Labored breathing in dogs is always a concern to pet owners. If your beloved companion ever experiences an episode of heavy breathing, they might have what is known as dyspnea, or brachycephalic airway syndrome. This is typically more common in breeds with a short snout (some call this type of breed a “smushed face dog”).1

Why does it happen, and what can you do to help your pooch? Here’s some information on why dyspnea in dogs occurs, as well as how the problem is usually addressed.

What is Dyspnea in Dogs?

Dyspnea is a condition where some sort of obstruction occurs in the airway of brachycephalic breeds, leading to breathing issues. It may be due to a collapsed larynx, or physical traits, such as narrow nostrils. Brachycephalic breeds include boxers, bulldogs, and pugs.2

Labored breathing in dogs with a short snout is the most obvious symptom of dyspnea.

However, there can be others as well. Dyspnea in dogs can be accompanied by problems such as frequent panting, trouble eating or swallowing food, noisy, rapid breathing, and coughing. Symptoms may worsen when the weather is humid and warm.3

What Causes Dyspnea?

Unfortunately, some brachycephalic breeds are more prone to suffering from dyspnea. The shape of the head is one of the most significant risk factors. Other characteristics that increase the chances of dyspnea in dogs include narrowed nasal passages and an elongated soft palate.4

Other factors can contribute to dyspnea in dogs, and they could make the problem worse. For example, if a dog is over-excited, a dyspnea episode could become more serious. Your dog may also be at risk if he or she is obese. Dyspnea may also occur during or after exercise.5

When to See Your Vet

Dyspnea in Dogs | Dr MartyAnytime you see your dog having trouble breathing, you should take them to the vet as soon as possible. There are some instances where dyspnea is a sign of a more severe issue, such as a heart problem.

If you notice that your dog is sitting or standing with their legs in a wide stance, stretching their neck with their mouth open, that could be an emergency. If your dog has severe problems taking in air, they may not lie down. The reason is that it is even harder for them to breathe in this position.6

There are other potential reasons for heavy breathing other than dyspnea. Here are just a few:

· Upper Respiratory Infection

Several types of invaders can do damage to your dog’s respiratory system and lead to labored breathing. These include bacteria, parasites, and fungi.7

· Heartworms

Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal problem that affects not only the heart but the lungs as well. This disease can be prevented with medications from your veterinarian.8

· Trauma

Any sort of injury to your dog’s ribs or chest can lead to internal bleeding and difficulty breathing.9

· Pleural Effusion

This condition occurs when gas or fluid builds up around your dog’s lungs. This must be removed, so your dog can once again breathe normally.10

· Obesity

If your dog is significantly overweight, they may be prone to breathing problems.11

Dyspnea in Dogs | Dr Marty

Diagnosing Dyspnea in Dogs

If your vet suspects that your dog may have dyspnea, they may perform two tests to confirm the diagnosis. One is a laryngoscopy, and the other is a tracheoscopy. Both involve the insertion of a tiny fiber-optic camera, so your vet can look at your dog’s larynx (voice box) or trachea. The camera will reveal if your pet has a long palate, or a collapsed trachea or windpipe.12

Your vet may also check to see if there is either a foreign body lodged in your pup’s airway or an infection. Also, the vet may look for any signs of an allergy that could cause swelling in your dog’s airway.13

Addressing the Problem

The way a vet addresses the issue of dyspnea will largely depend on the underlying cause. In some cases, your dog may need to be hospitalized and given oxygen until their condition stabilizes. Other times, medications may be administered if the vet believes fluid has accumulated near your dog’s lungs.14

If the problem of dyspnea is severe and chronic, a surgical procedure may be necessary. This could involve shortening the palate, so your dog can more easily breathe.15

Can You Help Your Dog Avoid Dyspnea?

Dyspnea in Dogs | Dr MartyUnfortunately, if you have a dog with facial characteristics that make them prone to dyspnea, there’s not a lot you can do to prevent an episode from occurring. But there are a few things you can try in an effort to reduce the severity of a breathing problem.

For example, be very careful not to give your dog a lot of human food. This will lower the risk of obesity, which can worsen breathing issues in dogs. Don’t take your dog out for a walk when the weather is excessively hot or humid. And do what you can to make your home environment as non-stressful as possible for your pet.16

The Bottom Line

If your dog is having trouble breathing, get them to the vet immediately. While this issue doesn’t automatically mean that your pet’s life is in danger, you need to get your dog medical attention so that a serious issue can be ruled out. Don’t panic, but take the action necessary to keep your beloved pet as safe as possible.

Learn More:
How to Keep Your Dog Safe in Hot Weather
Does My Dog Have Worms? Here Are 8 Signs
Reverse Sneezing: What Causes It And How To Help Your Pup