Why Is My Dog Breathing From The Stomach?

Is your dog breathing from their stomach?

Any loving pet parent can immediately tell if there’s something wrong with their dog.

When you hear your dog making weird noises while breathing or if the dog appears to be breathing from the stomach, you will ask yourself what is wrong with him and how serious it is.

While it may be just a temporary thing, a dog breathing from the stomach is something you cannot afford to ignore. It may be a symptom of a serious problem and it is best to see a vet right away.

Keep in mind that your dog might have a life-threatening condition and this constitutes a medical emergency.

What does breathing from the stomach mean?

When a dog, or indeed a human, has difficulty breathing, this is called dyspnea. Breathing from the stomach describes the dog’s abdomen moving in sync with his respiration. This is a classic sign of dyspnea, but there are other symptoms you should watch out for, such as:

  • Noisy breathing
  • Panting
  • Anxiety or other signs of distress
  • Blue gums
  • Head held low
  • Rapid breaths

The contraction of the abdomen occurs only in exhalation. Basically, the dog uses the abdominal muscles to force their air out. This shows there’s some resistance to normal exhalation, which might indicate a small airway collapse.  

When is breathing from the stomach a medical emergency?

You need to examine your dog carefully to decide whether you can wait to schedule an appointment with your vet or you should take him to an emergency clinic.

Blue gums are a very dangerous sign. In medical terms this is called cyanosis. The blue color indicates the dog is not receiving enough oxygen and this can be life-threatening. Cyanosis might be present if your dog has some sort of obstruction in his airways, but it can also be a sign of a pulmonary problem, such as pleural space disease. 

Another sign there’s something seriously wrong with your dog is his behavior. If you see facial features of distress and the dog is struggling to breathe through the stomach, there’s no time to wait. No matter the cause, your dog might die within minutes so drop everything and head to the nearest emergency clinic. 

On the other hand, if the dog is working hard to breathe, but shows no signs of distress and appears interested in the environment, you’re probably not dealing with an emergency. He might have a respiratory problem but he’s coping with it, so you can wait until the doctor can see you. 

What are the causes of abdominal breathing in dogs?

If your dog appears to be breathing from the stomach this may be a sign or an illness or an obstruction.

Foreign object lodged in his throat

Dogs like to stick their nose everywhere and they may inhale small objects, such as needles, fish hooks, beads, etc. Or the dog may have swollen something that got stuck in his trachea or bronchi. If your dog had been playing with a large bone shortly before you noticed he had breathing difficulties you should try to open his mouth to see whether there’s a splinter lodged in his throat. 

Long inspiration and exhalation is a clear sign of an obstruction. 

The good thing is that his airways are not fully obstructed and he can still get some oxygen, but you need to treat this as a medical emergency. You can try to remove the obstruction, but if it’s too deep better not do anything as you risk pushing it further and it might cut out his air supply completely.

Heat stroke

If your dog was outside in scorching heat he may have a heat stroke. Dogs do not have sweat glands like we do so they regulate their body temperature through their breathing. If your dog is panting heavily this is a sign he’s trying to cool down. If you’re still out in the sun, take your dog inside right away, in a cool dark room. Provide him with cool water to drink and make sure he does drink. Place a soaked towel on his back and on his paws. If his breathing doesn’t improve in a short delay, you should see a vet right away. Your dog might need intravenous fluids and the doctor might also prescribe an antibiotic to make sure he doesn’t develop an infection. 

Certain breeds, like Bulldogs of any type, Pugs or Boston Terriers are more susceptible to heat strokes as they already have trouble breathing because of their flat faces. 

Trauma

You should check your dog for any signs of trauma, especially in the chest area. If you see any blood or lacerations, that might be a sign your dog sustained some sort of trauma. Maybe he was hit by a car or someone hit him in the chest. A trauma to the chest area can cause broken ribs, a tear in the diaphragm muscle, or bruised lungs. 

A severe trauma can cause a pneumothorax, which is a collapsed lung. The air accumulates in the chest cavity. This condition can resolve on its own, but you shouldn’t bet your dog’s life on that. If you take him to the vet, they will remove the excess air by inserting a needle attached to a syringe in the chest cavity. If it’s a severe case, your dog might have to remain in the hospital for a few days to receive oxygen. 

Respiratory tract infection

These are more common in puppies and in senior dogs with a weaker immune system. Respiratory infections can be caused by a virus or a bacteria, and they are highly contagious. If your puppy goes to doggy-care or he spends time socializing with other dogs in the park, he might have an infection. Keep in mind that the symptoms may appear a few days after exposure to the pathogen. 

It may not be a medical emergency, but see a vet as soon as possible. Also, bear in mind that puppies may die of respiratory failure even if they don’t show any sign of dyspnea. 

Abdominal problem

It may be that your dog’s breathing problems have nothing to do with the respiratory system and the problem is with the abdomen itself. Bloating can cause him to breathe through the stomach, or it may appear so as there’s an accumulation of gas and the abdomen is distended. Keep in mind that bloating can be life-threatening to a dog, 

In case of severe bloating, your dog might need to be hospitalized and he might require surgery to reposition the stomach. 

Congestive heart failure

Just like humans, dogs can develop various heart problems, especially in their twilight years. For instance, a dog can develop mitral valve insufficiency, which leads to heart failure. The problem is not with his lungs, but with the heart which cannot pump enough blood to provide oxygen to the tissues. Your dog will struggle to breathe and you will notice an increased respiratory rate (rapid beats) as the body tries to increase the oxygen volume. The respiratory rate for a healthy dog is 20-34 breaths per minute, and your dog should not have to put any effort into it.  

Dyspnea is just one symptom of congestive heart failure. Other symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Lack of energy
  • Lethargy

The condition is also characterized by an accumulation of fluid in the chest cavity or abdomen, but only a doctor can diagnose that. 

If your dog has heart failure, the vet will probably prescribe diuretics to eliminate the fluids and vasodilators to relax the arteries so the heart doesn’t have to pump so hard to keep the blood circulating. You will also have to watch the salt in his meals. 

Why is my dog breathing heavily while lying down?

If your dog was outside playing and running around, rapid breathing is to be expected. However, if your dog is at rest or sleeping, any breathing issue should be treated as a sign of respiratory distress. If you can exclude such causes as heat stroke, trauma or airways obstruction, labored breathing might be the symptom of a disease.

Heart failure is common in elderly dogs, but there are others diseases that can cause dyspnea, such as:

  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Stomach filled with air (bloat)
  • Fluid in the belly, or ascites
  • Tumors.

If an enlarged organ is pressing on the diaphragm, it will seem like your dog is breathing from the stomach. 

Obesity and heartworms can also cause respiratory problems.

Why is my dog’s breathing weird?

If your dog is breathing fast, but is not panting, this may indicate a lung problem. Conditions such as edema, fibrosis, inflammation or cancer can trigger fast shallow breathing. It may not be an emergency, but you should take him to the vet to run a complete set of tests to see what the problem is. 

Should I be able to hear my dog breathing?

Normally not. However, brachycephalic dogs like Bulldogs or Pugs have trouble breathing and it is not unusual to hear them breathe. This is because their small airways are shorter than normal and there’s a lot of tissue cramped in the little space of their flat heads. 

Closing thoughts:

If your dog appears to be breathing from the stomach, you should examine him carefully. If he’s just hot, try to cool him down, but if he has a full-blown heat stroke you should see a doctor right away. The same applies to respiratory obstructions or breathing difficulties caused by a trauma to the chest cavity. In elderly dogs, breathing from the stomach may be a sign of heart failure, liver disease or cancer.