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Puppy Breathing Fast? 7 Fascinating Facts (& What To Do!)

When we own a puppy, we are stewards of his health. As such, when he starts breathing fast, erratically, or in an otherwise funky manner, we can be quickly filled with fear and dread. But are these emotions that can wash over us valid ones to have?

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Why Pups May Breathe Fast

There are several instances where you may catch your puppy breathing rapidly. Some of these instances may appear to be no-brainers, and shouldn’t ever be cause for alarm. For instance, if your pup has just spent the last half-hour playing vigorously in warm temperatures, he may be simply panting as a means to catch his breath.

Other instances where you catch your pup breathing quickly may need a little more explanation because they may strike you as a bit odd. For instance, you may catch rapid breathing with the little guy is asleep. You may even see him start breathing rapidly when he’s just sitting there, idling, without any prior exercise. 

The good news here is that in most of the cases involving rapid breathing, you don’t have a thing to worry about. However, it’s wise to know about the handful of scenarios where rapid puppy breathing could be a cause for alarm well before they arrive, so you’ll know how to handle things with a cool head.

What Rapid Puppy Breathing May Look Like

Rapid breathing in a pup may look subtle, in part because their size is so small. However, as this video demonstrates, there is enough of a visual clue to inform you that the pooch is not breathing at his normal pace. It’s certainly enough of a clue to potentially strike fear into your heart.

Rapid Puppy Breathing and Sleeping

A sleeping puppy can look adorable for obvious reasons. But when he starts breathing rapidly, he may look like he’s in trouble. This appearance may be augmented by other body motions the pup may be experiencing during slumber, like twitching, wriggling, or whining.

Thankfully, you have nothing to worry about here. Rapid breathing – and the other physical behaviors – are simply what puppies do when they fall asleep. In fact, this type of rapid breathing is similar to what you may see in an infant as they try to catch some “Zs.”

The reason for the breathing and movements is because the puppies are dreaming. While we don’t know what pups dream about, we can extrapolate from our own experiences in the dreamscape to surmise that they are experiencing some exciting, scary, and some flat-out trippy things. Their bodies are going to react in kind.

We may get worried over rapid breathing during sleep because pups do a whole lot of slumbering. But it’s necessary for them to sleep so much, because sleep is the time where their bodies grow and develop. Dreaming – and the rapid breathing that stems from it – is merely a by-product of this important process.

Puppies, Breathing, and Stress

You’ve wanted to bring a puppy into your home. The reasons you’ve put forth the effort to pick up the perfect pooch seems fairly obvious. Namely, you want a four-legged companion to keep you company, bring you joy, and shower with love.

This is not obvious to the puppy. In fact, when you excitedly pick up your puppy from a reputable breeder, your little guy may be a bubbling cauldron of emotions, but they’re pretty much the opposite of the emotions you’re experiencing.

When you pick up a puppy, you’re separating him from his mother and uprooting him from an environment that he’s grown used to. This is a huge life change for him to deal with, and it can cause the little guy a whole lot of stress. This anxiety that comes from a sudden rush of change can manifest itself into rapid breathing.

In this situation, you don’t have anything to worry about from a medical standpoint. However, it would behoove you to treat the puppy gentle at this time, so he’s not completely overwhelmed. This especially is the case if you plan on jumping into to the realm of training and socialization immediately.

There’s a lot to teach a new puppy to turn him into a good adult dog, from where to do his business to where to sleep at night. If you try and cram this information into long training sessions, you’ll exacerbate his stress levels, which could lead to rapid breathing. Keep the training sessions small and sweet so your little buddy doesn’t wear out his lungs.

Rapid Breathing and Panting

There may be times when your puppy’s rapid breathing progresses into panting. If this is the case, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your little guy has an issue. You should be able to apply some basic logic to determine whether or not he’s okay.

As mentioned earlier, if your dog is coming down from a playtime session, his panting and rapid breathing mean he's probably just catching his breath. Panting could be a sign that he's trying to cool off, which may not be easy to remember if the thermostat is set to your liking. That said, if you're not entirely sure of the cause, talk to your vet.

You should also be concerned when your little buddy’s panting and rapid breathing is accompanied by a few other adverse symptoms. If you also notice your pup vomiting, refusing to eat, or showing signs of lethargy, don’t mess around. Take your pup to the vet immediately.

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Rapid Breathing and Medical Concerns

Puppy Breathing Fast 2

While rapid breathing typically isn't cause for alarm, it can be symptomatic of a handful of medical conditions. These conditions vary in their severity and are usually accompanied by other signs that help to further pinpoint the issue.

Rapid breathing, also known as tachypnea or polypnea if you want to get technical about things, can be tied to a few lung-related conditions. Some of these are mild in the grand scheme of things, such as asthma or kennel cough. Others are more severe, such as bleeding into the lungs or pulmonary edema.

Not surprisingly, these lung-related maladies are typically accompanied by chronic coughing. You’ll see this symptom typically manifest when the pup is lying down doing nothing or when he wakes up from a nap or a good sleep. In severe conditions, coughing may be a sign that the heart isn’t working as well as it should.

Rapid breathing may also be indicative of issues beyond the dog’s heart and lungs. Anemia, tumors, and low levels of oxygen in the blood can all feature rapid breathing as a symptom. If you notice your pup breathing rapidly in a situation not involving sleep, keeping cool, or coming down from an exercise, you may want to schedule a visit with your vet.

Swollen Bellies and Rapid Breathing

When you catch your dog breathing fast, you may also notice that his belly looks a little swollen. This may freak you out a little, because you may automatically equate a distended tummy with something awful going on. However, this isn’t always the case.

A lot of pups will develop a swollen tummy for reasons that are common or for ailments that are mild at best. For instance, a puppy that hasn’t learned to eat at a proper pace may end up with a swollen belly. This because they’ve eaten too rapidly and have taken an excessive amount of air into their tummies.

Another reason that pups may have a swollen belly is that they have puppy worms. This condition isn't nearly as bad as it may sound; it's quite common for pups to have worms, including some species that are directly transferred from the pup to the mother via milk.

Your puppy’s rapid breathing may be a by-product of these conditions. While the presence of worms – and the breathing caused by such a presence – can be knocked out with a trip to the vet and a de-worming treatment, rapid breathing caused by excessive air intake will be neutralized by the pup learning how to eat at a proper pace.

With this being said, if a swollen belly is accompanied by other things such as a loss of appetite or constant lethargy, there’s probably something else afoot, and it’s something that demands your attention. If you suspect it’s indicative of a bigger issue, seek out assistance from your vet immediately.

Don’t Panic – It’s Probably Nothing

While there are scenarios where rapid breathing could be indicative of something worthy of medical attention, it’s important to note that they are the exceptions rather than the rules. Chances are, when you see your little guy breathing rapidly, you won’t have a thing to worry about.

As such, there’s no need to panic if you catch your four-legged friend breathing quickly while he’s in a middle of a nap, even if he’s also kicking and making noise at the same time. It’s simply a part of puppy life, and unless you have a pretty strong indicator that there’s something else in play like a secondary symptom, you should rest easy.


Laura Harris

Dr. Laura Harris is our resident dog health expert. She started to fact-check dog health-related information for HerePup during her internship and contributes since then. Her expertise is in dog nutrition, senior dog care, especially critical care medicine and internal medicine.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 7 comments
Kara - June 23, 2017

Thank you this helped a lot I can sleep now

Rolland - October 9, 2017

There was my friend who had a puppy named Alex. We have applied few things from this article and the result was awesome, really really pretty good article for dog owners.

Georgia - November 29, 2017

I have a shih tzus Yorkie puppy mix 12 weeks old how would I know if he has worms

    PC Carrell - November 29, 2017

    Hi Georgia
    When dogs have worms they show signs like a sudden change in appetite. They stop eating. Also if their skin develop irritations. your dog may vomit and the vomit may contain worms. Your pup may also develop diarrhea, and have a large belly.
    hope this helped

Bruce Peake - September 7, 2019

Yup, we just picked upour little guy today, a IrishDoodle, and its bedtime and he’s panting excessively… Kinda figured it was do to stress from being away from his brothers n sisters, mom n dad and a few uncles too…we hot home from a rep breeder. Good to know n confirm our thoughts. Poor little guy just feels lost n misses his family. He’s on bed with us now, lol… We’ll keep y’all posted whole we shower home with love their next few day’s

Damian - October 6, 2019

Very helpful, thank you you’ve put my mind at rest, I can now stop poking the little fella to make sure he’s OK

Tory Wilkins - October 11, 2019

So what if this is happening 2 days after i tool him to the vet and put him on meds, giving him saline in his back, and been cleaning out his nose. Should I still take him in?


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