Labored Breathing in Dogs & Cats

When your cat or dog has labored breathing it means that they are not just out of breath but actually struggling to breathe. Today our Memphis vets explain more about labored breathing in pets and what you should do if your cat or dog is having difficulties breathing.

Tachypnea vs Dyspnea - What is Labored Breathing?

In order to be able to recognize when your dog or cat is having trouble breathing it's important to distinguish between breathing quickly (tachypnea) and actually struggling to breathe (dyspnea).

Tachypnea is the fast breathing we all experience when exercising. If you take your dog out for a run, they may pant and breathe quickly but this does not mean that your dog is having difficulties breathing.

Dyspnea is the term for labored breathing in cats and dogs. This term means that your animal is actually having difficulties taking breaths, or is short of breath.

Labored breathing is a veterinary emergency that requires immediate action, but how can you tell if your pet is struggling to breathe properly? When cats and dogs are experiencing breathing difficulties the symptoms they will exhibit may be different.

What are the signs of labored breathing in dogs?

If your dog is having a hard time breathing you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Exercise intolerance (most notably, when you take them for a walk)
  • Persistent cough, especially at night
  • An increased respiratory rate > 40 bpm
  • Stretching the neck out to breathe
  • An unusually hoarse sounding bark
  • Sighs of anxiety such as restlessness or pacing
  • Constant panting
  • Sitting up with a wide stance to breathe (front legs/elbows spread out)
  • Belly heaving in and out more as they breathe
  • Foaming or frothing at the mouth
  • Blue-tinged gums

What does labored breathing in cats look like?

It is not unusual for cats to hide when they aren't feeling well which can make spotting the signs of breathing difficulties challenging for pet parents. That said, when a cat is experiencing difficulties breathing they may show one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Hiding in a quiet place
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Body hunched close to the ground with neck extended forward
  • Hacking or persistent coughing
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Blue-tinged gums
  • Foaming or frothing from the mouth

What should I do if my pet is having trouble breathing?

If your dog or cat is displaying any signs of breathing difficulties it's time to head to the vet! Labored breathing should always be considered a veterinary emergency. In order to help your pet to breathe easier your vet will need to diagnose the underlying condition that is causing your pet's breathing issues.

What causes labored breathing in dogs and cats?

Cats and dogs aren't always susceptible to the same conditions but some of the most common health issues that can lead to breathing difficulties in pets include:

  • Asthma
  • Infectious diseases 
  • Growths in the upper airway
  • Heart failure
  • Cancer
  • Metabolic issues
  • Pneumonia
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Trauma

How is labored breathing in pets treated?

Once your pet has had a thorough examination the treatment prescribed by your vet will depend upon the underlying cause of your pet's symptoms. Some treatments for labored breathing include:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • IV fluids
  • Steroids to reduce airway inflammation
  • Bronchodilators to expand airway and increase airflow
  • Diuretics to treat fluid in lungs

Additional diagnostic testing may be required in order to pinpoint the precise cause of your pet's breathing difficulties. Diagnostic testing could include chest or abdominal x-rays and electrocardiogram or echocardiogram to check heart function. 

Is your dog or cat experiencing difficulties breathing? Contact our Memphis animal hospital right away for urgent care.

Labored Breathing in Dogs & Cats, Memphis Vet

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