Just because your dog is panting doesn't mean that their breathing should be categorized as 'labored.'  However, if your favorite furry friend is struggling to inhale and/or exhale, this is termed 'labored breathing.' Below, we briefly explain what labored breathing in dogs is and what to do if your pet is experiencing breathing difficulties.

What is Labored Breathing in Dogs?

When trying to assess whether your dog is In order to be able to recognize when your dog is having trouble breathing it's important to distinguish between breathing quickly (tachypnea) and actually struggling to breathe (dyspnea).


Tachypnea is breathing quickly, which is not always a cause for concern. When exercising or playing with your pet, you may notice that they are breathing fast or panting. When exercising or playing with your dog, you may notice them panting or breathing faster, but this is not necessarily a sign that your dog is having difficulties breathing.


Dyspnea refers to labored breathing, difficulty drawing breath, or being short of breath. Labored breathing in dogs requires immediate veterinary medical intervention, and knowing the signs can be helpful in deciding the correct course of action.

Signs of Labored Breathing in Dogs

If your pet is experiencing difficulty breathing, they will likely exhibit one or more of these symptoms:

  • Inability to exercise (especially walks)
  • Lingering cough, especially at night
  • Increased respiratory rate > 40 bpm
  • Stretching the neck out to breathe
  • An unusually hoarse sounding bark
  • New or worsening anxious behaviors such as restlessness or pacing
  • Constant panting
  • Sitting up with a wider than usual stance in order to breathe
  • Belly rises and falls more dramatically as they breathe
  • Foaming or frothing at the mouth
  • Blue-tinged gums

What causes labored breathing in dogs?

Cats and dogs aren't always susceptible to the same conditions but some of the most common health issues that can lead to breathing difficulties in either type of animal include:

  • Asthma
  • Infectious diseases
  • Growths in the upper airway
  • Heart failure
  • Cancer
  • Metabolic issues
  • Pneumonia
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Trauma

What should I do if my pet is having difficulties breathing?

If your dog is displaying any signs of breathing difficulties, it's important to get them to the vet as quickly as possible! Labored breathing should always be considered a veterinary emergency, and to best assess and treat your dog, your vet will need to diagnose the underlying condition that is causing the breathing issues.

How is labored breathing in dogs treated?

After your dog has been thoroughly examined, your veterinarian will prescribe a treatment plan based on the diagnosis of the underlying cause of your pet's breathing difficulties. Some treatments for labored breathing include:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • IV fluids
  • Steroids to reduce airway inflammation
  • Bronchodilators to expand airway and increase airflow
  • Diuretics to treat fluid in lungs

Further diagnostic testing such as X-rays and ultrasounds may be recommended by your vet and carried out by our in-house veterinary lab. These tests can help to more accurately pinpoint the cause of your dog's breathing issues.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog is having issues breathing normally, don't hesitate. Contact our La Mesa vets or visit our daytime emergency animal hospital right away. Our experienced vets have experience in the diagnosis and treatment of labored breathing in dogs.