Old Dog Heavy Breathing: 9 Types+ Medical CausesĀ 

When a dog breathes heavily, you may observe an open mouth, flared nostrils, and increased abdominal or chest movement. 

The causes of heavy breathing can range from excitement and anxiety to underlying medical conditions.

As pet parents, we know that a vet visit is a must, however, we also like to be prepared and have a quick read to help ourselves assess the situation. 

We are going to tackle different types of heavy breathing and potential causes to help you understand why an old dog’s heavy breathing occurs and what to do about it. 

Understanding Heavy Breathing in Old Dogs

Just like humans, dogs breathe at different rates and depths, depending on their activity levels, physical exertion, and overall health.

A healthy dog’s respiratory rate ranges from 10-30 breaths per minute at rest. 

Normal breathing in dogs is smooth and effortless, with no apparent strain. If your dog is gasping for air, coughing, or wheezing loudly, these are signs that your dog may be struggling with a respiratory issue. 

Any changes to your dog’s breathing patterns should be taken seriously, especially if there are other associated symptoms.

If your dog is experiencing heavy breathing, it may also be accompanied by other symptoms, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or a decrease in energy levels, it is time to take your dog to the vet for a thorough examination. Heavy breathing could be a sign of underlying health issues.

1. Dyspnea/ Labored breathing in senior dogs

is when a dog has difficulty breathing in, out, or both. Senior dogs are more likely to develop breathing problems due to age-related health issues such as cardiovascular diseases lung issues, cancers, or bronchitis.

Signs of labored breathing are 

  • loud respiration
  • flared nostrils
  • an open mouth when breathing 
  • stomach or chest moving more than average while breathing
  • coughing 
  • pale, gray, or blue-purple gums  
  • leaking fluid from the mouth or nose

Dogs that are having trouble breathing often stand with their front legs wider apart to allow their chest to fully expand, and they may also stretch their necks.

Old Dog Heavy Breathing

Health issues leading to labored breathing in senior dogs

The two most common causes of CHF in dogs are mitral valve insufficiency (MVI) and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). MVI is a leaky mitral valve, which is the valve between the left atrium and the left ventricle. DCM is a condition where the heart becomes enlarged and weakened, leading to reduced cardiac output.

There are several stages of CHF in dogs, including Stage A (high-risk but no symptoms), Stage B1 (heart murmur but no other signs), Stage B2 (heart murmur and structural changes to the heart), and Stage C (clinical signs)

Diagnosis of CHF involves a physical exam, including listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope. A heart murmur is commonly present, and its severity is graded from 1 to 6. Other diagnostic tools include chest radiographs, electrocardiograms, and echocardiograms.

Treatment of CHF involves a combination of medications, such as diuretics, ACE inhibitors, and inotropes, to improve heart function, reduce fluid buildup, and manage symptoms. The prognosis for CHF in senior dogs varies depending on the stage of the disease, the severity of symptoms, and the underlying cause of CHF. With early detection and proper management, senior dogs with CHF can live a comfortable life for a longer period.

  • Pulmonary hypertension – (PH) is a term that refers to high blood pressure in the lungs. This condition is associated with substantial morbidity and, if left untreated, mortality. Although PH can affect dogs of any age, breed, or sex, senior dogs are more susceptible to developing this condition.

In dogs, PH can be due to narrowing of the arteries and capillaries in the lungs, blockage of the pulmonary artery, or underlying respiratory disease and/or hypoxia. Symptoms often involve breathing problems, and the most common sign is difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.

As PH is associated with significant morbidity and mortality, early diagnosis and treatment are crucial. A thorough physical examination, blood work, imaging studies (such as X-rays or echocardiograms), and a cardiac evaluation are typically required to diagnose

Treatment options for PH include medications to lower blood pressure, such as sildenafil or tadalafil, or oxygen therapy for dogs with respiratory disease. 

  • Pneumonia – is an inflammation of the lungs that can be caused by bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. Senior dogs are more susceptible to pneumonia due to their weakened immune systems and age-related decline in respiratory function.

Symptoms of pneumonia in senior dogs can include coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, and nasal discharge.

To diagnose pneumonia in dogs, a veterinarian will typically conduct a physical exam and listen to the lungs through a stethoscope. The vet may also perform diagnostic tests such as X-rays or blood tests to confirm the diagnosis and determine the underlying cause of the pneumonia.

Treatment for pneumonia in senior dogs may include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, oxygen therapy, and supportive care such as fluids and nutrition. The veterinarian may also recommend lifestyle changes such as avoiding exposure to environmental irritants and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine to support your senior dog’s overall respiratory health.

To prevent pneumonia in senior dogs, it is important to keep their vaccinations up-to-date, maintain good hygiene practices, and avoid exposure to sick animals can also help reduce the risk of pneumonia 

  • Pulmonary contusions –  can occur in senior dogs as a result of trauma to the chest area. Pulmonary contusions, or lung bruises, are caused by blunt force trauma to the chest, which can damage the lung tissue and cause bleeding in the lungs. Symptoms of pulmonary contusions in dogs include tachypnea (rapid breathing), respiratory distress, decreased oxygenation, and heavy breathing.

To diagnose pulmonary contusions in senior dogs, the veterinarian will take into account the dog’s medical history and physical examination, as well as the presence of respiratory signs, blood gas abnormalities, and characteristic changes on thoracic radiographs. Lung ultrasound and thoracic computed tomography may also be used to diagnose pulmonary contusions in dogs.

Treatment for pulmonary contusions in senior dogs depends on the severity of the injury. Mild cases of pulmonary contusions may resolve on their own in 7-10 days with rest and sometimes oxygen therapy. However, in severe cases where the dog is having trouble breathing and oxygenation is decreased, the veterinarian may need to induce a coma and place the dog on mechanical ventilation.

  • Pneumothorax – is a medical condition characterized by the accumulation of air in the pleural space, which is the area between the chest wall and the lungs. This can be traumatic or spontaneous and closed or open.

In senior dogs, the most common cause of spontaneous pneumothorax is bullae or blebs, which are abnormal air-filled spaces in the lung tissue. It can also be caused by underlying inflammatory diseases.

Symptoms of pneumothorax in senior dogs can include difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, lethargy, coughing, and weakness. 

Treatment may involve oxygen therapy, chest tube placement to remove air from the pleural space, and possible surgery to repair the underlying cause. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best course of treatment for your senior dog.

  • Pleural effusion –  fluid around the lungs can be caused by heart disease, cancer, pneumonia, or trauma.

To determine the underlying cause of the fluid buildup, a vet will perform tests such as transtracheal wash or bronchoalveolar lavage to examine the contents of the lung and its airways.

Treatment options for fluid around the lungs in senior dogs depend on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Treatment may include medications such as antibiotics or diuretics, and in severe cases, a procedure to drain the excess fluid may be necessary.

  • Bronchitis – affects the bronchial airways and can extend into the lungs. Bronchitis in dogs can either be sudden or long-term and may occur in dogs already affected by respiratory disease or a disorder of the lungs or airways.

Senior dogs, like humans, are more prone to developing respiratory issues such as bronchitis due to their age-related changes in the immune system and lung function. Symptoms of bronchitis in dogs may include a wet, dry or honking cough, which can seem minor but may indicate a more significant problem.

A thorough physical examination, chest x-rays, and blood tests may be necessary to diagnose the condition. Treatment for bronchitis in senior dogs may include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, and cough suppressants.

  • Cancers – Some cancers that may cause labored breathing in senior dogs include:

Tumors of the larynx and trachea, 

Nasal tumors such as carcinomas and lymphomas, 



Mast cell tumor,  


2. Tachypnea/ Rapid breathing in senior dogs

is characterized by sustained periods of short, frequent breaths and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing.

Causes of rapid breathing in older dogs include Cardiovascular diseases, such as congestive heart failure, which are common in senior dogs and can lead to fluid build-up around the lungs or heart, making breathing difficult. Respiratory infections, such as pneumonia or kennel cough, can also cause rapid breathing and may require medical treatment

Health issues leading to rapid breathing in senior dogs

Other potential causes of rapid breathing in older dogs include: 

  • Asthma – is a chronic respiratory problem caused by an allergic reaction that results in airway inflammation, leading to the constriction and spasming of the small airways in the lungs. This condition is also known as allergic bronchitis in dogs. 

Dogs experience asthma attacks similar to people, with varying severity from mild to life-threatening, which can cause wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, heavy panting, rapid breathing, bluish gum color, and loss of appetite.

X-rays are used to diagnose asthma in dogs, and various medications are available for treatment. The prevention measures for canine asthma include not smoking near pets, avoiding the use of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, and removing airborne irritants.

  • laryngeal paralysis –  is a common upper airway disorder in senior dogs, especially in large and giant breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters, and Great Danes 

This condition occurs when the cartilages of the larynx, which are responsible for opening and closing the airway during breathing, do not function properly.

The symptoms of laryngeal paralysis in senior dogs can include a dry cough, voice changes, noisy breathing, and difficulty breathing with stress and exertion. In advanced cases, dogs may experience stridor, collapse, and regurgitation or vomiting.

To diagnose laryngeal paralysis in senior dogs, a veterinarian may perform a thorough physical and neurological exam, as well as chest and neck X-rays. Sedation may also be used to visualize the larynx and assess its functionality.

Surgical correction is often recommended for senior dogs with laryngeal paralysis and is often very successful at reducing or eliminating clinical signs. However, senior dogs with this condition are at a slightly increased risk of anesthetic complications. DNA genetic tests are also available for some breeds predisposed to congenital laryngeal paralysis.

  • Tracheal collapse/ windpipe issues –  is a chronic, progressive, and irreversible disease of the trachea and lower airways. The trachea is a flexible tube with small rings of cartilage that help keep the airway open. In tracheal collapse, these rings weaken and collapse, making it harder for the dog to breathe. Symptoms of tracheal collapse can include coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
tracheal collapse in dogs
  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome/ windpipe issues –  is common in short-nosed breeds. This syndrome can cause snoring sounds and difficulty breathing due to an elongated soft palate, stenotic nares, and everted laryngeal saccules.
  • Compressed lungs –  conditions that can cause this problem are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), aspiration pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), bulla in the lungs, and tracheal collapse.
  • Aspiration pneumonia – is a lung infection caused by inhalation of foreign material such as food, liquid, saliva or vomit into the lungs. Senior dogs are particularly susceptible to this condition due to age-related changes in the muscles involved in swallowing and changes in the respiratory system. 

To diagnose aspiration pneumonia, a veterinarian will perform a tracheal or bronchoalveolar wash to collect a sample of cells from the trachea or lungs. 

Some of the symptoms of aspiration pneumonia in dogs include coughing, difficulty breathing, fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. 

Aspiration pneumonia can be difficult to diagnose in dogs and is often a diagnosis of presumption, meaning that it is diagnosed based on clinical signs and history. In severe cases, aspiration pneumonia can cause life-threatening complications, such as sepsis and respiratory failure. It is important to seek veterinary care immediately if you suspect that your senior dog may have aspiration pneumonia.

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)  is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. The condition is typically caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, most often from cigarette smoke. 

Your dog may develop COPD as a result of environmental factors such as exposure to smoke, dust, and pollution. The symptoms of COPD in dogs include difficulty breathing, coughing, mucus production, and wheezing.

During the examination, your veterinarian will listen to your dog’s chest with a stethoscope and may detect wheezes or ‘crackles’ (harsh crackling or popping sounds) when the dog breathes in and out.

Treatment of COPD in senior dogs often involves environmental management, including reducing exposure to irritants, and medications such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids. Regular monitoring by a veterinarian is necessary to ensure that the treatment is effective and to make necessary adjustments to medication dosages.

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a life-threatening problem that occurs when there is sudden respiratory failure due to fluid accumulation and severe inflammation in the lungs. ARDS may be a complication of other severe systemic diseases, such as sepsis (infection), pancreatitis, pneumonia (due to infection or inhalation of foreign materials), and other severe illnesses. Some cases may also be caused by severe trauma, near-drowning, snake bite, and other accidents

Senior dogs may be more susceptible to ARDS due to their weaker immune system, pre-existing health conditions, and reduced lung function. Symptoms of ARDS may include rapid breathing, coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, the dog may also experience blue or pale gums, and reduced energy levels.

Your vet may perform a physical examination, blood tests, x-rays, or other diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the respiratory distress and formulate a treatment plan. 

Treatment may include oxygen therapy, medications to reduce inflammation, antibiotics, and other supportive care measures, depending on the underlying cause and severity of the condition.

  • Bulla in the lungs is a condition where air-filled sacs in the lungs become enlarged and can cause difficulty breathing. Bulla in the lungs of senior dogs is a condition where there are walled-off air pockets within the lungs. 

Small bulla may not be an issue, but larger ones may cause significant breathing problems when they rupture. These air pockets can cause restriction in the expansion of the opposite lung, resulting in breathing difficulties in both organs [3]. 

Veterinarians believe that these Bulla can be congenital or caused by trauma to the chest cavity. Bulla in the lungs may lead to heavy breathing and may be mistaken for other respiratory problems. Hence, it is important to have your senior dog examined by a veterinarian if you notice any respiratory changes in your pet. If the Bulla becomes large enough to cause significant breathing difficulties, surgery may be necessary to remove them.

Bulla in the lungs can also be a symptom of metastatic lung cancer

3. Breathing from the stomach in senior dogs

is a concerning symptom that could indicate a medical emergency. It is also known as dyspnea, and it is defined as difficulty breathing. There are several reasons why a senior dog may be breathing from the stomach, including trauma to the chest cavity, bloating, heart failure, internal bleeding, or liver disease.

In the case of trauma to the chest cavity, a dog may have broken ribs, torn muscles, bruised lungs, or tears in the diaphragm, which require immediate medical attention. 

In the case of bloating, a dog’s tummy may be enlarged, and his stomach expands with each inhalation. This could be a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention.

Other symptoms to watch out for in a senior dog breathing from the stomach include: 

In case of sudden vomiting and diarrhea, lethargy, and dehydration, monitor the dog’s hydration and activity level and take the dog to the emergency vet if necessary.

4. Breathing Heavily Through the Nose in Senior Dogs

Heavy breathing through the nose can be caused by

  • physical obstructions due to foreign bodies, 
  • nasal tumors, 
  • nasal parasites 
  • Brachycephalic breeds with narrowed nostrils can also experience difficulty breathing However if your senior dog is breathing heavily while at rest or experiencing labored breathing, it can be a medical emergency and needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately.

Heavy breathing through the nose can be a sign of underlying problems, so it’s important to take your senior dog to the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment. 

In some cases, medication such as bronchodilators or diuretics may be prescribed depending on the underlying cause of your dog’s breathing difficulty. Surgical procedures, like those that drain fluid from around the lungs, may be necessary in some cases.

In severe cases, your veterinarian may want to give your senior dog supplemental oxygen or prescribe steroidal anti-inflammatories or other medicine to help them breathe. It’s important to closely monitor your senior dog’s breathing patterns and seek veterinary care if you notice any changes or signs of distress.

5. Shortness of Breath / Shallow Breathing in senior dogs

Shortness of breath in senior dogs can be caused by conditions such as respiratory infections, heart problems, asthma, allergies, and heatstroke. 

If the dog is in pain, there is a high likelihood that they will take shorter breaths than usual as well. 

Some causes of difficulty breathing in dogs can be contagious to other pets or people, so it is important to ask the veterinarian if any precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of the disease. 

If the breathing problems do not subside, further testing may be necessary to accurately diagnose the issue. It is crucial to address breathing difficulties promptly to ensure the best outcome for the senior dog.

6.  Breathing heavily while resting in senior dogs

can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Here are some possible causes of heavy breathing in senior dogs when resting:

Respiratory disease: Respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis or asthma can cause heavy breathing in senior dogs when resting. These conditions can be treated with medication that decreases inflammation and dilates the airways. Reducing triggers like secondhand smoke, dusty environments, strong scents, and allergies that exacerbate asthma can also help.

Heart disease: Senior dogs are more prone to heart disease, which can cause heavy breathing while resting. Other symptoms of heart disease include coughing, fatigue, and difficulty breathing

Metabolic acidosis: This is a condition where the body produces too much acid or is unable to remove enough acid. Heavy breathing, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are common symptoms. If left untreated, metabolic acidosis can be life-threatening.

Obesity: Excess weight puts unnecessary strain on a dog’s heart and respiratory system, leading to heavy breathing.

7. Heavy breathing at Night or while sleeping 

Noncardiogenic pulmonary edema and contusions are some severe causes of heavy breathing that may require immediate medical attention. 

Respiratory distress, anxiety attacks, congestive heart failure, and fear-aggression-related behaviors can also cause heavy breathing, labored breathing, which requires a lot of effort to inhale or exhale, can be a sign of multiple diseases.

  • Noncardiogenic pulmonary edema is a condition in which fluid accumulates in the lungs due to changes in vascular permeability or hydrostatic pressure in the pulmonary vasculature. This can lead to labored breathing, increased respiratory rate, and open-mouth breathing.

One of the possible causes of noncardiogenic pulmonary edema in dogs is head trauma. Another possible cause is electrical shock, which can be prevented by taking steps to prevent dogs from chewing on electrical wires. Noncardiogenic pulmonary edema can also be a differential for various pulmonary diseases and can be easily overlooked.

  • Contusions are a type of lung injury caused by blunt force trauma, such as being hit by a car or falling from a height. The injury causes bleeding and swelling in the lung tissue, which can make it difficult for the dog to breathe.

Clinical signs of pulmonary contusions in dogs include labored breathing, increased respiratory effort, and interstitial to alveolar infiltrates seen on radiographs. Treatment for pulmonary contusions in senior dogs, as with any age group, is supportive care, which includes providing oxygen and fluid therapy as needed to maintain adequate circulating volume.

Senior dogs may be more prone to contusions and other injuries due to age-related changes in their bodies, such as decreased muscle mass and bone density, as well as an increased risk of falls and accidents. As such, it is important to observe senior dogs for any changes in behavior or mobility and seek veterinary attention if any concerning symptoms arise.

A condition that may cause difficulty breathing in senior dogs is laryngeal paralysis, which is most common in large-breed dogs and can become a medical emergency. 

If you notice your senior dog breathing heavily for no apparent reason, such as exercise or excitement, it is important to consult a veterinarian immediately as it may be a medical emergency.

Another age-related change in breathing in senior dogs may be related to being overweight or obese, which can put excess pressure on the respiratory system, 

Age-related changes in the eyes and ears can cause varying degrees of hearing and vision loss, which can contribute to breathing difficulties in senior dogs. 

Changes in behavior, such as sudden grumpiness, may signal an underlying physical problem, including breathing difficulties caused by arthritis.

Age-related changes may lead to a decrease in older dogs’ lung efficiency, which can cause heavier breathing and reduced oxygen intake.

Heavy breathing in old dogs can also be caused by environmental factors, such as air pollution or allergens. 

Being suspectable to many health issues, difficulty breathing can be difficult to diagnose immediately. During regular checkups, your vet will listen to the lungs as part of general senior dog care, however, if any breathing difficulties occur suddenly it may be a sign of serious respiratory illness.

9. Panting in senior dogs

Panting in older dogs can be a completely normal response to environmental or emotional factors. 

However, excessive panting can also indicate an underlying medical condition. Healthy dogs may pant if they are warm, excited, worried, or tired from exercise. 

If your senior dog experiences a sudden or prolonged increase in panting, you should seek veterinary attention. Heavy panting can be a sign that your dog has suffered an injury, is in pain or is anxious. 

An old dog getting up and panting or panting while walking may be suffering from painful joints, and medication may be necessary to reduce this type of pain.

Panting is a way for dogs to cool off through evaporation and typically consists of 200 to 400 breaths per minute, which is much faster than normal breathing 

Other Common Causes of Heavy Breathing in Senior Dogs

Obesity and Weight Issues

When a dog is overweight, their respiratory system has to work harder to supply oxygen to the body, leading to heavy panting and breathing. 

Excess weight can put additional strain on the heart and lungs, leading to further respiratory issues. To help your senior dog maintain a healthy weight, your veterinarian may recommend a special diet or exercise regimen.

Allergies and Environmental Factors

Dogs can experience seasonal allergies, just like humans, and environmental irritants like pollution, smoke, or dust can also trigger respiratory issues. 

If your senior dog is experiencing heavy breathing and you suspect that allergies or environmental factors may be to blame, your veterinarian can help diagnose the issue and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Dogs, like humans, can experience anxiety and stress from a range of sources, including fear of separation, loud noises, or new surroundings. These stressors can cause your dog to experience heavy panting, shaking, and even fainting, which can be concerning for pet owners.

If your dog is struggling with stress-induced breathing problems, it’s important to take appropriate steps to manage their anxiety and stress. 

One effective approach is to use stress management and behavioral modification techniques, which can help your dog cope with their anxiety and reduce their breathing difficulties.
You can also:
* opt for anti-anxiety bed
* opt for dog toys

Identifying Stressors in Your Dog’s Life

Identifying the specific stressors that are causing your dog’s breathing problems can be key to helping them breathe easier. This may involve careful observation and monitoring of your dog’s behavior and environment. 

For example, if your dog becomes anxious during thunderstorms, you may want to provide a safe and quiet space for them to retreat to during storms. Similarly, if your dog is afraid of loud noises, you may want to reduce their exposure to these stimuli as much as possible.

Other changes you may want to consider include providing more frequent exercise, establishing routines that your dog is comfortable with, and reducing exposure to noise or other anxiety-inducing stimuli. By taking these steps, you can help your dog feel more comfortable and relaxed, which can in turn reduce their breathing difficulties.

Helping Your Dog Cope with Anxiety

If your senior dog is struggling with anxiety, there are several measures you can take to help them cope. 

One effective approach is to use training and behavioral modification techniques, which can help your dog learn to manage their anxiety and reduce their stress levels. For example, you may want to work with a professional dog trainer to teach your dog relaxation techniques or to desensitize them to specific stressors.

In addition to training and behavioral modification,several calming products cann help your dog cope with anxiety. These may include pheromone sprays, which can help create a calming environment, or anxiety wraps, which can provide a sense of comfort and security. In some cases, medication may also be recommended to help manage your dog’s anxiety.

When to Be Concerned About Your Dog’s Breathing

Signs of Respiratory Distress:

  • Gasping for air, rapid breathing, or wheezing
  • Cyanosis (blueish coloring to the gums or skin)
  • Fainting or collapse

Home Remedies for Heavy Breathing in Old Dogs

There are a few things you can do at home to help your old dog breathe better:

1. Keep them calm

Excitement and anxiety can make heavy breathing worse. Ensure your dog has a calm and comfortable environment to reduce their anxiety levels.

2. Maintain a healthy weight

Keeping your old dog at a healthy weight can reduce the risk of respiratory problems.

3. Use a humidifier

A humidifier can help your old dog breathe more comfortably by adding moisture to the air.

4. Avoid smoking around your dog

Smoke can irritate your dog’s lungs, making it difficult for them to breathe.