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Labored Breathing in Cats & Dogs

Labored Breathing in Cats & Dogs

Does your cat or dog's panting mean that they're experiencing labored breathing?  Today, our Capitola vets and team share more about labored breathing in dogs and cats.

Labored Breathing VS Breathing Quickly

It's important to be able to recognize whether your dog or cat is breathing quickly (tachypnea) or experiencing difficulty breathing (dyspnea).


  • Many of us breathe faster when exercising; this is an example of tachypnea. If your dog is playing vigorously or running, they may pant and breathe quickly. This doesn't necessarily mean that your dog is having difficulties breathing.


  • Dyspnea is the term for labored breathing in cats and dogs, and more specifically refers to your animal actually having difficulties taking breaths, or being short of breath.

If your pet is experiencing labored breathing, this is a veterinary emergency and requires immediate action. 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.

Signs of Labored Breathing in Dogs

If your dog is experiencing labored breathing (difficulty breathing), you are likely to notice one or more of the following symptoms:

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

How to Spot Labored Breathing in Cats

As many a worried cat owner knows, cats often hide when they aren't feeling well, which can make spotting the signs of labored breathing more challenging to spot. Nonetheless, when a cat is experiencing difficulties breathing they will typically exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

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

What To Do If Your Pet Has Labored Breathing

If your dog or cat is displaying any signs of labored breathing, head to the vet immediately! 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.

Common Causes of Labored Breathing in Pets

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 either pet include:

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

Treatment for Pets Struggling With Labored Breathing

After your pet has been thoroughly examined, the course of action prescribed by your veterinarian will depend upon the finding regarding your pet's breathing difficulties. 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

In order to get a more detailed picture of the cause of your pet's labored breathing, additional diagnostic testing may be required. Diagnostic testing could include chest or abdominal X-rays and electrocardiogram or echocardiogram to check heart function. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you think that your dog or cat is struggling to breathe properly it's time to head to the vet! Contact our Bartlett vets right away or visit your nearest animal emergency clinic to recieve urgent care for your pet. 

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Santa Cruz Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Capitola companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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