The first few days of being a dog parent can be nerve-wracking as well as exciting; just like being a parent to a human, the responsibility can sometimes be overwhelming. If you’ve noticed your puppy breathing fast, you’re probably wondering if you should be concerned. Don’t worry – in this article, I’ll cover what’s normal for puppies, and when to worry about your puppy’s breathing.
What is considered fast breathing?
In adult dogs, we expect the ‘Resting Respiratory Rate’ (the number of breaths in a minute, whilst the dog is relaxed and resting) to be less than 30. In puppies, the breathing rate can be slightly higher – up to 40 breaths per minute. Don’t forget that this is when the dog is resting and hasn’t been recently exercising. The respiratory rate will be very variable and often much higher in a dog that has been playing.
How to measure your puppy’s breathing
If you want to count your dog’s respiratory rate, you should wait until he’s relaxed – asleep, or awake, but lying down – and at least ten minutes after strenuous exercise such as walking, running, or playing.
To count your puppy’s breathing, you need to count either the breaths in, or breaths out, but not both. You could watch your dog’s chest rise and fall, or feel the breath coming through their nose. Start a timer for 15 seconds, then count how many breaths in (or out) they take during that time. Multiply the number by four to get the number of breaths in a minute.
Why do puppies breathe so fast?
Your new bundle of fun has tiny lungs and an even tinier heart. To get all the oxygen his body needs, he might breathe a little faster than an adult dog.
Added to this, your puppy will be alternately stressed (so many scary big things in the world!), excited (and so many fun games!) and exhausted (games are really tiring!) – all of which can increase your dog’s respiratory rate.
But the main difference tends to come when your puppy is asleep- sleeping puppies often worry their owners because of how fast they breathe.
Why is my puppy breathing fast while sleeping?
At this point, the difference between adult dogs and young puppies is that puppies dream a lot more. Puppies have a very active Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep stage with lots of brain activity – they’re dreaming. You may notice short ‘huffs’ (fast and heavy breathing), yaps or grunts, and twitching as well as breathing fast and shallow. It’s normal for your puppy to breathe faster when he’s asleep.
Medical reasons for fast breathing
Of course, there are some types of fast breathing that are a concern. It’s unusual for fast breathing to be something to worry about in puppies, but there are some things to be aware of.
In general, dogs that have a medical problem that’s causing their fast breathing will always have short breaths- they often won’t slow below 30 breaths a minute, even when your dog is asleep, or awake and resting.
Dogs may have fast and shallow breathing or fast and heavy breathing- both can be normal and abnormal. However, noticeable effort when your dog is breathing is a concern. You might notice extra noise when they are breathing or see your dog’s stomach move to help the chest with the breath.
Although fairly rare, if your puppy has been born with a heart condition (a ‘congenital’ heart condition) this can cause their breathing rate to increase due to fluid in their lungs. However, this sort of heart problem is usually noticed by your vet at your puppy’s vaccination or check-up. Other signs include a dog that gets out of breath quickly when exercising or playing.
Pneumonia and lung infections
If your puppy has a lung infection, their lungs won’t be working as well as usual, and they’ll have to breathe faster to compensate. Dogs with cleft palates will be more prone to pneumonia, as they will usually inhale milk whilst trying to suckle- we call this aspiration pneumonia.
Dogs can also get pneumonia due to viral or bacterial causes, especially if they have a questionable history or are a breed with a short snout (brachycephalic breeds). Puppies with pneumonia will usually be very lethargic and have a fever as well as fast breathing.
Why is my puppy breathing fast after a vaccination?
When we vaccinate an animal, we give them a small dose of the disease – damaged to make sure it isn’t harmful – to give their immune system a chance to work out how to defeat the disease. ‘Vaccination reactions’ are usually the immune system kicking in. You might feel ill after your flu jab, but that fever and tiredness are your immune system fighting off the fake disease.
If your dog’s immune system reacts to the vaccination by causing a mild fever, your puppy might breathe faster after a vaccination. This will usually resolve within 24 hours.
However, it is also possible for your dog to have an anaphylactic reaction – a severe allergy – to something in the vaccination. In this case, your dog will start breathing fast within an hour or two of their vaccination, sound as though they have difficulty breathing, and even turn blue. Although extremely rare (I’ve never seen a case!) anaphylaxis is a true emergency and warrants a call to the nearest open vet immediately.
Possible remedies or solutions
If you have measured your puppy’s breathing whilst at rest at least three times over an hour, and every time it is faster than 40 breaths a minute, you need to call your vet.
Your vet will want to see your puppy and examine them, especially their chest and heart. If they’re worried, they’ll recommend further tests such as blood tests, x-ray, or ultrasound.
Heart diseases in puppies are usually serious, but medications or even surgery can make a huge difference. Infections will usually be treated with antibiotics, although your puppy might need to stay in the hospital to be given oxygen for a few days.
Conclusion: Should you be concerned?
The good news is that fast or shallow breathing in puppies is usually nothing to worry about; they’ve usually just finished playing, or they’re asleep – and therefore dreaming. In most puppies, there’s a perfectly innocent reason for them to be breathing fast.
The important test is whether your puppy’s breathing ever slows to normal. If your dog’s breathing is usually less than 30 when they’re resting, but occasionally raises to 44- that’s fine. However, if your dog’s resting respiratory rate never drops below 40, it’s time to call a vet.