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Why Is My Dog Breathing Fast While Sleeping?

There are a number of reasons why your dog might be breathing fast while sleeping or resting.

If you have noticed your dog breathing fast while sleeping, you are probably worried about your canine companion and wondering what you should do next.

Photo of Sleeping Dog

Some of the reasons are completely normal and benign. For example, it is possible that your pooch is simply dreaming!

However, breathing fast while resting can be a symptom of certain underlying medical conditions. For example, panting or breathing heavily while sleeping can be an early clinical sign of heart disease.

Therefore, it is always best to consult with a licensed veterinarian about any abnormal behavior that you observe in your pet.

In this article, we will go through some of the common reasons why your dog might be breathing fast while sleeping or resting.

This article will hopefully give you a better understanding of what you are witnessing in your particular case.

However, please still make an appointment with your vet if you have any concerns about your pet’s health.

What is the Normal Respiratory Rate for Healthy Dogs?

Before we jump into the reasons why your dog might be breathing faster than normal, let us first define what is normal and what is abnormal when it comes to canine respiration.

According to veterinary studies, a healthy dog’s normal sleeping respiratory rate (SRR) or resting respiratory rate (RRR) should be between 10 to 25 breaths per minute.

A typical RRR should certainly be under 30 breaths per minute.

How To Calculate Your Dog’s Sleeping Respiratory Rate

To calculate your own dog’s SRR, count your dog’s breaths for a full minute while your dog is sleeping or resting.

Alternatively, you can count your pet’s breaths for 30 seconds and then multiply that number by two.

Photo of  F Yy

You should measure your dog’s SRR while he is sleeping peacefully (not while he is dreaming) or lying down and resting comfortably. The ambient temperature in the room should not be too hot or too cold.

Do not try to measure your dog’s SRR right after your dog returns from a walk, eats, or engages in physical activity like play.

Important note- A single breath consists of the inhalation (breathing in) and exhalation (breathing out) of air.

This video will give you instructions on how to calculate your pet’s sleeping respiratory rate at home.

There is even an app that you can download to your smartphone to help you calculate your pet’s resting respiratory rate at home.

Check out the Cardalis app! The Cardalis app allows you to record your pet’s respiratory rate in the form of a graph and send it directly to your dog’s veterinarian for analysis.

What is an Abnormal Respiratory Rate?

If your dog is taking more than 30 breaths per minute, that is an abnormal respiratory rate.

If your dog is struggling to breath and/or using his whole abdomen to breath that is also abnormal.

The previously listed video above will also show you examples of abnormal breathing towards the end of the video clip.

Below we will explore a number of different reasons why your dog might be displaying an elevated respiratory rate while resting or sleeping.

Temperature

If your dog is resting in a warm environment it might cause your dog to pant or breathe more heavily while resting.

For example, if your dog is lying outside in the direct sunshine, you might witness your dog breathing harder and faster than normal.

Many dogs love to “sunbathe,” but it is important to keep a close eye on them when they are spending a lot of time in the sun.

If you think your dog might be overheating, coax your dog to move to a cooler place—preferably indoors into a dark room with air conditioning. Offer your dog some water.

Observe your pet for a few minutes to see if his breathing rate returns to normal once he is out of the direct sun.

If the condition does not improve, contact your vet. Dogs can suffer from a condition called heat stroke or heat exhaustion, so bring your dog to the vet if you think he could be dangerously overheated.

Physical Exertion

If your dog recently went for a jog, a hike, or a long walk, your dog might still be catching his breath from physical exercise.

Allow him to rest in a cool location and observe him for a few minutes to see if his breathing rate returns to normal.

Photo of Tired Running Dog

Provide him with plenty of fresh, cool water.

As always, contact your vet if your pet’s breathing rate does not return to normal within a few minutes of ceasing physical activity.

Anxiety

Panting is a common sign of anxiety in dogs.

For example, if you just brought a new dog home from an animal shelter or humane society, do not be surprised if you witness some panting and heavy breathing for the first few days in a new place.

This is a classic sign of stress. Most dogs will be stressed for a few days after leaving the animal shelter or rescue group.

Even a well-adjusted family dog might pace, pant and/or whine in a new place. For example, if you move to a new home or take your dog on vacation or have to evacuate for a natural disaster.

Try to help your dog relax by providing a safe, familiar space like a crate. Try to establish a routine so your dog knows what to expect in terms of when they will get fed, when they will get walked, etc.

You can try playing some soothing instrumental music in the background to help your dog relax. You could also try giving your dog some calming treats or plugging in a calming pheromone diffuser like Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP).

Other signs of anxiety include:

  • Pacing
  • Whining
  • Low interest in food
  • Not going to the bathroom regularly
  • Hiding
  • Trembling
  • Growling or snapping

You should notice your dog’s anxious behavior decreasing after about three days in the new environment.

During the transition time, try to be patient and give your dog time to adjust and feel safe.

Dreaming

Did you know that dogs dream just like we do?

Dogs go through sleep cycles just like humans and other mammals. Most dreaming (for dogs and people) happens during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.

If you watch closely, you will see their eyes moving behind their lids. Sometimes dogs will bark, growl or kick their legs while they are dreaming. They might even snap at something in their dreams.

It is also very common for them to twitch and breath more rapidly while they are dreaming.

Here is a video of a dog dreaming.

If your dog is breathing fast in a dream, try to gently wake him up by talking to him or calling his name. Do not touch him, because this might startle him and cause him to snap or bite.

Once you successfully wake him up, observe him to see if his breathing returns to a normal rate after he falls asleep again.

Reverse Sneezing

Reverse sneezing can seem really scary if you have never witnessed it before, but it is actually a pretty common behavior and no reason to panic.

What is reverse sneezing exactly?

Good question! Here is a video of a dog reverse sneezing.

During a bout of reverse sneezing, a dog will wheeze, and its chest will go in and out violently. It will look like the dog is having trouble breathing. It will make a snorting, honking noise.

Reverse sneezing will usually last between 5 and 15 seconds.

Reverse sneezing is typically triggered by some kind of dust or particle in the upper respiratory tract. It is similar to a cough or a regular sneeze.

All dogs will do this from time to time. If your dog occasionally exhibits this behavior it is no cause for alarm.

However, if your dog is reverse sneezing excessively, talk with your vet. It could be related to other medical conditions such as allergies or a mass or a foreign body in the nasal passageway.

Breed

Some breeds are more prone to snoring, snorting and/or breathing more rapidly while resting.

For example, breeds such as Pugs, Shih Tzus, and English Bulldogs are brachycephalic. This means that these breeds have a shorter, flatter nose than other types of dogs.

Here are some other popular examples of brachycephalic breeds:

Due to the structure of their noses, these dogs have a harder time getting oxygen through their airways. These types of dogs will often make funny noises or breathe heavily, even at rest.

If you own a brachycephalic breed, talk with your vet about this issue. Your dog could be suffering from something called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS).

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome requires careful monitoring and may require medical intervention.

Illness

Panting or rapid breathing while sleeping can also be a sign of illness in dogs.

If none of the above scenarios seem to fit your dog’s behavior, it is possible that your dog could be sick.

Observe your pet to see if there are any other symptoms of illness.

Other common symptoms of illness include:

  • Refusing to eat
  • Fever (warm to the touch)
  • Pale gums
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Excessive thirst
  • Nasal (nose) or ocular (eye) discharge
  • Abnormal behavior

If you think your pet might be sick, contact your vet immediately.

If it is during the night, you will need to bring your pet to an after-hours emergency clinic.

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Congestive Heart Failure is a heart condition that causes fluid to build up in your dog’s heart, lungs, and/or abdomen.

Breathing fast while sleeping can be an early clinical sign of this disease. CHF is most common in older animals, so if your dog is a senior dog, you will want to be sure to discuss this possibility with your vet.

Other symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure may include coughing, panting, swelling of the abdomen, inappetence, restlessness, difficulty getting comfortable, and/or difficulty breathing.

Your vet may also be able to detect a heart murmur when he or she listens to your dog’s heart with a stethoscope.

Diagnosing CHF

Just because your dog is breathing fast while sleeping does not necessarily mean that your dog has Congestive Heart Failure.

Your vet will need to conduct further diagnostics to give you a confirmed diagnosis of CHF. Your vet will probably want to take chest x-rays to see if there is evidence of an enlarged heart and/or fluid in the chest.

If your vet needs further information, they will probably recommend an ultrasound, or they may refer you to a specialist such as a cardiologist.

Treating CHF

If your dog is diagnosed with CHF, there are a number of treatment options to help keep your dog comfortable.

Your veterinarian will walk you through the different options and help you decide on the treatment(s) that are most appropriate for your pet.

Surgical correction is sometimes viable. However, most cases are treated with oral medications, frequently diuretics.

In Conclusion—When in Doubt, Consult with Your Vet

Hopefully this article has given you a better sense of the myriad reasons why your dog could be breathing fast while sleeping.

Some of the possibilities are quite serious, but others are trivial and no cause for alarm.

Photo of Yorkie At Vet Min
Veterinary listening to a Chow Chow dog in his clinic

As we mentioned earlier in this article, you should always take your dog to the vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s breathing.

Your dog might be completely fine, but it is always better to err on the side of caution.

If possible, try to capture a video of your dog exhibiting the unusual behavior so that you can show that to your veterinarian during the appointment. Also try to keep a log or a journal about when the behavior typically occurs.

All of these tools will help your vet figure out why your dog is breathing fast while sleeping.

Your vet may want to conduct some additional tests and/or x-rays to get a better sense of what is going on with your furry friend.

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