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The Vet's Corner

Why Is My Dog Breathing Fast While Sleeping?

by Jeff Bloom

Written By: Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA | Professional Services Veterinarian, Wild Earth

For most of us, our dogs are our best friends and companions. So it’s only natural to pick up on their likes, dislikes, habits, and patterns. While it’s helpful to be familiar with the details of your dog’s daily habits, noticing a lapse in a normal pattern can be scary.

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Your dog’s breathing patterns can give you a lot of information, and there are many situations when a dog might breathe faster and harder than normal. But what does it mean if you notice your dog breathing fast while sleeping?

What Is a Normal Breathing Rate for a Dog?

To judge what sort of breathing is truly abnormal for a dog, it’s important to know the normal ranges for canine breathing. A respiratory rate from 15 to 35 breaths per minute while at rest is normal, depending on your dog. Monitoring your dog’s breath regularly will help you get a good idea of his or her normal breathing rate.

What Causes Fast Breathing In My Dog?

While it’s safe to say that a respiratory rate above 40 breaths per minute is abnormal for a sleeping dog, not every possible cause for an elevated breathing rate is serious. However, some are, so it’s important to understand the differences.

Dreaming

It’s true that dogs often dream, just like we do. This occurs during your dog’s R.E.M. sleep stage. If you notice your dog twitching, whimpering, making other noises, or moving their eyes while sleeping, there’s a good chance that he or she is dreaming.

Of course, this can be accompanied by fast breathing. Maybe your dog is dreaming of chasing a squirrel or some other exciting activity. Either way, this sort of fast breathing while sleeping isn’t something to be concerned about.Take note of whether your dog shows the other signs of dreaming while breathing quickly in their sleep. If so, this is likely the cause of the high respiratory rate. Small dogs and puppies have quicker dreams more often, while larger dogs have longer dreams with more time between episodes.

Respiratory Issues Because of Breed

Another possibility is linked to the breed of your dog. If your dog is a brachycephalic breed, which refers to breeds with more flattened faces and shorter snouts, then he or she has a greater disposition for breathing-related issues.

If you have a brachycephalic breed and notice faster than normal breathing during their sleep, you should consult your vet to determine if one of these pressing issues is the root cause.

More Serious Underlying Issues

Although it can simply indicate dreaming, fast breathing during sleep can be a sign of a serious underlying problem that requires immediate attention.

Overall, fast breathing while sleeping, if not related to dreaming, simply means that your dog is having a harder time getting air. Anything from asthma, collapsing trachea, respiratory infections, or pressure on the windpipe can cause a faster respiratory rate while sleeping. Even more serious still, lung cancer, pneumonia, fluid on the lungs due to heart disease, and a hernia are also possible causes. Be sure to pay attention to other signs of more severe illness, for example lethargy, panting during the day, pale gums, poor appetite and wheezing.

If you notice other symptoms and don’t believe that your dog’s high respiratory rate is related to dreaming, it’s important to visit your vet to make sure one of these serious issues is not the culprit.

Other Possible Causes of A Dog Breathing Fast

While many of the issues we’ve discussed are serious and can be scary, there are some other possible reasons why your dog is breathing fast while sleeping.

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For example, dogs with allergies can simply suffer from stuffy noses during certain times of the year in which they’re more greatly exposed to the allergen. If you suspect a stuffy nose to be the reason your dog is breathing fast, try out a humidifier in the room they sleep in.

What Should I Do If My Dog Is Breathing Fast While Sleeping?

In the moment, it can be hard to differentiate between a serious problem and an unconcerned, passing event. If you notice your dog breathing fast while sleeping, the first thing to do is to check their respiratory rate.

Once you’ve determined your dog’s breaths per minute, if their fast breathing still hasn’t subsided, begin looking for other signs that there may be a deeper issue, such as pale gums, increased respiratory effort, or wheezing.

If you notice other symptoms along with the fast breathing that alarm you, make an appointment with your vet.

Whether the issue is something simple like allergies, a treatable yet important issue like an infection, or something more serious like cancer or a heart condition, it’s best to have your dog evaluated as soon as possible.

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Understanding your dog’s normal rhythms and habits is a key part of keeping them happy and healthy, and can help to catch health issues early.

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