Hyperventilation in Dogs

Open mouth of a dog breathing and sticking its tongue out.
Hyperventilation occurs when a dog breathes too quickly.

Getty Images/Patrik Lidaj

When a dog hyperventilates it can be scary for both the dog and the owner. Panting when too hot or excited, regular inhalation and exhalation and even the occasional sneeze or cough are often seen by dog owners but rapid, short breaths that don't stop are usually concerning. Hyperventilation can indicate a problem or disease and is something that dog owners should not ignore.

What is Hyperventilation in Dogs?

Hyperventilation is fast breathing. When a regular breath is taken by a dog, the lungs fill with air which provides oxygen to the entire body through the circulatory system. Oxygenated red blood cells travel throughout the body ensuring all the cells have enough oxygen from the breath. But when a dog is hyperventilating, the short, quick breaths that are taken don't adequately fill the lungs with air. This means that there isn't enough oxygen in the body to go around and a dog will struggle to breathe.

Signs of Hyperventilation in Dogs

Depending on the reason for the hyperventilation, signs of it may vary from dog to dog.

Signs of Hyperventilation in Dogs

  • Rapid breathing
  • Panting or open mouth breathing
  • Short breaths
  • Blue or pale pink mucous membranes
  • Unable to take a normal, deep breath
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
  • Drooling while open mouth breathing

Hyperventilation is typically recognized with open mouth breathing or panting that doesn't stop or have a normal reason for occurrence. This rapid breathing pattern is usually audible to a pet owner and the dog may drool since the mouth has been open for so long and the dog hasn't swallowed. A dog may be unable to take a normal, deep breath while hyperventilating and because of this it may also become weak and collapse due to the lack of oxygen circulating through the body.

Short boughts of hyperventilation don't typically result in a change in mucous membrane color but if hyperventilation persists, the gums can turn a pale pink or blue color. This indicates a lack of oxygen in the body and is a very serious problem. Immediate veterinary attention is warranted if a dog owner notices a change in mucous membrane color.

Causes of Hyperventilation in Dogs

There can be a number of reasons why a dog may be hyperventilating. A number of diseases and medication side effects can cause it as well as stress, pain, and even excitement. Some common causes include:

  • Reverse sneezing - Not typically a concern, occasional reverse sneezing can cause temporary hyperventilation. This is when a dog sucks in air rapidly in succession and a snorting is heard. It is most often seen in small or brachycephalic dogs like pugs. It is not usually of concern and is a temporary spasm usually due to inhalation of an irritant or excitement.
  • Heat stroke - A serious problem that causes hyperventilation is heat stroke. If a dog's body temperature becomes too high it will hyperventilate in an attempt to cool it's body with panting. Collapse and even death can occur if not treated.
  • Pain - In serious pain, a dog may hyperventilate due to the body's response to a stimulus and increased heartrate.
  • Stress or anxiety - Just like with pain, if a dog is stressed or anxious its heartrate may increase. When the heartrate increases in means the body is pumping more oxygenated blood through the body so the body also demands more oxygen. Hyperventilation may occur due to this increased need for oxygen.
  • Heart failure - If a heart is not functioning properly then oxygenated blood is not being circulated throughout the body. Hyperventilation may occur as the body tries to compensate for the lack of oxygen.
  • Metabolic acidosis - An improper pH balance within the body due to an increase in acid levels can cause hyperventilation but this is usually a symptom of a larger problem such as kidney failure or diabetic ketoacidosis.
  • Anemia - If not enough blood cells are present or unhealthy blood cells are not carrying enough oxygen through the body then anemia will occur. Hyperventilation may result as the body tries to supply itself with more oxygen.
  • Respiratory diseases - A myriad of respiratory diseases can cause the body to hyperventilate in an attempt to supply it with more oxygen.
  • Anaphylaxis - If an allergic reaction to an insect sting, vaccination, medication, or something else causes a breathing problem called anaphylaxis then hyperventilation may be seen. Panic may set in if a dog realizes it is having trouble breathing due to tissue swelling further exacerbating this issue.
  • Excitement - Just like with stress, anxiety, and pain, a dog's heartrate may increase due to excitement. Hyperventilation could occur if a dog is so excited that it isn't taking appropriate breaths.
  • Laryngeal paralysis - Some older dogs, especially Labrador retrievers, develop something called laryngeal paralysis. This occurs when the muscles that usually hold the airway open start to fail. This can cause a dog to struggle to provide enough oxygen to its body and even hyperventilate.
  • Collapsing trachea - The trachea is the part of the body that air flows through to get from the nose to the lungs. Some dogs have a collapsing trachea which means the cartilage inside the trachea that keeps it in the shape of a tube starts to collapse. This constricts the airway and can lead to hyperventilation as a dog attempts to breathe.

Treatment of Hyperventilation in Dogs

Depending on the root cause of the hyperventilation, the exact treatment plan may vary. Cooling the body temperature down or providing sedatives, bronchodialators, steroids, antihistamines, and other medications may be the initial treatment to stabilize a patient that is hyperventilating. Sometimes supplemental oxygen is even needed. Once the dog is stable, other treatments may ensue. Surgery is occasionally needed to correct the underlying reason for the hyperventilation, especially if it involves an obstructed airway, but usually medications are utilized to manage the reason for the increased respiratory rate.

Prevention of Hyperventilation in Dogs

Some cases of hyperventilation can be easily prevented while others cannot. Making sure a dog does not develop heat stroke by keeping it out of extreme heat, monitoring pain, stress, and anxiety levels, and getting regular physical examinations done by a veterinarian can help prevent the likelihood of a dog hyperventilating.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.