No dog owner wants to see their pet hyperventilate. It's a frightening thing to witness, and no one likes seeing their dog in distress. It turns out that there are a variety of reasons that dogs do this, and not all of them are big causes for concern. Some causes of hyperventilation, however, might warrant the help of a DVM (Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine) or other veterinary professionals.
What does a dog hyperventilating look like, exactly? Hyperventilation in dogs is characterized by short, rapid breaths, and it may appear as though your dog is struggling to breathe. It's the exact same phenomenon that occurs in humans. Hyperventilation in dogs is not the same thing as heavy panting or heavy breathing, though.
Read on to learn more about what causes hyperventilation in dogs, how you can spot it, and what to do if your dog is hyperventilating.
What Causes Dog Hyperventilation?
Hyperventilation can be caused by a variety of things, some serious and some not. They include:
Many times, the cause of dog hyperventilation is as simple as overexcitement. Does your dog get really energetic when she knows you're going to the dog park? Out for a walk? When the doorbell rings? It's possible that your canine friend gets overly excited at these possibilities and hyperventilates as a result.
Most of the time, hyperventilation related to excitement isn't a medical issue. Unless it lasts for a long time, happens frequently, or you see other symptoms around the entire body, there's probably no need for medical intervention. Still, it's always best to check with your veterinarian if you're concerned about your dog hyperventilating from excitement.
Overheating is one of the more dangerous reasons a dog might hyperventilate. Remember: Your dog doesn't sweat through the skin as we do in order to lower their temperature. When a dog's body temperature gets too high, it will attempt to cool itself by panting. If a dog doesn't cool down, a serious condition known as heat stroke can occur, potentially causing collapse, organ failure including heart failure, and even death.
Reverse sneezing is another common cause of hyperventilation in dogs, and it's not typically a cause for concern. A reverse sneeze involves sucking air rapidly through the nose, causing a snort-like sound, in response to an irritant inhaled into the nose or throat. A bout of reverse sneezing can lead to a dog hyperventilating if it lasts long enough.
Reverse sneezing might sound strange to a pet owner, but it's not usually a problem unless the snorting lasts for a long time. This phenomenon is more common in brachycephalic breeds like pugs and bulldogs. Their unique "squashed" facial anatomy, elongated soft palates, and narrow nasal passages can make breathing a bit more difficult.
When a dog gets stressed or anxious, their heart rate increases. This means that more oxygenated blood is pumping through the body, demanding more oxygen from the system. This results in a dog hyperventilating. Your dog might get stressed because of separation anxiety, loud noises like thunderstorms, or a new pet in the home, among other possibilities.
Various breathing problems could cause a dog to hyperventilate as well. A collapsing trachea is one possibility; this involves the cartilage inside the trachea becoming weak and collapsing, constricting the airway. A dog might hyperventilate in an attempt to get enough oxygen to breathe normally. Other signs associated with a collapsing trachea include a dry, honking cough, gagging, and retching.
Laryngeal paralysis is another possible cause of hyperventilation. It usually occurs in older dogs, particularly Labrador Retrievers. Laryngeal paralysis occurs when the muscles holding the airway open begin to weaken. The exact cause of laryngeal paralysis is unknown, although there could be a genetic component. Other possible reasons for a dog hyperventilating include:
Cushing’s disease is a condition in which too much of the hormone cortisol exists in a pet’s system. Dogs might develop an insatiable appetite and thirst, sometimes leading to hyperventilation. Hair loss and muscle atrophy are also possible. A dog with Cushing’s disease might need to take medications to regulate their hormone levels.
Anemia refers to a reduced number of red blood cells circulating in a dog’s system. This is a serious condition marked by symptoms like lethargy, pale gums, loss of appetite, weight loss, and labored breathing and/or hyperventilation. Dog owners should let their veterinarian know if they spot these symptoms in their dog.
Anaphylaxis is an immediate allergic reaction to a foreign substance. The most common allergens that cause this are proteins in food, insect bites, environmental pollutants, and medications. In the most severe cases of anaphylaxis, difficulty breathing and hyperventilation can occur.
Hypoxia is a condition in which the oxygen level of your dog’s blood is too low. Respiratory distress is the main symptom. Hypoxia could be caused by a variety of things, including neuromuscular diseases, poisoning, a collapsed lung, or a pulmonary embolism. This is a serious condition that requires the prompt attention of a veterinarian.
Metabolic acidosis occurs when the body increases its acid production, resulting in an improper pH balance in your dog's body. This can cause a dog to hyperventilate. Usually, metabolic acidosis is a side effect of a more serious condition like kidney failure or diabetes. Other common signs of metabolic acidosis include vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal heart rhythm, confusion, and depression.
What Are the Signs of a Dog Hyperventilating?
Have you ever asked yourself, "Is my dog hyperventilating?" It's not always easy to tell, since dogs pant as a normal part of life. And excessive panting is not the same thing as hyperventilating.
Here are the most common symptoms you'll see in a dog hyperventilating:
- Quick, shallow breathing
- Open-mouth breathing
- Inability to take a deep, normal breath
- Blue or pale mucous membranes (the lips, gums, and inner cheeks)
What Should I Do If My Dog Is Hyperventilating?
The appropriate response to your dog's hyperventilation depends on the cause. The first step is to rule out the most common and non-life-threatening possibilities.
Has your dog been spending time outdoors on a hot day? Bring them indoors where it's cooler and offer some fresh water. Has a stressful situation just happened, like a thunderstorm? Sit with your dog and soothe them until they calm down. If an episode of reverse sneezing occurs, it will probably pass in just a few moments — keep an eye on your dog until it's over.
If you can't chalk your dog's hyperventilation up to one of these causes, or if your dog's breathing difficulty persists after you've taken these measures, it's time to seek your vet's help. The treatment will vary depending on the medical condition that's causing your dog to hyperventilate.
Your vet may administer or prescribe sedatives, steroids, antihistamines (in the case of an allergic reaction), bronchodilators (medications that relax the muscles of the airways to make breathing easier), or even supplemental oxygen might be needed in some cases. Sometimes, surgery is needed to open an obstructed airway, or medications like anti-inflammatories, cough suppressants, or bronchodilators can be prescribed to keep the airway open.
Can I Prevent My Dog From Hyperventilating?
While it might not always be possible to avoid a case of hyperventilation, you can take steps to make it less likely. First, don't let your dog get too hot. Don’t let your dog overwork themselves, especially in the summer when it's hot and humid, and provide Fido with plenty of cool, fresh water to regulate the body temperature.
Try to avoid stressful situations when you can. Talk to your veterinarian about thunder shirts, counterconditioning, professional training, or other solutions for dealing with stress. In the most severe cases, anxiety medication can be prescribed.
If your dog is prone to breathing difficulties — a brachycephalic dog like a pug, for example — be extra vigilant about stressful scenarios, hot weather, and overexertion and overexcitement. If you see your dog hyperventilating, keep a close eye on them and be ready to call the vet if necessary.
Is Your Dog Hyperventilating? The Bottom Line
Hyperventilation in dogs is more common than you might think. Sometimes, it's caused by a serious medical condition. More often, it's related to a dog getting overly excited, a little too hot, or stressed out.
Is your dog hyperventilating frequently because of stress? A probiotic supplement can help during stressful situations by preventing and/or relieving an upset stomach. Native Pet's all-natural Probiotic Powder is always a good choice.
Remember: Hyperventilating is characterized by short, shallow, breaths in rapid succession. Heavy panting is not the same thing as hyperventilation. If you see your dog hyperventilating and you can't determine a cause like stress or excitement, keep a close eye on them. If they don't calm down after a minute or so of hyperventilating, it's time to call the vet. It's always better to play it safe.
Would you like to learn more about your canine companion's health and wellness? Find more great articles on the Native Pet blog.