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Why do dogs have breathing attacks?

Dogs are beloved pets, so their health is a top priority for their owners. Breathing attacks are one of the most concerning health issues dogs can experience. 

Breathing attacks, also known as respiratory distress, are a condition where a dog struggles to breathe normally, and it can be quite distressing to witness. Dogs can experience this for a variety of reasons, such as allergies, infections, heart problems, obstructions, or heat stroke.

We’ll explore the possible causes of breathing attacks in dogs and what you can do if your furry friend experiences one. Any signs of breathing attacks in a canine should be taken seriously ASAP.

Possible causes of breathing attacks in dogs

There are many reasons why a dog may have breathing attacks. Below are some of the most common causes.

It’s important to address the root cause quickly to ensure your dog’s safety. Remember, causes can be rooted in genetic makeup, environmental reasons, and even activity-based–all of which can harm your dog if it goes untreated.

Respiratory allergies

Dogs can suffer from allergies, just like humans. Allergies can cause the airways to become inflamed and narrow, making it difficult for your dog to breathe.

When it comes to identifying whether your dog has an allergy or not, make sure to pay attention to breed type. Genetically, some dogs are more prone to having specific sensitivities, but all breeds are susceptible.

If your pup has an excessively runny nose, is coughing, or is sneezing, the breathing issues are most likely stemming from an allergen. Examine your dog’s daily habits to see where the symptoms flair most, or talk with a professional.


Dogs can suffer from a range of infections, including kennel cough, pneumonia, and bronchitis. These are less common unless your dog is exposed to another animal or an environment with a foreign pollutant.

These infections can cause inflammation and mucus buildup in the airways, making it difficult for your dog to breathe. If any of these symptoms are pretty routine, consult your dog’s vet about how to absolve the issue.

Heart problems

Heart disease, sometimes called dyspnea, can lead to fluid buildup in the lungs, making it difficult for your dog to breathe. Problems surrounding the heart can lead to a generally fast-paced pant daily.

Even normal activity can quicken the pace of a dog’s breath to that of a breathing attack. Try to give your pup a calmer routine overall to help ease the amount of work they do to breathe.

Have regularly scheduled check-ups with your pup’s vet to monitor the condition. Your veterinarian will have a plethora of resources and plans to ensure your dog’s recovery or comfort with any heart complications.


If your dog hasn’t or doesn’t have breathing issues often, there could be an obstruction in their mouth or throat. Two people should be involved in trying to retrieve the object for safety purposes.

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One person restricts the dog as calmly as possible while the other opens the mouth and tries to remove the item. If you aren’t able to solve the issue at home, go to an emergency vet clinic right away, there’s no time waste.

It does happen, so place anything tempting to your dog out of reach or ensure the dog plays with it under supervision. Foreign objects, such as toys or bones, are some of the most common objects dogs can get lodged in their throat.

Heat stroke

Dogs can easily overheat, especially during hot weather. Heat stroke can cause breathing difficulties, as well as other serious health issues.

This most commonly happens in the summer months, but it’s possible to happen anytime a dog outputs a lot of energy without water available. To reduce the possibility, always bring water to any activity.

Panting is a way for a dog to help self-regulate its temperature, but if they are experiencing heat stroke, it’s harder for them to regulate in this fashion. Always give your dog breaks and relief under a shaded area with water.

Symptoms of breathing attacks

As we’ve covered some symptoms in specific causes, here’s a larger, more comprehensive list to detect anything out of the ordinary in your pup’s respiratory system.

  • Coughing- A dog’s cough is generally a pretty human-like sound. The sound may differ depending on what is the issue.
  • Wheezing- Again, pretty similar in sound to human wheezing. Deep labored breathing to get oxygen into the system.
  • Difficulty breathing- This could look or sound different depending on the dog. Any signs of panicking such as unusual actions, facial expressions, or sounds could show your dog is having issues.
  • Rapid breathing- Heightened, faster-paced breathing could mean your dog is trying to regulate its temperature
  • Blue gums- If you see blue or purple-ish coloring on your dog’s gums, get to the dog’s vet or emergency clinic as fast as possible. Something larger is going on with your pup, and there’s no time to waste.
  • Collapse- Again, there’s no time to question anything–head straight to your vet or emergency clinic.

Preventing breathing attacks in dogs

While some causes of breathing attacks are beyond your control, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of your dog experiencing a breathing attack. Here are some tips to best help your animals live a happier and healthier life both in and away from home.

Keep your dog’s environment clean

Dust, mold, and other environmental allergens can trigger allergies in dogs. Regular cleaning can help reduce the risk of allergies and breathing difficulties.

Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke

Secondhand smoke can cause respiratory problems in dogs, just as it can in humans. Avoid smoking around your dog or exposing them to smoke.

Watch your dog’s weight

Obesity can contribute to breathing difficulties in dogs, especially in short-nosed breeds like Pugs and Bulldogs. Keep your dog at a healthy weight to reduce the risk of breathing attacks.

Keep your dog cool

Dogs can easily overheat, especially during hot weather. Make sure your dog has access to plenty of water and shade, and avoid exercising them during the hottest parts of the day.

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Avoid or reduce stimulants

For dogs with known heart problems, giving them a calm environment helps reduce the strain on their breathing from any heightened reactions.

Treatment for a dog having a breathing attack

There are many treatments to help treat your dog’s respiratory issues or breathing attacks. There are options from medication to oxygen therapy for chronic or recurring attacks. In more severe cases, surgery or emergency care may be options.

Regardless of what the root of your dog’s breathing issues is, there are plenty of services professionals offer and provide. There are some things to remember to help your pet in situations.

If your dog has a breathing attack, it’s important to remain calm, act quickly, and head to a professional if needed. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Stay calm: Your dog can sense your emotions, so it’s important to stay calm and reassure your dog that everything will be okay.
  2. Check for obstructions: If you suspect your dog has something lodged in their throat, try to remove it gently. Be careful not to push the object further down the throat if something is there.
  3. Move to a quiet area: If your dog is stressed or anxious, move them to a peaceful and calm area to help them relax.
  4. Seek veterinary care: If your dog’s breathing attacks persist or worsen, it’s important to seek veterinary care immediately. Breathing attacks can be life-threatening if left untreated.
  5. Water, post-attack: Once your dog’s breathing returns to a normal pace, provide the dog with fresh water in small increments.

Final thoughts

To review, breathing attacks can be a scary and life-threatening condition for dogs. The best thing you can do is be proactive to help your dog’s lungs and figure out the reason for the dog’s breathing issues earlier in life if a breathing attack occurs semi-regularly.

Regular communication and check-ups with your vet can help prevent a possible symptom from maturing in your dog as it continues to age.

In the day-to-day, if and when it happens, comfort your dog through the experience once you know why it’s occurring. Remember, dogs are so perceptive to human emotion, so keep calm and reassure them through the attack.

Breathing attacks are very serious no matter how they present, so continue to monitor and take preventative steps so your dog can breath easy.

Further tools and resources

Check out these three sources for more information about professional assistance with breathing attacks or other respiratory complications.

The first to check out is the American Veterinary Medical Association’s first aid procedures regarding some serious stemmed breathing attacks.

The second site to visit is the Humane Society’s page about disaster preparedness in both larger events and everyday scenarios.

And finally, VetLocater locates emergency animal clinics nearest you as well as provides a list of hotline numbers for further assistance in pet emergencies.