Breathing rapidly when sleeping - when should you be concerned?

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Breathing rapidly when sleeping - when should you be concerned?

Does your sleeping pup suddenly start breathing quickly when they have previously been slumbering peacefully or is there a consistent change in your dog’s breathing once they go to sleep? This article will discuss when it is normal and when you should call your vet.

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Dream Breathing

It's very normal for a dog and especially puppies to have dreams just like we do. We can only imagine what they are dreaming about (probably chasing squirrels and rabbits) but this increased rate of breathing is often accompanied by rapid eyelid flickering, foot twitching and sometimes noises such as yelping and even growling.

This normally only lasts for a minute or two and is more common in puppies as their brain processes all the exciting things they have done that day. If the breathing change is not associated with the other signs of dreaming and it does not settle after a while then it may be sensible to contact your vet. A video of the episodes is very useful for your vet to see.

Exertion and heat

After a dog has been exercising their breathing rate naturally increases and this increased rate will be carried on for a short while after they have finished exercise. Many puppies choose to have a nap straight away after playing (even mid play!) and the increased rate of breathing carries on into the nap.

It is only a concern if the breathing doesn't settle within a few minutes. Warm summer evenings may mean that your dog breathes more rapidly as they are dropping off to sleep and may have looked for a sleeping place under an open window.

Be aware that if your dog has been playing very vigorously in the hot weather they may lay down and rest with their eyes closed but breathe very heavily and rapidly for a lot longer and may be at risk of heatstroke. Breathing that has not slowed after ten minutes especially if it is associated with a bright red tongue and gums, drooling, trembling and whining, is not normal and you should cool your dog and contact your vet as soon as possible.

Heart disease

Whilst this is more often a worry in older dogs an undiagnosed heart condition can occur at any age. In this situation owners commonly notice that their dog may be more tired than normal and may also have developed a cough. You may also notice an increase in your dog’s breathing rate at night time and they may have unsettled sleep.

As the heart begins to fail, fluid can build up in the lungs and collect on the side they are lying down on and this makes breathing uncomfortable. Your sleeping dog will initially breathe faster and with more effort but after a short while will wake up, move around and then settle in a different position. A tired dog in the day that is unsettled and coughing during the night should be seen by your vet.

What can you do to check everything is ok

A few simple checks of your dog can reassure you that everything is ok:

  • Time how long the rapid breathing is lasting - Rapid breathing during sleep should only last a few minutes - longer than this may be a concern.
  • Time how many breaths in 60 seconds - A pup will breathe between 15-40 times a minute and an adult between 10-40 times a minute when asleep.
  • Check their body temperature -It is not advisable to do this with a thermometer when they're sleeping, but hovering your hand above them may give you an indication of whether they feel hotter than normal. You can do this accurately with a thermometer if you have woken them.
  • Check their gums - They should be pink and moist and NOT pale, red, brown or blue/grey tinged.
  • Check their tummy is not swollen or hard - Stomach pain or bloating can cause extra pressure on the lungs and cause an increase in the breathing rate

It can be upsetting to your dog to wake them when they're dreaming (they may be disoriented and possibly snap at you), but if the increased rate of breathing is worrying you and there are no signs of dreaming, you can wake them carefully by gently calling their name and checking that all is well.

When to call your vet

  • Rapid breathing not settling after 10 minutes
  • Tired in the day and coughing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Rapid breathing in the day time as well as at night

Further reading

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