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Labored Breathing in Dogs & Cats - What Does Labored Breathing Look Like?

Many pet parents wonder if their dog or cat's panting means that their pet is experiencing labored breathing. While this can be the case, labored breathing actually means that the pet is struggling to breathe. Our Bartlett vets and team share more about labored breathing in dogs and cats.

Labored Breathing VS Breathing Quickly

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

Tachypnea

  • Tachypnea is the fast breathing we all experience when exercising. If you take your dog out for a run, they may pant and breathe quickly but this does not mean that your dog is having difficulties breathing.

Dyspnea

  • Dyspnea is the term for labored breathing in cats and dogs. This term means that your animal is actually having difficulties taking breaths, or is short of breath.

If your pet is experiencing labored breathing is considered to be a veterinary emergency and requires immediate action, but how can you tell if your pet is struggling to breathe properly? When cats and dogs are experiencing breathing difficulties the symptoms they will exhibit may be different.

How To Spot Labored Breathing in Dogs

If your pooch is having difficulty breathing (labored breathing) you are likely to notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Exercise intolerance (most notably, when you take them for a walk)
  • Persistent cough, especially at night
  • An increased respiratory rate > 40 bpm
  • Stretching the neck out to breathe
  • An unusually hoarse sounding bark
  • Sighs of anxiety such as restlessness or pacing
  • Constant panting
  • Sitting up with a wide stance to breathe (front legs/elbows spread out)
  • Belly heaving in and out more as they breathe
  • Foaming or frothing at the mouth
  • Blue-tinged gums

Signs of Labored Breathing in Cats

Cats will often hide when they aren't feeling well which can make spotting the signs of labored breathing challenging for cat parents. Nonetheless, when a cat is experiencing difficulties breathing they will typically exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Hiding in a quiet place
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Body hunched close to the ground with neck extended forward
  • Hacking or persistent coughing
  • Open-mouth breathing
  • Blue-tinged gums
  • Foaming or frothing from the mouth

What To Do If Your Dog or Cat Has Labored Breathing

If your dog or cat is displaying any signs of breathing difficulties it's time to head to the vet! Labored breathing should always be considered a veterinary emergency. In order to help your pet to breathe easier your vet will need to diagnose the underlying condition that is causing your pet's breathing issues.

Common Causes of Labored Breathing in Pets

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

Treatment for Pets Struggling With Labored Breathing

After your pet has had a thorough examination the treatment prescribed by your veterinarian will depend upon 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

Additional diagnostic testing may be required in order to pinpoint the precise cause of your pet's breathing difficulties. Diagnostic testing could include chest or abdominal x-rays and electrocardiogram or echocardiogram to check heart function. 

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 you think that your dog or cat is struggling to breathe properly it's time to head to the vet! Contact our Bartlett vets right away or visit your nearest animal emergency clinic to recieve urgent care for your pet. 

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