Rapid breathing, especially with lethargy (tiredness), weakness, pale gum color, and/or a cough can indicate a severe medicalcondition. Anything that causes the bodies' cells to lack oxygen will cause an increased respiratory rate.
There are many potential causes of too fast breathing:
It may be caused by a BLOOD problem, i.e. there are not enough red blood cells, the cells that carry oxygen, for some reason. A low red blood cell count is called anemia, and can be caused by a variety of things, such as:
* Autoimmune Diseases - for example autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA), or immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP).
* Hemorrhage - bleeding, like from a trauma, ingestion of mouse or rat poison, or a ruptured tumor. Remember that the pet could be bleeding internally - just because you don't see blood doesn't mean they are not bleeding!
* Infection - of the red blood cells themselves, as with feline hemobartonellosis, or canine babesiosis.
* And, Failure to make more red blood cells, as happens in bone marrow cancer or with chronic severe diseases.
An increased respiratory rate can also be caused by HEART problems. As the heart fails, its ability to move blood worsens. The blood stagnates, and as circulation worsens the bodies' cells are again deprived of oxygen. Such heart problems could include:
* Congestive Heart Failure from a bad heart valve
* Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
* Dilatative Cardiomyopathy
* or Pericardial Effusion.
Anything that causes the LUNGS to fill with fluid can cause rapid breathing. Most of the heart problems above also lead to an accumulation of fluid within the lungs.
* Lung Contusions from a trauma,
* Electrical Shock like from chewing on an electrical cord, and sometimes
* Cancer can all lead to an elevated respiratory rate because of fluid accumulation within the lungs.
All of the above conditions are serious in nature. Failure to treat the cause of the rapid breathing will likely result in the death of the pet.
Less critical conditions may cause an increased respiratory rate too, but usually without the other symptoms listed at the top of the page. We generally refer to this kind of rapid breathing as simply panting.
Panting also can have many causes.
Both anxiety and pain can lead to more panting. For instance, steadily worsening arthritis in dogs can cause them to shift around and pant a lot, especially at night. Anxiety from behavioral causes (separation from the family, noise phobias, etc.) or anxiety from medical issues (like when a dog knows that a seizure is coming) can make dogs pant more than normal.
Dogs pant to help cool themselves, so if it is hot out or the dog has a very heavy coat then panting can be a normal response to temperature. Cats rarely pant. Sometimes they will pant if badly stressed or if they are having heart problems. Cats should likely be checked by a vet if they are panting.
If you see rapid breathing in your pet with any other signs of distress, GO TO YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY.
* Other signs of distress in a dog may include lethargy, inappetance (not hungry or won't eat), weakness, pale gums, or a cough.
* Other signs of distress in a cat may include hiding, inappetance, lethargy, pale gums, back legs not working properly, or a cough.
You are better off playing it safe - if you are concerned, take your pet in to see your vet!
Page last updated 12/15/13.