Respiratory Issues in Dogs and Cats

Posted by Dr. Roth on

Respiratory Issues in Dogs and Cats

Breathing is an essential life function that provides the body with oxygen. Most dogs and cats can survive a few days without food or water. However, they can only survive a few minutes without oxygen. Therefore, during an emergency, making sure the dog or cat is breathing is the priority. 


Normal Breathing and Respiration

The act of breathing is known as respiration. Air must enter the body through the nose or mouth and move down to the lungs via the trachea to breathe correctly. Chest muscles and the diaphragm work together to inhale air and push it back out. 

During inhalation, oxygen is transported throughout the body through the use of blood vessels. In addition, during exhalation, carbon dioxide is removed from the body. 

A resting respiration rate is the average number of breaths taken during inactivity. The normal resting respiration rate for dogs and cats is about 15 to 30 breaths per minute. Normal breathing for dogs and cats is through the nose at regular intervals.

Abnormal Breathing and Respiration

Sudden abnormal breathing patterns are a big red flag that something is wrong with a pet. The following are signs of abnormal respiration:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing sounds
  • Congestion sounds
  • Open-mouth breathing during rest — especially in cats
  • Becoming easily winded
  • Increased resting respiration rate
  • Collapsing
  • Shallow breathing
  • Increased breathing effort

Pet parents should check the pet’s respiration rate any time a pet is not acting normal and is lethargic. Fast and early intervention are essential for positive outcomes when a pet has an abnormal breathing pattern. 

Respiratory Issues in Dogs and Cats

Abnormal breathing patterns are always considered an emergency, and pet parents should contact their vet immediately. Breathing is essential to life, and lack of oxygen is fatal after a few minutes. 

If the pet’s resting respiration rate exceeds 35 breaths per minute, the pet parent should immediately contact the vet. Additionally, some abnormal breathing patterns happen sporadically, in which case, the pet parent should video record the issue and show it to their vet.


To diagnose respiration issues, the vet will need to perform a thorough physical exam. The vet will use a stethoscope to listen to the pet’s heart and lungs during the exam. 

Additional diagnostic tests the vet might recommend:

  • Blood work: This test will check for heartworms and check organ function.
  • Radiographs (X-rays): A radiograph helps the vet determine what part of the respiratory system is causing the problem — lungs, trachea, or heart. 
  • Ultrasound: This test can help the vet see if there are any structural abnormalities of the heart.


Treatment for abnormal breathing will depend on diagnosing the cause of the problem. During an emergency, the number one priority is making sure the pet is getting enough oxygen. Therefore, the pet may be put on a ventilator or in an oxygen chamber until a diagnosis can be made and the pet is stable. 

Additional treatments can include surgery for structural damage to the respiratory system, antibiotics for an infection, and intravenous fluids.

Additional Advice

Not all dog health questions or cat health questions require immediate vet care. However, it can be difficult for a pet parent to determine the best course of action for their pet concerns. For additional cat advice or dog advice, pet parents can contact the Fuzzy Veterinary Team 24/7 and receive immediate advice about their pet concerns. 

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