It can be a bit unnerving when your dog breathes fast while sleeping. After all, aren’t our furry friends supposed to sleep peacefully? Surely, they can’t be getting the rejuvenating rest that they need if their sleep is so fitful.
While fast breathing or panting during sleep can sometimes be a sign of a health condition, in most cases, it’s nothing to worry about. Still, it’s a good idea to learn more about normal doggy sleeping patterns and look out for signs that something is amiss.
Here are a few common reasons your dog breathes fast while sleeping:
Your dog is a dreamer
Just like us, our dogs dream. And, when they’ve entered the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep, it’s completely normal for them to start breathing faster. This might also be accompanied by twitching of the muscles or eyelids, and even soft little whimpers or barks. That’s because, during REM sleep, your dog’s neurological system will shut down most motor functions while lighting up certain parts of the brain. This allows them to dream without actually moving around. So, if your dog is breathing as though their favourite Dog Walker is taking them for their daily walkie, they might just be dreaming about that very moment!
Your pupper will likely enter the REM cycle about 20-30 minutes after they’ve curled up for their snooze. The amount of time your dog spends in REM will vary, but most only stay in this phase for about five to 20 more minutes. By then, they should settle peacefully into the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) stage.
It is possible for a dog to have an abnormally intense REM cycle, in which they are much more active than you might expect. This could be a sign of REM sleep behaviour disorder, a bit like sleepwalking in humans. Because this sleeping disorder can be dangerous, with dogs running into furniture or walls, many vets will prescribe a medication to help the dog sleep more peacefully.
Your dog is a puppy
Exactly why dogs dream is about as elusive as why we humans do. Probably, it’s a way for the brain to process memories and make sense of their daytime experiences. Dogs who spend their day playing with their Owner, exploring the neighbourhood with their trusted Pet Sitter, and meeting new friends at the dog park will likely have dreams to match their exciting daytime activities.
And, this also explains why age is such a big factor in why your dog breathes fast while sleeping. Puppies, probably because they are processing so many new experiences, are likely to spend more time in REM than adult dogs. For these puppers, it’s completely normal to notice quick breathing while they sleep.
Your dog breathes fast while sleeping because of their breed
If you have a dog in the brachycephalic breed group, including Boxers, Shih Tzu, Bulldogs, and others, it’s normal to notice fitful breathing while sleeping. As a result of their shortened airways, these dogs tend to pant, wheeze and snore in their sleep.
That said, it is important to be able to tell the difference between normal brachy breed breathing and Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome. If their breathing troubles seem to keep them from being able to sleep, make sure to talk to your vet.
Aside from the brachy breeds, large dogs and small dogs may have different breathing patterns. In general, small dogs breathe faster than big ones, and they have a shorter and more intense REM cycle.
When to be concerned that your dog breathes fast while sleeping
Unfortunately, there are a few other reasons why your dog might be breathing rapidly during sleep, and some of them are concerning. Keep in mind that the majority of the time, when a dog breathes fast while sleeping, the cause is something benign. But, it is worth taking note of the following possible medical reasons:
- Congenital heart failure. Dogs with congenital heart disease may experience rapid breathing while sleeping as the heart struggles to function normally. Coughing is another common symptom of heart failure, as well as extreme fatigue and fainting.
- Sleep disordered breathing. A dog suffering from sleep apnea may experience an episode of breathing obstruction followed by rapid breathing. All dogs can develop sleep apnea, but it is especially prevalent in brachy breeds and obese dogs.
If you think the reason your dog breathes fast while sleeping is due to something other than their REM cycle, it’s a good idea to get it checked out by your vet.
At home breathing test
To get a better understanding of whether your dog is breathing normally or not, there is a pretty easy test that you can conduct right at home. You’re going to wait until your pup is fast asleep and then count their breaths per minute.
You can do this by watching the rise and fall of their rib cage over the course of a minute. You don’t want to disturb your dog during this time, so watch from a distance without touching your dog at all.
Typically, anything over 30 breaths per minute could be cause for concern. But, remember, fast breathing could be a sign of normal REM sleep. So redo the test every couple of hours to record your dog’s breaths per minute during different sleep stages.
If your dog breathes fast while sleeping, should you wake them up?
As we’ve covered so far, there are a couple of different reasons why your dog breathes fast while sleeping. So, whether you should wake your dog will depend on why they’re breathing rapidly during sleep.
For dogs who are experiencing a normal REM cycle, the general consensus is not to wake them up. Dogs in REM are getting some much needed rest, and disrupting them could have negative consequences for their overall health.
Now, if your dog’s rapid breathing is the result of sleep apnea, you might want to wake them up if you know they are more comfortable sleeping in another position.
How can you make sure your furry friend gets a good night of sleep?
Our doggos need rest to be able to rebuild their muscles, commit their training to memory, and build up energy for another wonderful day with their favourite human! Make sure to read our article, How to Train Your Dog to Sleep Through the Night, for tips on giving your dog the best sleep possible.
And if you’re still losing sleep over why your dog breathes fast while sleeping, don’t hesitate to reach out to your vet!