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Dyspnea (Trouble Breathing) in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Respiratory distress, often called dyspnea, is labored, difficult breathing or shortness of breath that can occur at any time during the breathing process, during inspiration (breathing in) or expiration (breathing out). When your dog has trouble breathing, he may not be able to get enough oxygen to his tissues. Additionally, if he has heart failure, he may not be able to pump sufficient blood to his muscles and other tissues. Dyspnea is often associated with accumulation of fluid (edema) in the lungs or the chest cavity (pleural effusion). This fluid can lead to shortness of breath and coughing.


  • Heart disease or heart failure
  • Lung disease
  • Tumors or cancer in the lung or which press on the airway
  • Infections such as pneumonia)
  • Obstructions that occlude the airway
  • Trauma
  • Bleeding into the lungs or chest
  • Abnormal fluid accumulation in/or around the lungs from various causes including heart and lung disease

    Infectious tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) is common in dogs that have been boarded or kenneled, and intact (non-spayed) female dogs are predisposed to breast cancer (metastatic mammary carcinoma). Younger animals are more likely to develop lung infections. In addition, certain breeds are predisposed to some of the conditions that cause dyspnea. For example:

  • Brachycephalic breeds (short faced breeds such as bulldogs and Boston terriers) are predisposed to upper airway problems, such as narrowed nostrils, laryngeal paralysis, and elongated soft palate, where they have trouble getting air into their airways. Of course, brachycephalic breeds often have noisy breathing because of the shape of their face and neck, but respiratory difficulty may be exacerbated and become serious when the animal is exposed to the stress of hot or humid weather, undergoes anesthesia, has a fever and/or is excessively excited.

  • Boxer and bracycephalic breed dogs are predisposed to tumors that arise near the heart (called heart base tumors) and lung tumors.

  • Large and giant breed dogs (e.g. Doberman pinschers, Great Danes) are predisposed to acquired cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure (CHF).

  • Small breed dogs are predisposed to tracheal collapse, chronic bronchitis and chronic mitral valve disease, which is a condition in which the heart valves do not function normally.

  • Toy breeds are predisposed to tracheal collapse.

    What to Watch For

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

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