If Scruffy has difficulty breathing, it's probably not because that classy French poodle from across the street has taken his breath away. Knowing your dog's normal respiration rate can help you determine whether you are dealing with a minor or major breathing issue, and what actions to take.
Obtaining a Respiratory Rate
So Scruffy is breathing heavily, and you find it quite abnormal: What should you do? First of all, take a deep breath yourself, and don't panic. Next, have your dog stay still, preferably lying on his side, and count how many times he breathes in 15 seconds. You can use a stopwatch if it helps you. Once you have that number, multiply it by four to figure the number of breaths per minute.
Evaluating a Respiratory Rate
Once you have that number, you need to determine whether it's normal. The average in dogs is 24 breaths for minute, according to Vetinfo. However, the rate can vary depending on several factors. Typically, a normal respiratory rate can be anywhere between 10 and 30 per minute. If you are not too sure about the number you first measured, you can count again a few minutes later and compare the two numbers.
Variances of Respiratory Rates
The respiration rate during a pup's first few weeks of life can be between 15 and 35 per minute. And some breeds might breathe faster than the norm; so might dogs who are overweight, tired from recent activity, or on certain medications.
Fast Respiratory Rates
If you cannot find a reasonably normal explanation for an increased respiratory rate, have your dog seen by a veterinarian to determine the cause. For instance, a rate of more than 30 breaths per minute can be caused by pain, fever, heatstroke, dehydration, exhaustion, poisoning, lung disease or heart failure. All of these are serious conditions that require prompt veterinary attention.
Slow Respiratory Rates
In the same way, a slow respiratory rate might be a sign of trouble. For instance, a respiration rate of less than 10 a minute might indicate shock, anemia, internal bleeding or a serious allergic reaction that could lead to anaphylactic shock. These, too, are serious conditions for which every minute counts. In such cases, take your dog immediately to the vet and report any other signs of trouble.
Your Dog's Respiratory Rate
Ultimately, you know your dog best. It's a good idea to learn his normal appearance and normal respiration rates. Record his respiratory rate when he's acting normal and relaxed, so you can readily identify signs of trouble when they arise. This is especially helpful if you own a breed with a pushed-in face, as these fellows tend to overheat.
It's also a good idea to learn your dog's normal heart rate and to get acquainted with how his mucous membranes normally look, so you can promptly identify any problems and act quickly.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.