Seeing your dog breathing fast while sleeping can be downright scary! Especially if you’re experiencing this for the first time.
Good thing you found this article.
Here you’ll learn:
- 9 reasons why your dog is breathing fast while sleeping.
- The illnesses and diseases to watch out for that cause rapid breathing in dogs.
- What it is about puppies that makes them breathe fast while sleeping more often than adult dogs.
- And many more…
Table of contents
- Why is my dog breathing fast (and short) while sleeping?
- 9 reasons which make your dog breathe fast while sleeping
- 5 tips on what to do if your dog is breathing fast while sleeping
- What dog parents share from experience
Why is my dog breathing fast (and short) while sleeping?
Your dog is breathing fast (and short) while sleeping because of narrow nostrils and elongated soft palates. These characteristics are seen in brachycephalic dogs. They have difficulty breathing properly. Other factors include having a dream, having a fever, or onion poisoning.
9 reasons which make your dog breathe fast while sleeping
#1: Brachycephalic breed
Tachypnea is the medical term for excessively fast breathing.
This can occur in dogs that have diseases in lungs, trachea, nose, throat or mouth. These body parts are what comprise the respiratory system.
Sometimes it’s not easy to say whether your dog’s fast breathing is normal. It can be a case of excitement, or some underlying disease.
Here’s how to recognize abnormal breathing in dogs:
- Snorting or rasping.
- Drooling more than usual.
- Tongue in blue or blue-purple tinge.
- Neck stretched out, elbows side apart.
- Mouth drawn wide, with nostrils flaring.
- Panting when it’s not warm or did not come from exercise.
Why flat-nosed dogs are more prone to respiratory issues
Although tachypnea can affect dogs of any age and breed, it is more common in brachycephalic dogs. Brachycephalic dogs, or flat-faced dogs, have narrow nostrils and elongated soft palates.
These are abnormalities which make it difficult for air to pass through the nose and throat.
Thus, these dogs cannot breathe properly and get adequate air into their lungs. Even when they’re sleeping or resting.
In addition, small dog breeds may experience fast breathing throughout their lives.
Brachycephalic dogs include:
- Shih Tzu.
- Lhasa Apso.
- Boston Terrier.
- Japanese Chin.
- French Bulldog.
- English Bulldog.
Fun fact: Healthy dogs have a respiration rate of 20 to 34 breaths a minute. Breathing shouldn’t be a struggle or labored.
#2: Your dog has a vivid dream
Your dog may be breathing fast because they’re having a dream.
Now you ask, do dogs really dream? Aside from sleeping like a baby, dogs dream as well. Just like humans.
What research has found out
In 2001, a breakthrough research led to the discovery that mammals dream.
The research was conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They were the first to find out that rats dream (and in a second I’ll tell you how this relates to dogs).
What they did was let the rats loose in a maze. They then recorded the rats’ brain activity.
Later, they recorded the rats’ brain activity during REM sleep.
Here’s what they found out:
Brain patterns produced while in the maze and those produced while asleep matched in 44% of REM sleep episodes. This suggests that rats were dreaming about what they did in the maze.
With the findings in this study, it was assumed that dogs dream as well. This is considering that dogs’ brains have the same brain patterns to those of humans.
In addition, a dog goes through sleep cycles similar to a human’s sleep cycles. They undergo periods of wakefulness, rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM).
This is supported by a 1977 study of 6 pointer dogs in a lab setting. The researchers identified 2 states of sleep: slow-wave and REM. They also identified wakefulness: alert and drowsy.
They found out that:
Dogs spent 44% of alert wakefulness, 21% being drowsy and 12% in REM sleep. In addition, dogs spent 23% in non-REM sleep.
When dogs dream
It’s easy to know if your dog has entered dreamland. Wait until they fall asleep.
Dogs usually enter REM sleep after about 20 minutes. And they’re in REM sleep in 2 or 3 minutes.
You’ll know they’re in REM sleep when their breathing becomes shallow and irregular. An indication that they’re dreaming is movement.
Sometimes they kick, or a paw moves. Many times their eyes move behind the closed lids.
Here’s a compilation of dogs dreaming about running:
Puppies vs adult dog dreaming
Puppies have more dreams than adult dogs. Everything is new to them and so they obtain a lot of information. They process this information at night in their sleep.
In addition, puppies have more dreams than bigger dogs. This is according to Stanley Coren, a psychologist and writer on canine topics.
Coren says that the dream length and frequency depend on an animal’s size. For instance, your Chihuahua may have dreams every 10 minutes. Their dream may last just a minute.
Whereas a German Shepherd may dream once every 60-90 minutes. But their dream may last between 5 to 10 minutes.
Pons: Dream safety feature
Have you dreamed about flying like a bird? Or jumping to a tall tree from the ground? (Hey, anything is possible in dreams).
But while dreaming, you are safely lying in bed, and not really moving your arms in flying motion.
In short, you’re not acting out your dream. (If you do, you have REM sleep disorder).
That’s the work of pons. Pons is your dreams safety feature.
It’s a part of the brain that paralyzes large muscles during sleep. So you don’t end up climbing a tree in the middle of the night while asleep.
Pons also explains why puppies and old dogs are more likely to twitch than dogs in middle years.
Coren says that pons is still underdeveloped in puppies. And sometimes, it doesn’t work efficiently in senior dogs.
To study pons more, researchers temporarily deactivated pons. This enabled dogs to act out their dreams and for scientists to know what they dream about. Mainly, pointers point at dream birds. And Dobermans chase dream burglars.
So if you notice your dog breathing fast, they may be dreaming about something exciting. Or scary.
#3: Your dog is a puppy
Is your dog a puppy?
Compared to adult dogs, puppies have faster respiratory and heart rates. Even when they’re asleep.
Here a pet parent posted a video of his puppy breathing fast while sleeping:
The puppy was one month and one week old. The pet parent was worried about it.
I ended up reading the comments section of the video. There were a lot of pet parents whose puppies experienced the same thing. They were concerned, and some were scared about it.
But, this is completely normal and nothing to be scared about.
In addition, a puppy has a lot of growing to do. And sleep can help them in their development phase. Breathing fast is actually a part of this development.
Your dog’s fast breathing can be due to anemia.
An increased respiratory rate is one of the signs of anemia. Breathing is also shallow.
Anemic dogs breathe fast because of the lowered amount of oxygen to the tissues. You will notice this more when your dog engages in tiring activities.
When they exercise, their bodies have an increased need for oxygen-rich blood. Your dog will breathe fast to deliver oxygen to the body tissues.
Fast breathing may be a sign of asthma or allergy in your dog. Having asthma causes a dog to have difficulty breathing.
Aside from fast breathing, a dog with asthma has the following symptoms:
- Pale gums.
- Loss of energy.
- Loss of appetite.
- Persistent cough.
Even while sleeping, you’ll notice the rapid rising and falling of your dog’s chest.
#6: Hot weather
Dogs breathe fast when the weather is hot.
They don’t sweat like humans do. But they cool themselves through their mouths and the pads of their paws.
Warning: A dog’s normal body temperature is 101-102.5℉ (38.3-39℃). They may develop heat stroke if their body temperature increases by 3 to 4 degrees. At which point they start to breathe fast.
#7: Congestive heart failure
Another explanation for breathing fast is a congestive heart failure (CHF).
With CHF, the body is not circulating enough oxygen. As a result, a dog breathes fast to compensate for the low levels of oxygen.
Specifically, a CHF causes fluid build up in your dog’s heart, lungs or abdomen. It happens because the heart is not able to pump enough blood to the body.
This is more common in senior dogs.
- Weight loss.
- Swollen abdomen.
- Lack of appetite.
- Difficulty breathing.
#8: Onion poisoning
Just because it’s safe for humans doesn’t mean it’s safe for dogs.
There are many foods in your pantry that can cause food poisoning in dogs.
Starting with onions. Consuming a certain quantity can cause fast breathing in our canine friends.
This research delves into certain foods that are toxic to pets, including onions. Onions have toxic substances that damage red blood cells. This can result in anemia.
The research furthers that consumption of as little as 15 to 30 g/kg of onion can be highly toxic. In addition, 600-800g (0.6-0.8kg), whether consumed in one meal or spread over a few days, can cause anemia.
Symptoms of onion poisoning include:
- Abdominal pain.
Aside from onions, other members of the allium family are poisonous. It includes garlic, chives and leeks.
A dog’s fast breathing may be caused by high fever.
This is more likely if the dog’s body temperature is higher than normal. Or if the gums are very red.
And when dogs have fever, they pant to lose heat.
A high fever is often accompanied by any of these symptoms:
- Rapid heart rate.
- Decreased appetite.
5 tips on what to do if your dog is breathing fast while sleeping
#1: Go to the vet
It can be worrisome to see your dog breathing fast while sleeping.
To determine whether your dog’s breathing is rapid, count their breath. Inhaling and exhaling is one breath.
The best time to count their breaths is when they’re sleeping. Start counting in a full minute. Or, if they have regular breathing, count for 30 seconds then multiply by 2.
Note: A healthy dog breathes between 20 and 34 times per minute.
If it’s higher than 34 by a significant amount, and there are worrying symptoms, bring your dog to the vet.
Your vet will do tests to eliminate possibilities to get to the real cause.
#2: Let sleeping dogs lie
There is nothing to worry about if your dog breathes fast while sleeping. They’re probably having a dream.
Dogs usually wake up and behave normally.
However, there are very few special cases, just like Bizkit. From the video below, you can see that he ran into the wall. He was probably dreaming of chasing a cat or car.
But other than that, don’t try to wake them up while in REM sleep. They don’t know what’s happening around them.
Waking them up might catch them by surprise and react by biting you, unintentionally.
If they display worrisome symptoms upon waking up, better call the vet.
#3: Keep them cool
Sometimes it’s just the temperature that makes your dog breathe fast while sleeping.
Make your dog comfortable by putting their bed out of the sun. Use a fan or adjust the air conditioning to keep them cool inside the house.
Avoid over-exercising your dog during the hot weather to avoid heat stroke.
Whoever said ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is right on so many levels.
There’s nothing you can do about certain dogs being brachycephalic. But at least you can do measures to prevent complications.
Other diseases cannot be prevented as well, such as heart failure. And some diseases come with age.
But what’s important is recognizing the early signs so you can make adjustments for your dog.
Other factors discussed above are preventable, such as onion poisoning and heat stroke. These can be prevented by making sure they eat dog-safe food. And exercising only when it’s not too hot.
#5: Keep them hydrated
Heat stroke is a deadly enemy for dogs.
But you can take steps to avoid it. For one, schedule their exercise during the cooler times of the day.
Keep them indoors when it’s very hot outside. Place water bowls around the house so dogs have easy access to water.
You can also provide a cooling mat to help your dog expel body heat. Frozen treats can also give them relief from hot weather.
Dogs breathing fast while sleeping can be worrying, even for long-time pet parents.
It makes you entertain these questions in your mind:
Is my dog okay? Should I take them to the hospital right away? How do I know it’s nothing to worry about?
Thankfully, people share their experiences on forums and communities for pet parents. Their experiences can help dog parents whose dogs are going through the same thing.
Perhaps you can learn from these people’s experiences.
Parent #1 shares that she got her Husky at 8 weeks old. It was her very first dog.
Naturally, even the smallest thing worried her.
One of her observations was her dog’s fast breathing when sleeping. She went straight to the vet to consult.
The vet put her worries to rest, saying it was normal for puppies. The Husky was probably dreaming about something.
Turns out there was nothing to worry about.
This parent posted about her dog’s situation on a dog forum. The dog was a 10-year-old male Shih Tzu.
The case was that the dog was panting and breathing fast. It looked as if the dog was struggling with each breath.
The parent mentioned that the dog was overweight. Also, the dog didn’t have problems with eating and drinking.
The dog was brought to the vet for x-ray, blood work and other tests. All were normal.
However, the vet found out that the dog’s lungs were inflamed. The vet prescribed prednisone and bronchodilator.
Unfortunately, the fast breathing didn’t go away after 2 days. The parent was worried, seeing as the dog was senior and overweight.
The parent’s post did not include a resolution. But let’s just hope that they returned their dog to the vet for further check-ups.
This dog parent has a 24-pound (10.9 kilograms) French Bulldog. She observed that her dog was breathing fast in the last 2 days.
The incidents happened only at midnight and not in the afternoon or at night. She checked the dog’s respiration: it was 50 breaths per minute.
When she would wake up the dog, the rapid breathing would stop. But it still worried them.
At the vet clinic, it was discovered that the dog has bronchitis. The vet prescribed cortisone, antibiotics, cough suppressant and medicine for opening the airway.
The vet noted that the dog’s heart was good.
The dog was cured of her cough. Her food and water intake was normal, as well as her bowel movements. But the fast breathing at midnight remained.
Under the circumstances, the best thing to do is to monitor the dog. There could be other underlying conditions for the dog’s fast breathing.