Breathing diseases

My Dog Is Breathing Heavily Through the Nose

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. March 8, 2022
My Dog Is Breathing Heavily Through the Nose

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Labored breathing (dyspnea) is a clinical symptom which should be concerning for any dog guardian. The appearance of difficult and forced breathing can appear all of a sudden or it may be a result of a progressive deterioration. Although a dog will often breathe through their mouth, especially if they are exercising or experiencing warm temperatures, it is common for dogs to do much of their breathing through their nose. This is especially so when they are resting as they will often have their mouth closed. For this reason, although a dog may have difficulty breathing through their mouth, we often first notice heavy breathing through the nose.

At AnimalWised, we explain why my dog is breathing heavily through the nose. We understand the possible causes of respiratory issues and what treatment options may be available.

You may also be interested in: My Dog Is Breathing Heavy While Resting


  1. Upper respiratory tract obstruction
  2. Lower respiratory tract diseases
  3. Diseases that affect respiratory function
  4. Cardiac disease
  5. Other reasons a dog breathes heavily through the nose

Upper respiratory tract obstruction

The upper respiratory tract includes the sinuses, pharynx, larynx and the nasal cavity, so it is understandable conditions affecting this area may result in a dog breathing heavily through their nose. Such conditions often cause inspiratory paroxysmal respiration, also known as reverse sneezing in dogs. Although we don't always know why a dog is reverse sneezing, we do know it is related to the following conditions:

  • Brachycephalic syndrome: brachycephalic dog breeds are those which are characterized by a malformation of the upper respiratory tract. Specifically, they have an elongated soft palate, a reduced trachea, narrow nostrils and other issues. These can lead to tracheal collapse, something which sounds like the dog is choking as it is difficult for air to pass through the respiratory tract when breathing. Sounds of heavy breathing, snoring, snorting and other sounds are commonly made which can be exacerbated by exercise and excitement.

  • Obstruction by foreign bodies: when a dog ingests or inhales something they shouldn't, it is possible it will become stuck in their throat, nasal passages or other parts of their upper respiratory tract. The occlusion of airways makes respiration difficult and can result in them breathing heavily through their nose.

  • Diseases causes of obstruction: various pathologies can affect the upper respiratory tract. These can often cause inflammation, narrowing the airways and leading to the dog breathing heavily through their nose. These disease include edema glottidis, laryngeal collapse, laryngeal paralysis and growths or tumors in the nasal passageways, larynx and pharynx.

Treatment of upper respiratory tract obstruction

It is important we take a dog with sudden labored breathing to the veterinarian. Even if we know the cause, it is best for the vet to treat the issue. For example, if the obstruction is caused by a foreign body, we may cause more damage trying to extract it. A veterinarian can perform imaging tests and surgery, if necessary.

Other treatment options will depend on the underlying cause. Surgery ay be required to treat a laryngeal collapse. Diseases which cause inflammation may require antibiotic, anti-inflammatory or other types of treatment. Complementary medical therapy is sometimes necessary, based on corticosteroids, antitussives, bronchodilators and/or tranquilizers.

Lower respiratory tract diseases

The lower respiratory tract of dogs includes the larynx, bronchi, lungs and alveoli. When diseases affect this area, they generally produce expiratory-type dyspnea, i.e. labored breathing form air expelled from the lungs. For this reason, it is common to notice breathes heavily through the nose because it cannot breathe normally. These are the most common diseases affecting the lower respiratory tract:

  • Bronchial disease: in cases of bronchitis there is bronchoconstriction (narrowing of the bronchi) and an accumulation of fluid in the lumen of the bronchi. This hinders the passage of air and causes the appearance of respiratory distress. Something similar occurs when tumors affect the wall of the bronchi. They reduce the lumen of the ducts and hinder the passage of air.

  • Pulmonary disease: any pathology that diffusely affects the lung's tissue, especially if it is bilateral (affecting both lungs), gives rise to the appearance of dyspnea. Within this group we include pulmonary edema (presence of fluid within the pulmonary alveoli), extensive pulmonary tumors, bilateral pneumonia or bronchopneumonia, pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary emphysema, among others.

  • Pleural disease: the pleura is the serous membrane that surrounds the lungs and the chest cavity. When the pleural space is filled with air (pneumothorax) or fluid (pleural effusion), the lung tissue is compressed and prevents it from distending adequately during respiration. As a consequence, forced and difficult breathing occurs.

Treatment of lower respiratory tract diseases

In these cases, the treatment is variable and depends on the specific pathology that causes the respiratory difficulty:

  • Most of these diseases require pharmacological treatment which, depending on the process, may include antibiotics, diuretics, bronchodilators or inhaled corticosteroids.
  • When necessary, supportive therapy with mucolytic drugs, antitussives or oxygen therapy can be administered.
  • In most chronic diseases, it is advisable to control the dog's diet to promote weight loss. In this way, it is possible to reduce the pressure of the abdomen on the thorax to reduce the work of breathing and increase thoracic capacity.
  • In some cases, such as some lung tumors or pleural pathologies, surgical treatment is necessary.

Diseases that affect respiratory function

In addition to the diseases that we have described in the previous sections, there are other pathologies that affect a dog's respiratory function, even if they do not originate in the respiratory system. These are cases where respiratory distress and breathing heavily through the nose are secondary symptoms:

  • Insufficient contraction of the respiratory muscles: the contraction of the respiratory muscles allows the opening of the rib cage for proper ventilation of the lung. However, when an injury occurs to the respiratory nerves or muscles, the muscles cannot contract properly and labored breathing ensues. Myositis, dystrophy and atrophy are some of the conditions which can lead to this. It can also be due to chest trauma, inflammation of the pleura or certain neuromuscular diseases such as tetanus or myasthenia gravis in dogs.

  • Extrathoracic disease: these are pathologies located outside the thoracic cavity, but which can affect respiratory function. In general, these are pathologies of the abdominal cavity that compress the diaphragm and prevent its recoil during inspiration. This makes distension of the lungs difficult during inspiration. In dogs, it can occur in cases of ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity), gastric dilatation/torsion, or diaphragmatic hernia.

Treatment of these diseases

The treatment of the causes described in this section also varies depending on the specific pathology:

  • In cases of myositis or neuromuscular pathologies, such as tetanus or myasthenia gravis, it is necessary to establish pharmacological treatment. In addition, in cases of acute chest pain, supportive analgesic therapy is essential.
  • In other cases, such as gastric dilatation/torsion or diaphragmatic hernias, surgical treatment is necessary.

Cardiac disease

Respiratory distress can can also appear in diseases that cause both left and right heart failure. They include:

  • Left heart failure: in these cases, dyspnea occurs as a result of the appearance of pulmonary edema (accumulation of fluid within the pulmonary alveoli). It occurs, for example, in dogs with mitral valve degeneration or patent ductus arteriosus.

  • Right heart failure: in these cases, dyspnea occurs as a result of pleural effusion (accumulation of fluid in the pleural space). In addition, dyspnea is often aggravated by ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity). For example, it occurs in cases of tricuspid valve degeneration and right ventricular cardiomyopathies.

Treatment of cardiac disease in dogs

In these cases, treatment should be based on two main factors:

  • A specific treatment must be established against the primary pathology that causes heart failure. Usually, these pathologies require pharmacological treatment (antiarrhythmics, inotropes, etc.). In some cases, such as patent ductus arteriosus, surgical treatment is necessary.
  • Depending on whether left or right heart failure occurs, it is necessary to correct pulmonary edema or pleural effusion, respectively. In case of pulmonary edema, diuretics should be administered, while in case of pleural effusion it will be necessary to drain the effusion by thoracocentesis.

Other reasons a dog breathes heavily through the nose

All the causes described above can cause you to notice your dog is breathing heavily through their nose when they sleep or when they are awake. They are not the only causes. In addition to the etiologies described in the previous sections, we must highlight other causes that can lead to labored breathing in dogs:

  • Obesity
  • Anemia
  • Intoxication/poisoning
  • Heat stroke
  • Electrocution

Treatment of other causes of labored breathing

Similarly, the treatment of these causes will vary depending on the specific process.

  • In overweight dogs, it will be necessary to establish a hypocaloric diet with a suitable exercise plan to achieve progressive weight loss in the animal.
  • In cases of anemia, it will be necessary to establish a specific treatment against the primary cause, depending on whether it is hemolytic, hemorrhagic or hypoproliferative anemia.
  • In cases of intoxication, heat stroke or electrocution, it will be essential to establish support treatment with oxygen therapy, fluid therapy, etc.

In the case of dog poisoning, electrocution, etc., the situation will constitute a veterinary emergency. In all cases, a dog should be taken to the veterinarian as soon as we observe any type of labored breathing as the situation can deteriorate rapidly and early diagnosis can improve the prognosis.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Is Breathing Heavily Through the Nose, we recommend you visit our Breathing diseases category.

  • Nelson, R., & Couto, C. (2010). Small Animal Internal Medicine. Elsevier/Mosby.
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My Dog Is Breathing Heavily Through the Nose