Respiratory Failure in Dogs

Respiratory failure in dogs is a serious condition with many possible causes. While symptoms such as sneezing are normal and usually not an issue of concern, symptoms such as heavy or abnormal breathing can be a sign of respiratory complications or failure.

There are several reasons why a dog can suffer from respiratory problems and breathing difficulties. Below are the medical conditions that can cause respiratory complications, explained in detail.


Bordetella, or kennel cough, is a common cause of respiratory problems in dogs. This disease is mild, but very contagious. If not treated properly, Bordetella can develop into bronchopneumonia or chronic bronchitis, which can be life-threatening. Vaccines are given for the prevention of Bordetella, but the disease has so many possible causes that the vaccinations are not always effective. Factors such as temperature, humidity, and stress can cause a dog to be more at risk for Bordetella, and keeping a dog confined in a closed area where he can inhale the harmful bacteria will also increase the risk.


Pneumonia is also a common cause of respiratory failure in dogs, and causes the lungs to become inflamed. Usually the pneumonia is a bacterial or fungal infection, and can cause the dog to cough profusely, have abnormal breathing, exhibit loss of appetite and suffer from fever and depression.


Often, the cause for a dog's respiratory difficulties is due to a fungal infection. There are a few different types of infections that can cause the symptoms, and symptoms can include sneezing, nasal pain, labored breathing and lack of energy.


Respiratory cancer is an uncommon cause for breathing difficulties in dogs. The most common cancer to occur in the respiratory system is located in the nasal sinus passages, and it can lead to tumor growth within the lungs that can easily spread to other parts of the body.

Tracheal Collapse

In the event of a tracheal collapse, the dog's windpipe collapses, causing the dog to gag, cough and gasp for air. Older dogs and smaller dog breeds are more likely to be affected with tracheal collapse, and other factors such as genetics, trauma, birth defects and cartilage deterioration can increase the risk.


Asthma is quite rare in dogs, but it can cause labored breathing and respiratory problems when the lungs fill with fluid and begin to spasm, which conflicts with the air intake to the lungs. Asthma in dogs can cause wheezing, coughing and gasping for air, and should be treated promptly if presented in the dog.


Laryngeal paralysis occurs when the voice box becomes paralyzed, usually from a dysfunction of nerves within the throat. Laryngeal paralysis causes severe breathing problems in dogs and can lead to further respiratory damage. The causes of the paralysis may be due to factors such as Bordetella germs, excessive barking and chronic choking. Common symptoms include heavy breathing, coughing, choking, lethargy, nausea and the incapacity to breath. 

See a Veterinarian

If your dog exhibits symptoms of respiratory problems or difficulty breathing, see a veterinarian promptly to ensure the dog receives the proper diagnoses and treatment.