Why is my puppy breathing so fast?

Updated 20 June 2024
Read time: 8 mins
article author
Written by Dr Alex Crow
Team Vet
article author
Reviewed by Elle Padgham

It’s not at all uncommon for a new owner to bring home their puppy, only to look at them and think ‘Why is my puppy breathing so fast while sleeping?’. As a vet who works emergency shifts, it’s actually a common phone call I receive.

The breathing rate of a young dog is affected by lots of different factors and can vary widely from one pup to another. So, let’s take a look at what could be going on and what you should do if you notice your puppy breathing fast while resting.


Understanding normal breathing in puppies

Much like human children, puppies will naturally breathe a lot faster than adult dogs. Their lungs are still quite small and they also have a relatively high metabolic rate, which requires lots of oxygen.

When assessing breathing rate, we want to look at a puppy’s chest as it rises and falls. Each rise counts as one breath, and we should time the breathing over 60 seconds, to get an overall representation of their breathing rate. This needs to be done when a puppy’s resting or asleep, not when they’re walking about or playing.


What’s considered a normal breathing rate for puppies?

While an adult dog may breathe about 10 to 20 times a minute, this is usually twice as fast in a puppy. And the rate can go up even more when a pup is asleep, stressed, unwell or overheated.


How does breathing change during sleep in puppies?

There are various phases of sleep, each with their own different breathing pattern and rate. The deeper into the sleep the puppy goes, the deeper and slower their breathing becomes. They may even have slight pauses between breaths and sudden big breaths, after a pause.

During REM sleep, when a puppy’s dreaming - we often notice their breathing rate speed up dramatically. The breath may be shallow and there can be other changes including muscle twitches and even ‘running’ with the paws. The puppy is dreaming!


What are the normal breathing patterns in puppies during physical activity?

As a puppy exerts themselves, their muscles demand more oxygen. To enable this oxygen to be delivered, they need to breathe faster. They may start to pant, especially during vigorous or prolonged exercise.


Common reasons for fast breathing in puppies

Some of the most common reasons of a new puppy breathing fast will include:


Overexertion or physical activity

It’s normal and expected for your pup’s breathing and heart rate to shoot up when they’re active. They may breathe with their mouth open and their breathing can be very noisy. This continues after exercise for a short while too, as they recover.


Heat and temperature regulation

Did you know that puppies cool down through their paw pads and their mouth? They sweat through their pads, and panting has a cooling effect as the moisture evaporates. This is why dogs will breathe faster and pant when they’re warm.


Signs of infection or illness

Similarly to a puppy basking in the sun, one who has a fever is also going to pant to cool themselves down.

As well as from a fever, we can see panting due to other maladies, including a source of pain (like abdominal cramps or a muscle injury) or nausea.


Congenital heart disease or defect

A less common cause of rapid breathing in a puppy will be heart disease. Typically, this would be detected at their first vet check at 8-weeks’ old (or sooner if they’re poorly). Symptoms can include a pot belly, poor growth, a cough and lethargy.


Stress or anxiety

When worried, dogs may start to display symptoms including panting, hiding away, shaking or yawning. This can be seen, for example, when a dog is in the car or at the vets. 

Behavioural panting should stop once your dog’s feeling calmer and more settled.


Recognising signs of respiratory distress in puppies

True respiratory distress is quite different to the other causes of fast breathing. You’lll notice that your puppy isn’t themself, and you’ll recognise they need urgent care.

Abnormal breathing sounds or noisy breathing

  • Breathing should be quite effortless, and sound like wind blowing through trees on a quiet day. It shouldn’t be something that you particularly notice or that’d wake you up when dozing.
  • There’s a slight exception with brachycephalic breeds like Frenchies and Pugs, who may have noisy breathing and snoring, due to the shape of their face making it harder for them to take in air. These dogs are more prone to respiratory problems.


Visible signs of respiratory distress

  • The dog is usually visibly distressed and struggling to catch their breath. They may be off their food, lethargic, shaking, or unable to exercise.
  • With severe respiratory issues, we may see ‘air hunger’ whereby the dog is desperately trying to take in oxygen by stretching their neck out to breathe, holding their forelimbs wide apart and being unable to lie down. You may also notice their gums are blue or grey.


When to seek veterinary attention for fast breathing in puppies

There’s a noticeable difference between a healthy puppy who breathes rapidly while in a deep sleep, and one who’s struggling with their breathing.


Accompanied by other symptoms 

When in need of vet attention, your pup will have other signs. These can vary but some of the most common ones would include:

  • A cough
  • Reduced appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Restlessness
  • Continual panting
  • Neck stretching
  • Blue or grey gums



Persists for an extended period of time

  • Their breathing issues will be present whether awake or asleep. This is in contrast to a healthy puppy, who stops breathing rapidly as soon as they’re woken up. 
  • You may find symptoms worsen during or after play.


Result of heatstroke

One of the most obvious and earliest signs we see when a dog’s getting overheated is panting. If the dog isn’t quickly cooled down, this can progress to heatstroke. 

  • We most commonly see this in the summer, particularly when dogs are being walked between 12pm and 3pm.
  • Heatstroke can cause a bright red tongue and gums, a glazed look in the eyes and excessive panting. This is an emergency. 
  • Owners should offer cool water to drink, and put cool water all over their dog as they transport them to the vet clinic.


Diagnosing and treating fast breathing in puppies

If you’re concerned that your puppy’s breathing unusually fast, a vet check is always a sensible first step. Don’t delay this until your pup’s vaccine appointment if you feel they’re unwell.


Physical examination and assessment by a veterinarian

Your vet will take a medical history, and it may be useful to have some videos to hand of what exactly is worrying you. They’ll examine your pup, listen to their heart and lungs and assess things like their gum colour and temperature.


 Diagnostic tests to identify underlying causes of fast breathing


Less commonly, your vet will want to run some further tests, which may include a chest X-ray or heart scan. These tests might be ordered, for example, if your vet detects a heart murmur or hears wheezing in the lungs.


Treatment options for fast breathing in puppies

Treatment options will vary depending on the issue:

  • For severe breathing difficulty, these pups will be given oxygen and medicine to help open their airways.
  • Otherwise, we’re usually talking about a course of medicine such as antibiotics or anti inflammatories.
  • Some of the pups I see require no treatment, and I’m glad to reassure the owner that their 8-week-old who’s breathing fast while sleeping is very healthy.

Tips for monitoring and supporting your puppy's respiratory health

It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with how your puppy’s breathing should be, to enable you to detect any deviations from the normal early on.

On top of this, there are some things that we can do to support our furry friends once we take them home with us.


Ensuring a comfortable environment for your puppy. Make sure that the home doesn’t get too warm for your pup, and that the air is clear and well ventilated; free of dust, cooking fumes or cigarette smoke.

Providing proper hydration and fresh drinking water. A well hydrated puppy can cope better in warmer weather and will be less prone to heatstroke. Be sure to keep their water bowl topped up, and consider taking a portable water bowl along on walks.

Regular exercise and physical activity to maintain fitness levels. While pups don’t need intensive exercise programmes when young, they do benefit from getting out and about regularly. Even before they’ve completed their vaccine course, it’s a good idea to provide some physical activities for them to do, both in the home and garden.


When exercising, be on the lookout for any signs that they may need to slow down or take a break, such as excessive panting. 

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