Ask Dr. Debra: When to Worry About Your Dog’s Breathing

Ask Dr. Debra: When to Worry About Your Dog’s Breathing

Dr. Debra Primovic discusses respiratory rates in dogs.Dr. Debra Primovic discusses respiratory rates in dogs.
Dr. Debra Primovic discusses respiratory rates in dogs.Dr. Debra Primovic discusses respiratory rates in dogs.

This Week’s Question:

My smaller dog falls in the healthy range of about 15 breaths per minute while sleeping, but my larger dog only breaths between 6 – 9 times per minute when asleep. He is 55lbs, 3 years old, quite hyper, and by all accounts healthy. I’ve tried to Google to make sure this is normal, since breathing once every 10 seconds gives me 9 seconds of terror that he isn’t breathing, but all I have found is information on average breathing rates and potential ailments for increased respiration, not reduced.

Is there anything I should be worried about with him breathing so slow, or is this sort of like how human athletes have slower respiration, heart rate, and lower blood pressure at rest, and this is just a sign of his athletic nature?

Samantha Larson

Dr. Debra’s Answer:

Hi Sammy,

Thank you for your question about normal breathing rates in healthy, young, larger-sized dogs. Normal respiratory rates for most dogs range from 10 to 30 breaths per minute. Panting dogs can breathe over 200 breaths per minute. Many factors impact normal respiratory rates including exercise, excitement, ambient temperature, and humidity. For example, it is common for a dog’s resting respiratory rate to be on the lower end of normal, and then abruptly double or triple as they walk into the veterinary clinic due to excitement or stress.

Most of our clinical concerns surrounding respiratory rates focus on increased rates and increased effort. These abnormalities can be caused by heart disease, lung issues, and various metabolic conditions.

When to Worry About Slow Respiratory Rates

We worry about slow respiratory rates in dogs with current medical symptoms or problems, such as dogs that are lethargic, weak, pale, or have underlying heart or lung problems, or a history of concurrent trauma or medication overdoses.

A rate of 8 – 10 breaths per minute is considered normal in a healthy dog that is relaxed or resting. As you point out, this is similar to human athletes.

If at any time you believe the respiratory rate is slow, but has an increased effort or concurrent symptoms, this is cause for concern. The medical term for difficulty breathing is “dyspnea” and we have a good article on all of the potential causes here. If you ever have concern about your dog’s breathing being abnormal, please see your veterinarian. They can auscultate the lungs with a stethoscope to detect abnormal sounds or perform additional diagnostic tests, such as a chest x-ray (radiograph), if indicated.

Thanks for your question and for paying close attention to your dogs. Here is a good article on how to perform a physical examination on your dogs at home. This is a great way to catch problems early when they may be more treatable.

With warm regards,

Dr. Debra

Please note: Dr. Debra’s guidance should not be considered veterinary advice like that provided by your veterinarian, since she is unable to personally examine your pet. If you have an immediate concern or emergency, contact a veterinarian or local veterinary hospital about your specific situation.

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