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Dog Hyperventilating: 6 Common Causes, Plus Treatment Options

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If your pup has ever experienced hyperventilating, you know it can be a stressful situation for everyone involved. You feel helpless as you watch your pup gasp for air, and they seem anxious or worried. While the symptoms of hyperventilation in dogs can be scary, there are many things you can do to prevent and treat the condition.

If your dog is hyperventilating, the first thing you should do is identify what’s causing the problem. Here, we’ll show you what signs to watch out for, identify the most common causes, and give you tips on how to prevent and treat dog hyperventilating.

Signs of Dog Hyperventilating

Dog hyperventilating: A dog drooling and panting

Hyperventilation is simply a term for rapid, shallow breathing. When a dog breathes normally, red blood cells deliver oxygen to different organs, helping to carry out essential functions including muscle movements. When a dog hyperventilates, he or she doesn’t get enough oxygen, resulting in difficulty breathing and symptoms that can affect the entire body.

Here are some of the main symptoms of dog hyperventilation: 

  • Rapid breathing, heavy breathing, or open-mouth breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Blue gums
  • Excessive panting and drooling
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Collapse or fainting
  • Snorting or wheezing

Left untreated, hyperventilation for long periods of time can lead to serious consequences, including heart failure. If they don’t get enough oxygen, dogs may also suffer from organ or tissue damage. Read on to learn more about the causes of dog hyperventilation and how the condition is typically treated.

6 Common Causes of Dog Hyperventilation

Dog hyperventilating: A dog hiding under a blanket and panting

There are many things that can cause a dog to hyperventilate. Some causes result in only short-term hyperventilation while others result in significant breathing difficulties that can lead to serious side effects. Here are some of the main causes of dog hyperventilation.

1. Overheating or Heat-Related Illnesses 

Exercising your dog in high temperatures can lead to overheating and serious heat-related conditions, including heat stroke. Dogs pant to help cool themselves off, resulting in short-term hyperventilation. When their body temperature gets too high or they can’t cool down, they may develop serious symptoms including fainting and fever. If left untreated, these heat-related illnesses can lead to collapse and even death. 

If you suspect your dog’s hyperventilation stems from heat, it’s important to cool your pup down as soon as possible. Move into the shade or use cold water to cool off your pup. You can also use ice packs to decrease body temperature. 

The best way to avoid overheating is to prevent it in the first place. Dog owners should try to limit strenuous activity on hot days. Instead, take your dog for walks during the early morning and late evening hours when it’s cooler. If you’re going on a long hike, make sure to pack enough water for yourself and your pup, and take breaks often.

2. Pain, Stress, and Anxiety

Dogs may exhibit heavy panting in response to pain, emotional stress, and anxiety. Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety are more likely to experience hyperventilation. They may begin to breathe rapidly as you prepare to leave the house. Dogs can also show signs of hyperventilation when they experience new or stressful situations. Fearful or nervous dogs may also cower, whine, or act skittishly in addition to having trouble breathing.

If your dog’s hyperventilating is associated with stress or pain, try to make them as comfortable as possible. Remove them from stressful situations and plan ahead if you have to go somewhere but know your pup hates when you leave. Calming treats containing ingredients like hemp and chamomile can help soothe an agitated pup. You can also talk to a veterinarian about using dog anxiety medications to help soothe symptoms.

3. Reverse Sneezing

A reverse sneeze occurs when a dog takes long, rapid breaths. The condition is typically characterized by snorting. It commonly occurs in dogs with brachycephalic skulls — broad, short heads that typically feature short noses and flat faces. These breeds include pugs, Boston terriers, and bulldogs.

Hyperventilation caused by reverse sneezing is typically nothing to be worried about. This condition usually results in short, sporadic breathing changes. If you feel like your pup has chronic issues with reverse sneezing or displays breathing difficulties such as choking or fainting, seek medical treatment at your local veterinary office.

4. Metabolic Acidosis

Metabolic acidosis is a condition where increased amounts of acid disrupt a dog’s normal blood pH. This is a serious condition that is typically the result of an underlying problem in the liver or kidneys. It can also be the result of poisoning from ingesting drugs or toxic substances. In most cases, your dog will also display symptoms that include nausea, vomiting, and lethargy. If you suspect your pup has metabolic acidosis, take him or her to the vet immediately.

5. Allergic Reactions

Dog’s may hyperventilate due to allergic reactions. Dog’s can get allergies from seasonal irritants like pollen and plants as well as chemicals in fragrances and perfumes. They may also have allergies to food, which is typically accompanied by other symptoms, including diarrhea and stomach upset.

Minor allergies can be treated at home using antihistamines. Monitor your pup and if symptoms don’t go away in a half an hour or so, call your veterinarian. In severe cases where a dog is experiencing anaphylactic shock — symptoms include dizziness, weak pulse, and fainting — head to the emergency vet immediately. 

6. Respiratory Diseases

Dogs can suffer from a variety of respiratory diseases that may cause hyperventilating. Asthma is one of these conditions. Other respiratory conditions range from mild illnesses to serious ailments, including collapsing trachea. Collapsing trachea occurs in small dogs and those with brachycephalic skulls. It’s a condition where the throat muscles and trachea weaken, resulting in difficulty breathing and hyperventilation. Minor cases can be treated with lifestyle changes like reducing excitement. Severe cases require surgery.

Other respiratory ailments that cause hyperventilation include laryngeal paralysis and kennel cough. Laryngeal paralysis is particularly common in labrador retrievers and is a condition where airway muscles become weak with age. It causes a narrowing of the airways, leading to hyperventilation. This condition and the resulting breathing difficulties should be diagnosed and treated by a vet. 

Kennel cough is a highly contagious bacterial and viral infection that can be life-threatening in puppies, immuno-compromised dogs, and elderly pups. Dogs with kennel cough may hyperventilate and usually also have a dry, hacking cough accompanied by a watery discharge from the eyes and a runny nose. If you suspect your dog has a respiratory infection like kennel cough, take him or her to the vet who can perform a blood test to identify the culprit.

Treatment of Dog Hyperventilation

A dog being treated for hyperventilating

Since dog hyperventilating can be a serious condition, it’s important to visit a licensed veterinary medicine professional (DVM) at the first signs of breathing difficulties. 

If your dog’s rapid, shallow breathing is due to excitement, you may be able to treat symptoms at home. Simply remove the dog from the environment that is creating the overexcitement. Monitor your pup closely. If symptoms subside quickly, you can skip a trip to the veterinary hospital. If they don’t go away, seek medical attention to rule out other underlying contributors.

In most other cases, it’s a good idea for pet owners to take their pets to the veterinarian if they show signs of hyperventilation. A vet can help identify breathing problems caused by medical conditions and recommend proper treatment protocols.

Depending on the cause of the hyperventilating, the vet may try to cool down your dog’s body temperature or reduce anxiety and excitement by using a sedative. They may use a combination of bronchodilators — medications that open the airways — and antihistamines if allergies are behind the breathing troubles. In more severe cases, the veterinarian may put your dog on oxygen or perform surgery to remove obstructions that cause hyperventilating.

How To Keep Your Dog From Hyperventilating

A happy, healthy dog

In cases where hyperventilating is caused by an underlying condition or when you don’t know why your pup is breathing harder than normal, seek help from your veterinarian.  

In many cases, you can prevent hyperventilating in your precious pooch. Avoidance and preparation are two key tools when it comes to preventing hyperventilation. If your dog hyperventilates because of stress, anxiety, or allergies, make a conscious effort to avoid triggers.

When it’s not possible to avoid a trigger, plan ahead. Dogs who suffer from anxiety can be given soothing treats like the Calming Hemp Chews from PetHonesty. For dogs who suffer from allergies, try AllergyImmunity Chews, which contain probiotics and other ingredients that may help to support digestion and immune health.