough oxygen is available.

Some examples of conditions affecting the lungs include:

  • Asthma
  • Kennel cough
  • Respiratory infections
  • Lung disease
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Windpipe injury or collapse
  • Allergies (due to the airways being constricted)

Respiratory issues nearly always cause other symptoms, such as coughing or lethargy. Contact a vet immediately if you notice fast breathing combined with other symptoms.

Certain breeds are also more prone to breathing issues. Brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs and bulldogs, have narrowed airways that make it difficult to breathe. If you have a brachycephalic dog, always monitor their breathing and contact your vet if you have any concerns.

4. Anemia

Lungs transfer oxygen from the air into red blood cells, which are then pumped around the body by the heart. Anemia is when there are fewer red blood cells than required, which causes both the heart rate and breathing rate to increase, in order to circulate enough oxygen.

Anemia isn’t a condition itself, but instead a symptom of another underlying issue. These can include:

  • Parasites such as ticks and hookworms (the most common cause of anemia in puppies)
  • Parvovirus
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Chemical poisoning
  • Food poisoning
  • Cancer

An anemic dog will often show other symptoms, such as a cold body temperature, pale gums, lethargy, and weakness. It’s vital to contact a vet if you notice any of these symptoms.

5. Other Causes of Rapid Breathing At Rest

Fast breathing while sleeping is often caused by the conditions above, but there are many other potential causes. Here are a few examples:

  • Dehydration. A dehydrated dog won’t have enough blood volume to circulate adequate oxygen. This can cause the breathing rate to increase.
  • Sleep apnea. This condition is most common in flat-faced breeds. It causes the airways to collapse when sleeping, leading to the dog regularly being woken up.
  • Heat stroke. A dog suffering from heat stroke will almost always pant excessively. Other symptoms include red gums, diarrhea, collapse, vomiting, and drooling. Heat stroke requires urgent medical care. 
  • Pain. A dog who is in pain may be stressed, leading to a faster breathing rate. 
  • Medications. Certain medications may cause a dog to breathe faster. If you notice your dog’s respiratory rate has increased after starting medication, discuss this with your vet.

When Should You Contact A Vet?

If your dog’s fast breathing is occasional and returns to normal within 5-10 minutes, then it’s probably nothing to worry about. Continuous or frequent fast breathing while sleeping should always be investigated by a vet though.

If the fast breathing is accompanied by other symptoms or signs of distress, such as those listed below, then contact your vet immediately. Your dog may be suffering from a condition that requires emergency treatment.

  • Breathing seems difficult or uncomfortable
  • Coughing
  • Tiredness or difficulty getting up
  • Increased breathing noise
  • Loss of appetite or unwillingness to drink
  • Pale, red, or blue gums (healthy canine gums are pink)
  • The dog uses their stomach muscles to take a breath
  • Breathing through the mouth when sleeping
  • Distended stomach (this could be a sign of bloat or another gastrointestinal issue)
  • Change in behaviour or personality

Note: If you’re worried about your dog while she’s sleeping, make sure you don’t startle them awake. Say their name for a distance until they wake up, rather than physically touching them.

How Fast Should Puppies Breathe When Resting?

A puppy asleep on his bed

Many new puppy owners worry that their pet is breathing too fast at night.

This is understandable, as puppies tend to breathe a bit faster than adult dogs. For a young puppy, a respiratory rate of 15-40 breaths per minute is normal. 

It’s also normal for breathing to appear more of an effort for a puppy, as their delicate ribs and muscles are not yet fully developed. However, if you’re worried about your puppy, or notice any signs of distress, then you should contact a vet.

What Could Cause a Puppy To Breathe Fast While Sleeping?

Any of the issues mentioned earlier in this article could cause a puppy to breathe faster while sleeping.

Additionally, a puppy might have a faster breathing rate if they fall asleep soon after exercise. Puppies can almost instantly fall asleep when they feel tired, so the breathing rate may not have had time to return to normal.

In this situation, the respiratory rate should settle back into a healthy rhythm after around 10 minutes. If the fast breathing continues, then it could be a sign of heat stroke or another illness, and you should contact a vet immediately.

Stress is another reason for a puppy breathing fast. Being adopted into a new home and separated from their mother is very stressful, which causes cortisol levels (a stress hormone) to be increased. This can lead to higher breathing rates when the puppy first falls asleep, although the breathing rate should return to a healthy level during sleep.

Summary

A dog breathing fast while sleeping could have a harmless explanation, such as an exciting dream. 

However, if your dog regularly breathes fast when asleep, or shows other symptoms of illness, then you should contact a vet. Fast breathing can be caused by a variety of conditions, including heart disease, anemia, lung conditions, and allergies.

Do you have any questions about why your dog is breathing fast while sleeping? Please use the comments form to get in touch.

Image of Richard Cross

About The Author: Richard Cross

Richard is a journalist who specialises in dog behavior. He's written hundreds of articles and books related to dogs, including for the Continental Kennel Club, Dog Fest (the UK's biggest dog festival) and various veterinary surgeries. When he's not spending time with Jess and Rudy (his beloved Labrador and Golden Retrievers), he enjoys reading, hiking and watching sports. You can find him on Facebook or Twitter.

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