Tachypnea (Fast Breathing) in Dogs

Tachypnea (Fast Breathing) in Dogs

Tachypnea in dogsTachypnea in dogs
Tachypnea in dogsTachypnea in dogs

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Overview of Tachypnea in Dogs

Tachypnea, also referred to as polypnea, is an increased rate of breathing. Tachypnea, unlike dyspnea (distressful feeling associated with labored breathing), need not be an indication of distress in dogs.

Causes of Fast Breathing in Dogs

There are many causes of fast breathing in dogs. They may include the following:

Upper Respiratory Causes

  • Diseases of the nostrils and sinuses (infection, narrowing, inflammation, cancer)
  • Soft palate disorders
  • Laryngeal diseases (swelling, collapse, paralysis, spasm)
  • Tracheal (windpipe) diseases (tumors, collapse, foreign bodies)
  • Compression of upper airway structures from thoracic changes (masses, lymph nodes)

Lower Respiratory Causes

Lower respiratory disorders include obstructive (that which clogs or blocks) diseases and restrictive (that which confines) diseases.

  • Bronchial diseases (bronchitis, cancer, parasites)
  • Lung diseases (fluid, pneumonia, bleeding, clots, parasites, cancer, and lung lobe twisting)
  • Pleural effusion (fluid in the chest cavity)
  • Pneumothorax (air in the chest cavity)
  • Hernias
  • Masses, lymph nodes or tumors in the chest cavity

Nonrespiratory Causes

  • Heart diseases (congestive heart failure, arrhythmias)
  • Neuromuscular diseases (trauma, cancer, inflammation)
  • Metabolic/endocrine diseases (diabetes, Cushing’s disease)
  • Hematologic diseases (anemia)
  • Abdominal diseases (masses, enlarged organs, fluid, bloating)
  • Other (pain, fear, physical exertion, fever, heat, stress, obesity, drugs)

    Tachypnea may have little to no impact on the affected individual, especially in association with transient causes such as fear or stress. Conversely, it may represent a more severe, life-threatening illness. For this reason, tachypnea should not be ignored and addressed if it persists or progresses to dyspnea.

What to Watch For

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blue color to the gums
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Excessive drinking or urinating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Diagnosis of Tachypnea in Dogs

Before any testing is performed, consider any factors that may be causative (heat, stress, overexertion) and eliminate them from your pet’s environment. If tachypnea persists despite removing the possible cause, and/or signs are long standing or progressive, it is important to seek veterinary attention and have tests performed on your pet.

  • A complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile, and urinalysis are an important part of any baseline work up. Changes may suggest conditions that cause tachypnea such as anemia, infection, and diabetes.
  • A heartworm test should be performed on all dogs
  • An arterial blood gas to assess the patient’s acid-base status
  • An ACTH stimulation test may be of benefit in ruling out hyperadrenocorticism
  • Chest radiographs (X-rays) should be performed on these patients. It may be important to include the structures of the neck in some cases so as not to miss a foreign body or tumor in the upper respiratory tract.
  • An ultrasound of the heart and thoracic cavity
  • Thoracocentesis (withdrawing fluid, air or tissue from the chest) and fluid analysis or cytology
  • More advanced diagnostics to include rhinoscopy or tracheobronchoscopy (scoping the nasal cavity or trachea and bronchi) and/or CT scan

Treatment of Tachypnea in Dogs

  • Ideally, an underlying cause should be identified and corrected or eliminated. Heat, stress, overexertion are examples.
  • Symptomatic therapy should be instituted while searching for an underlying cause.
  • Oxygen therapy and strict rest is of benefit to many of these individuals, especially if they are in distress.
  • Antibiotic or anti-inflammatory therapy may be of benefit in those with infectious or inflammatory disorders.
  • Fluid therapy is indicated in those who are dehydrated or have concurrent systemic diseases (i.e. uremia).

    Home Care

    Administer all prescribed medications and return for follow up evaluation as directed by your veterinarian. Meanwhile, keep your pet in a cool, stress-free environment, and do not overexert your pet.


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