What is labored breathing in cats and dogs?

When your cat or dog has labored breathing it means that they are not just out of breath but having trouble breathing. Today our Austell vets explain more about labored breathing in pets and what you should do.

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 witness them displaying one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Exercise intolerance (especially 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 upright in a wide stance to breathe
  • Belly heaving in and out hard during breathing
  • Foaming or frothing at the mouth
  • Blue-tinged gums

What does labored breathing in cats look like?

Like with other illnesses or health conditions, cats often hide when they aren't feeling well, which can make spotting the signs of breathing difficulties challenging for pet parents. If 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 shows any signs of breathing difficulties it's time to head to the vet! Labored breathing is a veterinary emergency, and in order to help your pet to breathe more easily, your vet will need to identify the underlying issue that is causing your pet's breathing problems.

What causes labored breathing in dogs and cats?

Cats and dogs aren't always prone to the same illnesses and 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 been thoroughly examined by the vet, the prescribed treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your pet's symptoms. Some treatments for labored breathing include:

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

Additional diagnostic testing may be needed to identify the precise cause of your pet's breathing difficulties. Diagnostic testing could include diagnostics such as chest or abdominal X-Rays and electrocardiograms or echocardiograms to check heart function.

Is your dog or cat experiencing difficulties breathing? Contact our Austell animal clinic immediately for urgent care.