The Major Causes and Treatments for a Hyperventilating Dog

Yellow lab sneezing
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No matter what the case may be, seeing your dog having a hard time breathing normally can be scary to witness, especially if it's because of a medical condition. However, there are a variety of reasons for why your dog could be hyperventilating or sneezing including over-excitement, anxiety, respiratory diseases, and even metabolic acidosis.

As medical management varies greatly with the diagnosis, a proper assessment is essential to determine the cause, and the only way to know for sure what is going on with your dog is to have him checked out by your vet to rule out a respiratory issue, heart problem, or infection.

There is, however, one common condition that can be mistaken for "hyperventilation" known as reverse sneezing, which can also be quite intimidating to witness but does come with a few more readily accessible treatments and remedies.

Note that if your pet displays inappetence, isn't acting "normally," or shows changes in appetite, urination, or other signs of illness, please see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Causes and Treatment of Hyperventilation

There are four main causes of canine hyperventilation: getting too excited, stress or anxiety, respiratory issues, and metabolic acidosis. However, while any of these conditions may result in your dog panting excessively or snorting, not all of them require treatment or even have treatment options available.

Metabolic acidosis is a mild condition resulting from increased acid production from metabolism or reduced excretion of stomach acids that could be caused by underlying conditions like diabetic ketoacidosis, renal failure, or respiratory dysfunction.

Any of these underlying causes would need to be treated to restore the proper pH balance to a dog's internal organs, and treatments include dialysis, medication, or oxygen administration in extreme cases. However, it's important for a veterinarian to diagnose the cause as it's almost impossible to determine on your own.

Over-excitement and anxiety are also both factors that could contribute to a dog hyperventilating as both of these conditions accelerate the dog's heart rate and breathing, oftentimes overly so, causing a shortness of breath. While there is no real harm or type of treatment for this type of hyperventilation, medication can be prescribed to your pet if the problem becomes chronic to reduce anxiety levels. Alternatively, removing the dog from frightening or exciting situations when it begins to hyperventilate will typically allow it to calm down and breath properly again.

Respiratory issues are the most problematic symptoms and causes of hyperventilation and excessive panting in pets. Diseases and problems which can cause this include conditions such as overheating, pain, Cushing's disease, anemia, or laryngeal paralysis. No matter the cause of your dog’s excessive panting, you should always have her examined by a vet to rule out possible life-threatening ailments.

The Reverse Sneeze

A reverse sneeze is a respiratory spasm that produces a "goose honk" sound. Dogs will sometimes reverse sneeze from excitement, being tugged on a leash, sudden temperature changes, or from allergies or post nasal drip, though sometimes a cause cannot be determined.

Though reverse sneezing itself is harmless and won't harm your dog, if it's a common occurrence, check with your vet to rule out potential underlying causes.

Another main trigger is the involuntary movement of the hairlike cilia in the respiratory tract which remove foreign matter from the air before it gets into the lungs, but other underlying causes can include mucous irritation, obstruction of the nasal passage, inflammation, excess nasal discharge or secretion, pneumonia, chronic vomiting, GI disease, and nasal tumors and dental diseases in older dogs.

If you begin to notice a problem in your pet, take a short video of your dog when he is hyperventilating and bring it to your vet—it's a valuable tool for assessing the behavior since the breathing pattern may not be exhibited during the exam.

Treatment is usually not needed for reverse sneezing, and in most cases, once the mucus or foreign matter is removed from the nasal passages, the honking reflex will stop. However, if a cause can be determined, eliminating it will usually solve the problem. For example, dogs that have a sensitive trachea can benefit from a harness versus a collar. You can also try keeping your dog calm; distract him with a treat or toy and redirect his attention if the overexcitement occurs when family members enter the home.

Getting your dog to swallow will usually stop the respiratory spasm. One way to do this is to blow a small puff of air into his nostrils. Another method to gently rub the throat area.