Abnormal Breathing in Dogs

Updated November 21, 2016

Abnormal breathing, also known as dyspnea, is a common but serious condition in many dogs due to many possible causes. When your dog experiences difficulty breathing, it is not getting enough oxygen to the tissues. Abnormal breathing may be evident if your dog seems to be breathing from the abdomen rather than the chest. Other signs may be that your dog breathes too fast or slow, with loud gasping sounds, shallow breathing, or breathing with mouth open, which are all signs of a breathing problem.


According to the, Bordetella, also known as kennel cough, is a highly contagious upper respiratory condition that can cause abnormal breathing for your dog. Symptoms are obvious enough to make it easy to diagnose and treat. Some symptoms are a dry hacking cough, gagging, vomiting or retching after coughing, watery nasal discharge, conjunctivitis and sneezing. If left untreated, the condition can develop into bronchopneumonia or chronic bronchitis. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, such as doxycycline or trimethoprim-sulfa, depending on the severity of the Bordetella, in addition to a cough suppressant or a bronchodilator.


Pneumonia causes severe respiratory distress, with symptoms of coughing, loss of appetite, abnormal breathing, fever and depression. Your dog is lacking oxygen, also known as cyanosis, if you notice the tongue, gums and lips have a bluish tint. Pneumonia is usually a bacterial or fungal infection, and treatment consists of antibiotic therapy.


A fungal or viral infection is another cause of abnormal breathing for your dog. Symptoms include sneezing, lack of energy, difficulty breathing and nasal pain and are treated with prescription medications.

Respiratory Cancer

Cancer is not the most common cause for respiratory problems, though a cancer can occur in the sinus passages which could lead to a tumour growth in the lungs. The cancer can spread to other parts of the body and may require surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Tracheal Collapse

This is a condition where your dog's windpipe would collapse, causing the dog to gasp for air, gag and cough. Smaller and older dogs are more prone to this condition. Genetics, trauma, birth defects and deterioration of cartilage can accelerate the problem. Depending on the severity, this condition can be treated with medications, or a risky surgery can be performed to correct the collapsed trachea.


Asthma is rare and may affect middle-age dogs. Symptoms are wheezing, abnormal breathing, heaviness in chest, panting and coughing. Treatment depends on severity and usually involves steroids and bronchodilators, epinephrine injections and antihistamines.


Laryngeal paralysis is caused by a dysfunction of the nerves in the throat, causing paralysis of the voice box. Your dog will experience great difficulty breathing and further respiratory damage will occur if not treated. Surgery is needed to permanently suture the cartilage of the larynx to an open position, allowing your dog to breathe normally.

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