Beauty Center

Reasons for Labored Breathing in Dogs and Cats

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Health & Wellness

It is usual for your pet to breathe heavily from time to time. Labored breathing usually results from a condition that can be easily treated or managed. However, there are instances when this symptom may indicate an underlying health problem. A few reasons why your pet might be having trouble breathing include:


Allergies are the most common cause of labored breathing in dogs and cats. About 7 out of 10 households in the United States have a pet. So you might have to tackle this problem once or more but still could not figure out the actual cause.  Many people assume that allergies are caused by food, pollen, or dust mites because these three things are so common as to be considered nearly ubiquitous. But when you look at it from a different angle, you can see that allergies can also be caused by other pets—mainly cats and dogs. In fact, food allergies affect only 0.2% of dogs and 0.1% of cats.

Nothing stops your dog from suffering from this condition year-round if he has an allergy problem—just like humans who suffer from seasonal rhinitis experience similar symptoms every day without fail, even though they only need their medication once every few months or so during allergy season.

If you’ve ever owned a cat or dog, then you know that it can be challenging to figure out if they are allergic to something. This is because they might not show any signs at all! Most people will only notice that their pet has an allergy problem when a full-blown asthma attack occurs—and this can happen anytime and anywhere.

Upper Respiratory Infections

URIs are one of dogs’ and cats’ most common causes of respiratory problems. In fact, 97% of cats are susceptible to the feline herpes virus over their lifespan. Symptoms include labored breathing due to swelling in the respiratory tract and signs like fever, nasal discharge, sneezing, and coughing that can progress into lethargy and loss of appetite.

URIs in dogs and cats can be treated earlier with antibiotics such as amoxicillin capsules. Amoxicillin capsules are used to treat bacterial infections and also have anti-viral properties. It can help shorten a viral infection’s duration and reduce the severity of symptoms.

If the infection is allowed to progress, it can cause more severe complications that may require hospitalization. The symptoms of a URI include sneezing, coughing, and nasal discharge. If your pet has any of these symptoms, you should immediately contact your veterinarian for advice on treating them at home.

Collapsed Trachea

If your pet has a collapsed trachea, it won’t be able to breathe as easily. The trachea is the tube that carries air to your pet’s lungs, and this condition causes their airway to become narrowed. It’s usually caused by inflammation or scarring of the tracheal rings. Symptoms typically include coughing and wheezing but difficulty breathing at rest or during exercise.

Treatment options include surgery to insert tubes or medication to reduce inflammation. Approximately 70% of dogs treated just with medicinal care will improve. 95% of dogs that receive stents immediately enhance. And 90% are noticeably better on their follow-up appointment.

Allergies or infections can also cause collapsed tracheas, so it’s important to rule these out before beginning treatment for collapsed tracheas. Some breeds are predisposed to this condition, including Bulldogs and Pugs.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is one of the most common causes of labored breathing, especially in older dogs and cats. It can be caused by high blood pressure, heartworm disease and heartworm prevention medication, congenital heart defects (a condition present at birth), pulmonary thromboembolism (clots in the lungs), dilated cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart muscle), mitral valve disease (disease affecting one of the valves between chambers in your pet’s heart) and many other disorders.

According to Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, 30% of Maine Coon cats have a genetic defect connected to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). When your dog or cat has symptoms like these, they should see their veterinarian immediately:

  • Constant coughing
  • Excessive panting or difficulty breathing normally
  • Vomiting after exercise
  • Unusual behavior such as staggering or collapsing

Lethargy and a decreased interest in playing or other usual activities. The signs of labored breathing can be challenging to detect if your pet is overweight or obese.


Asthma is a condition that causes labored breathing. It is usually associated with dogs, but it can affect cats too. It affects about 5% of cats, and it’s usually triggered by allergies or infections (bacterial or viral). Asthma can also be caused by stress.

Asthma can be treated with steroids, antihistamines, and bronchodilators if it’s mild; however, if the condition is severe, it could lead to life-threatening attacks where there’s so much mucus in the lungs that they become completely blocked and unable to take in air.


A low red blood cell count is called anemia. The red blood cells make up about 35% to 55% of the blood volume in a healthy dog, so if their numbers drop below 35%, your pet will be considered anemic.

Low hemoglobin in the blood is one cause of anemia. Hemoglobin is a kind of protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues and organs across the body. It also returns carbon dioxide back to the lungs. Dogs with low hemoglobin levels may have difficulty breathing because they lack oxygen-rich blood to fuel their bodies’ activities.

Another reason for labored breathing could be low oxygen saturation or reduced oxygen content in your dog’s bloodstream due to high levels of carbon dioxide or some other problem with gas exchange, the transfer of gases between body cavities or regions.


If your pet is panting excessively and showing labored breathing, it may suffer from a respiratory infection, heart condition, or other medical problem. Symptoms of labored breathing include open-mouthed panting, inactivity and lethargy, pale gums, and respiratory distress.

If you suspect your pet suffers from labored breathing, seek veterinary attention immediately. This life-threatening condition needs immediate treatment with antibiotics or oxygen therapy if there’s no improvement after two days.