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What is labored breathing in dogs & cats?

What is labored breathing in dogs & cats?

Labored breathing in cats or dogs means that your pet isn't just out of breath but actually struggling to breathe. Our Rock Hill vets share some ways to determine whether your pet is having difficulties breathing, and what you should do.

Labored Breathing vs Out of Breath

To recognize when your dog or cat is having trouble breathing it's important to know the difference between breathing quickly (tachypnea) and actually struggling to breathe (dyspnea).

Tachypnea is the rapid 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 beloved pet is actually having difficulties taking in enough air, 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.

Signs of Labored Breathing in Dogs

If your dog is struggling to breathe you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Exercise intolerance (most notably, 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 up with a wide stance to breathe (front legs/elbows spread out)
  • Belly heaving in and out more as they breathe
  • Foaming or frothing at the mouth
  • Blue-tinged gums

What Labored Breathing in Cats Looks Like

It is not unusual for cats to hide when they aren't feeling well which can make spotting the signs of breathing difficulties challenging for pet parents. That said, when 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 To Do If Your Pet Is Struggling To Breathe

If your dog or cat is displaying any signs of breathing difficulties it's time to head to the vet! 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.

Causes of Labored Breathing in Dogs & Cats

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 pets include:

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

Treatment for Labored Breathing in Pets

After your pet has had a thorough examination the treatment recommended by your vet will depend upon the underlying cause of your cat or dog's symptoms. A few of the treatments often prescribed for labored breathing in pets include:

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

Further diagnostic testing may be required in order to pinpoint the precise cause of your pet's breathing difficulties. 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 your pet is struggling to breathe visit the emergency animal hospital at Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Rock Hill evenings or weekends for urgent care.

Vet Care for Rock Hill Pets

Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Rock Hill, accepts new patients to our specialty services by referral only. Our emergency/urgent care service welcomes all patients.

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