Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing

Labored Breathing In Cats & Dogs

Labored Breathing In Cats & Dogs

Labored breathing is when your pet is struggling to breathe. In this article, our Poway vets explain what labored breathing in dogs and cats is and what to do if your pet is having difficulties breathing.

What Is Labored Breathing In Dogs & Cats?

In order to be able to recognize when your dog or cat is having trouble breathing it's important to distinguish between breathing quickly, aka tachypnea and actually struggling to breathe, aka dyspnea.


Tachypnea is fast breathing. We all experienced this 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 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.

The Signs Of Labored Breathing In Dogs

When a dog is having difficulty breathing you are likely to notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • 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
  • Exercise intolerance (most notably, when you take them for a walk)
  • Persistent cough, especially at night
  • An increased respiratory rate > 40 bpm

What Labored Breathing In Cats Looks Like

Cats tent to hide when they aren't feeling well. This can make spotting the signs of labored breathing challenging for cat owners. That said, when a cat is experiencing difficulties breathing they may show one or more of the following symptoms:

  • 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
  • Hiding in a quiet place
  • Increased respiratory rate

What Should I Do If My Pet Is Having Difficulty Breathing?

If your dog or cat is displaying any signs of breathing difficulties it's technically an 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.

What Causes Labored Breathing In Dogs & Cats?

Cats and dogs have differences in the way they can be susceptible to breathing difficulties. The most common health issues that can effect either type of animal include:

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

How Is Labored Breathing In Pets Treated?

Once your pet has completed their examination your vet will prescribed a treatment. This treatment will depend upon the underlying cause of your pet's breathing difficulties. Some treatments for labored breathing include:

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

Additional 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 cat or dog is struggling to breathe normally Contact our Poway vets right away. Our emergency vets have experience in the treatment of labored breathing in cats and dogs.

Experienced Emergency Vet Care in Poway

Animal Emergency Clinic of San Diego is a family-run after-hours and critical care hospital, providing veterinary emergency care since 1985. If your pet is experiencing an emergency, contact us to get the help your pet needs.

Contact Us

Contact (858) 748-7387