Why Is My Dog Breathing Hard While Sleeping?

As we all know, dogs do a lot of cute things, even while they’re sleeping. I’ve had a lot of fun watching dogs sleep. They stretch, shake their legs, quiver, and even let out a precious whimper here and there.

Dogs sleep hard, and they can be noisy while they sleep. But if they seem to be breathing much harder than usual, is it a cause for concern? 

dog breathing hard while sleeping
Why is my dog breathing hard while sleeping?

Why Your Dog May Breathe Hard When They Sleep?

Several things could cause your pet’s breathing pattern to change while they sleep. Most of them aren’t a reason for alarm, and others can be prevented or treated without too much trouble.

Your Dog May Be Dreaming

Most times, a dog breathing hard while sleeping is just dreaming. Dogs dream, just like we do!

Dogs begin breathing hard when they enter the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep. Dogs enter REM sleep about 20 minutes after falling asleep, whereas it takes humans about 90 minutes.

During REM sleep, your dog may move, twitch, or make noises. You may notice his eyes moving under his eyelids. During this phase, your dog may be dreaming. Maybe he’s thinking about chasing his favorite ball or running around at the local dog park.

More likely, he’s dreaming about a big, juicy cheeseburger.

What if you have a puppy or a little guy? Puppies and smaller breeds are thought to have shorter dreams than larger breeds, so if you have a big dog you may notice more signs of dreaming that cause them to breathe hard while sleeping.

In a nutshell, hearing your dog breathing hard while sleeping is usually not a cause for concern. If he’s acting differently than usual, though, you’ll want to rule out any other possible causes.

Staffordshire Terrier sleeping
A Staffordshire Terrier sleeping soundly on the couch.

Your Dog’s Age and Breed

Puppies and senior dogs usually sleep longer and harder than other dogs. The normal breathing rate for dogs is 10 to 30 breaths per minute, but for puppies, it is 15 to 40 breaths per minute. Because puppies breathe more, they’re likely to be noisier or breathe harder while they sleep.

And senior dogs sleep longer than mature dogs, so they’ll likely dream and move more, which can also translate into harder breathing.

The breed of your dog is also a consideration. Some breeds breathe harder than others. For example, if you have a brachycephalic breed, such as a French bulldog, Boxer, or Pug, be especially aware of any changes in your dog’s normal sleeping habits.

Contact your vet if he seems to be breathing harder than usual while sleeping. These breeds are at increased risk of developing respiratory problems.

poodle and cocker spaniel
Poodle and a Cocker Spaniel sitting on a green grass for a photo shoot.

Indoor Air Quality Issues

If your dog is breathing hard while sleeping and you’ve ruled out dreaming, it could indicate a health condition resulting from an indoor air quality issue. These include:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • An upper respiratory infection
  • Sinus issues
  • Chronic bronchitis, which can cause permanent lung damage

Too often we hear how pets impact the indoor air quality around us. For example, how their dander can cause allergies in family members. But indoor air quality affects our pets, too!

To help keep your dog from getting sick from the air quality in your home, be sure to:

  • Change the filters on your furnace and air conditioner
  • Avoid smoking in the home
  • Avoid burning incense in the home
  • Vacuum regularly
  • Avoid burning wood in a wood-burning fireplace
  • Avoid using aerosols and harsh cleaning products

In addition, the room your pup is sleeping in might be too warm. Dogs are warmer than humans and can get too hot even if you’re not. If that’s the case, consider using a fan in the room.

If your pup has allergies, talk to your vet about things you can do, such as changing his dog food or putting him on allergy medication. If his sinuses are bothering him, put a dehumidifier in the room where he sleeps.

white maltipoo dog sitting on couch
A white adult Maltipoo sitting on a couch. Photo by Mitchell /CC BY

Systemic Issues

Some dogs have difficulty getting air into their lungs if they have a more serious underlying health issue.

Dyspnea, or labored breathing in dogs, can happen while they’re breathing in or out. If your dog is suffering from dyspnea, some signs include:

  • Flaring nostrils while breathing
  • Breathing with an open mouth, with or without panting
  • A chest wall that moves more than usual when breathing
  • Noisy breathing

Dyspnea differs from fast breathing (tachypnea) and panting, which also can indicate health problems. Dyspnea can indicate diseases of the nose, throat and windpipe, lungs, chest wall, diaphragm, and organs. Some of these conditions and diseases include:

  • Infections
  • Kennel cough
  • Injuries and trauma
  • Hernias
  • Heart failure
  • Tumors
  • Enlarged liver, stomach, or spleen
  • Fluid in the stomach

Call your vet right away if your dog begins breathing harder than normal out of the blue. This scenario could be a sign of an emergency.

lab puppy sleeps on floor
A Lab puppy catching some Zzz’s on the floor

They’re a Tired, Mischievous Pup

If your dog had a long day of play and exercise, he may be extra tired at night. This would cause him to go into a deep sleep and breathe hard. If he had more exercise than usual, you may notice him sleep for longer periods for a few days straight.

Another reason your dog may be breathing hard while sleeping is if he accidentally ate something he shouldn’t have. We all know how mischievous pups can be, getting into things they shouldn’t. Watch for diarrhea and vomiting.

If your dog is acting lethargic or is exhibiting other physical signs of distress such as trouble walking, contact your vet right away.

a tired pit bull snoozes
A tired pit bull relaxes

Conclusion

You know your dog best. Watch him extra closely. If he’s breathing hard while sleeping, it’s usually nothing to be overly concerned about.

But if he’s struggling during the day, too, it’s worth it to have him examined.

Although there are many reasons why your dog may be breathing hard while sleeping, try not to get too alarmed. Hopefully, your dog is just enjoying a great dream in a deep slumber. In no time, he should be back up to running and playing!