My dog is breathing hard - causes and treatment


 Dyspnea is a clinical sign consisting of the appearance of difficult and forced breathing. In dogs, this sign usually appears initially with heavy breathing through the nose and a larger opening in the nostrils. Shortness of breath usually also presents with wheezing, increased respiratory rate, and bluish mucous membranes. It is a symptom that can appear in many diseases, not only associated with the respiratory system, but also associated with other organs and systems.

If you are wondering why your dog is breathing hard through his nose, we recommend reading the following dog57 article in which we explain its possible causes and treatment.

What do I do if my dog can't breathe through his nose?

upper respiratory disease

In this group, we include those diseases that affect the upper respiratory tract, that is, the nasal cavity, larynx, and trachea. In general, these diseases tend to cause inspiratory dyspnea, that is, during the air intake phase. They are as follows:

Brachycephalic Syndrome: an upper respiratory malformation that affects brachiocephalic (flat) dogs such as bulldogs, pugs, or Shih Tzus. Abnormalities that may occur in this syndrome include narrowing of the nostrils, elongation of the soft palate, the collapse of the larynx, and tracheal hypoplasia. They all tend to obstruct the passage of air through the respiratory tract, causing it to become difficult and forced to breathe. It is possible to indicate in this case that the dog makes noises like a pig or emits small snores.

Blockage of foreign bodies: such as bones, pieces of food, balls, etc. When foreign bodies completely block the lumen of the respiratory tract, a dangerous picture of suffocation will appear. However, when they are only partially obstructed, we can notice forced and difficult breathing.

Other causes of obstruction: All diseases that cause obstruction or narrowing of the upper airways and obstruct the passage of air and cause shortness of breath. Among others, we highlight glottis edema, the collapse of the larynx or trachea, laryngeal paralysis, masses or tumors of the nose, larynx, and trachea.

Treatment of upper respiratory diseases

In most cases, solving the problem requires surgical treatment. However, complementary medical treatment is sometimes necessary, based on corticosteroids, antitussives, bronchodilators, and/or sedatives.

Lower respiratory diseases

Within this group, we include diseases affecting the lower respiratory tract, specifically, the bronchi, lungs, and pleura. In general, these diseases produce shortness of breath of the exhaled type, that is, at the stage when air is expelled from the lungs. For this reason, it is common to notice that a dog is blowing through the nose because he cannot breathe normally. Let's look at the diseases:

Bronchial diseases: In cases of bronchitis, there is a narrowing of the airways (narrowing of the airways) and the accumulation of secretions in the lumen of the bronchi, which obstructs the passage of air and causes the emergence of respiratory distress. A similar thing happens in tumors of the bronchial wall because they reduce the lumen of the ducts and obstruct the passage of air.

Lung diseases: Any diseases that widely affect the lung parenchyma, especially if they are bilateral, leading to the appearance of shortness of breath. Within this group include pulmonary edema (the presence of fluid within the pulmonary alveoli), extensive lung tumors, bilateral pneumonia or bronchopneumonia, pulmonary fibrosis, and emphysema, among others.

Diseases of the pleura: The pleura is the serous membrane that surrounds the lungs and chest cavity. When the pleural space is filled with air (pneumothorax) or fluid (pleural effusion), the parenchyma of the lung is compressed and prevents it from inflating sufficiently during breathing. As a result, forced and difficult breathing appears.

Lower respiratory disease treatment

In these cases, the treatment is very diverse and depends on the specific pathology that causes difficulty breathing, that is, the dog breathes very hard through the nose. These are the most important ones:

Most of these illnesses require drug treatment that, depending on the process, may include antibiotics, diuretics, bronchodilators, or inhaled corticosteroids.
When necessary, supportive therapy with mucolytic drugs, antitussives, or oxygen therapy may be undertaken.

In most chronic processes, it is advisable to control the diet to promote weight loss, because in this way it is possible to reduce the abdominal pressure on the chest, thereby reducing the work of breathing and increasing the capacity of the chest.

In some cases, such as some lung tumors or pleurisy, surgical treatment is necessary.

Diseases that affect the functions of the respiratory system

In addition to the diseases that we described in the previous sections, other diseases do not originate in the respiratory system but can nevertheless affect the function of the respiratory system. Within this group we find:

Inadequate Respiratory Muscle Contraction: Respiratory muscle contraction allows the rib cage to open for proper lung ventilation. However, when an injury occurs at the level of the respiratory center, at the level of the nerve roots innervating the respiratory muscles, or at the level of the respiratory muscles themselves (myositis, atrophy, atrophy, etc.), these muscles contract insufficiently . It causes difficulty breathing. This condition can also occur in cases of acute chest pain (such as chest trauma or pleurisy) or in neuromuscular diseases that affect the respiratory muscles, such as tetanus or myasthenia gravis.

Extra-thoracic diseases: These are diseases that lie outside the chest cavity, but can affect the function of the respiratory system. In general, these are diseases of the abdominal cavity that put pressure on the diaphragm and prevent its reflux during inspiration, making it difficult to inflate the lungs during inspiration. In dogs, it can occur in cases of ascites (fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity), gastric dilatation/torsion, or hiatal hernia.

The treatment of these diseases

As you can guess, the treatment of the causes described in this section also varies depending on the specific pathology:

In cases of polymyositis or neuromuscular diseases, such as tetanus or myasthenia gravis, it is necessary to establish a pharmacological treatment. Additionally, in cases of acute chest pain, good supportive therapy is essential.

In other cases, such as gastric dilatation/torsion or hiatal hernia, surgical treatment is necessary.

heart disease

Respiratory distress can appear in both diseases that cause left heart failure and those that cause right heart failure:

Left heart failure: In these cases, shortness of breath occurs as a result of the appearance of pulmonary edema (fluid buildup inside the lung alveoli). It occurs, for example, in dogs with degeneration of the mitral valve or patent ductus arteriosus.

Right heart failure: In these cases, shortness of breath is caused by pleural effusion (fluid buildup in the pleural space). In addition, the shortness of breath is often aggravated by ascites (fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity). It occurs, for example, in cases of tricuspid valve degeneration and right ventricular cardiomyopathy.

heart disease treatment

In these cases, treatment should rest on two pillars:

On the other hand, specific treatment should be developed against the primary diseases that cause heart failure. Usually, these diseases require drug therapy (with antiarrhythmics, inotropes, etc.), although in some cases, such as a patent ductus arteriosus, surgical treatment is necessary.

Moreover, depending on the occurrence of right or left heart failure, it is necessary to correct pulmonary edema or pleural effusion, respectively. In the case of pulmonary edema, diuretics should be administered, while in the case of pleural effusion it will be necessary to drain the effusion by thoracentesis.

Other reasons why a dog has difficulty breathing through the nose

All of the above reasons can make you notice that your dog breathes heavily through his nose when he is sleeping and when he is awake. Depending on the specific cause, yes, it will be the type of breathing one way or another, as we have already seen.

However, they are not the only causes, because, in addition to the etiology described in the previous sections, we should highlight other causes that can lead to difficulty breathing in dogs:


Treat these other causes

Likewise, treatment for these causes will vary depending on the specific process.
In overweight dogs, it will be necessary to establish a low-fat diet along with an appropriate exercise plan to achieve a gradual weight loss of the animal.

In cases of anemia, it will be necessary to determine specific treatment against the underlying cause, depending on whether it is hemolytic, hemorrhagic, or hypoproliterature anemia.

In cases of poisoning, heatstroke, or electrocution, it will be necessary to establish supportive therapy with oxygen therapy, fluid therapy, etc.

This is informational only, at we do not have the authority to prescribe veterinary treatments or make any kind of diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the vet in case he is under any kind of condition or discomfort.

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