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What To Do If Your Cat or Dog Having Difficulty Breathing

Does your cat or dog's panting mean that they're having breathing difficulties?  Today, our Cordova vets look at breathing difficulties in dogs and cats, and how they are treated.

Difficulty 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 furry friend is having difficulties breathing.


  • Dyspnea is the term for labored breathing and more specifically refers to your dog or cat actually having difficulties taking breaths or being short of breath.

If your pet is experiencing breathing difficulties, this is a veterinary emergency and requires swift action. How can you tell if your pet is struggling to breathe? When our four-legged friends are experiencing breathing difficulties, the symptoms they will exhibit can vary. Below we list a few of the most common symptoms.

Signs of Difficulty Breathing in Dogs

If your dog is experiencing respiratory distress, 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

Signs of Difficulty Breathing in Cats

How do you tell if a cat is struggling to breathe? 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 Difficulty Breathing

If your dog or cat is displaying any signs of breathing difficulties, head to the vet immediately! It is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your pet's health. Difficulty breathing should be considered a veterinary emergency. To help your pet breathe easier, your vet will need to diagnose the underlying condition that is causing your pet's breathing issues.

Common Causes of Difficulty Breathing in Dogs & Cats

Why is my pet acting like he/she can't breathe? 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 Breathing Difficulties

After your pet has been thoroughly examined, the course of action prescribed by your veterinarian will depend upon the findings regarding your pet's breathing difficulties. Some treatments for breathing problems include:

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

To get a more detailed picture of the cause of your pet's breathing difficulties, 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.

Is your dog or cat showing signs of difficulty breathing? At Germantown Parkway Animal Hospital we provide emergency veterinary care during our regular office hours. Contact us right away if your pet is struggling to breathe.