This advice is not intended to replace veterinary care and attention. If your pet has suffered from breathing issues, then, having carried out the first-aid measures described, you should contact your nearest Vets Now clinic for advice on what to do next. 

Signs of breathing problems in pets

  • Continuous panting at rest: Continuous panting at rest could be due to heat stroke, which is a medical emergency. So, if it is hot, or your pet has been trapped in a car or other hot environment, or has been exercising vigorously then you should follow our advice for heat stroke (<link>).
    If that’s not the case, panting at rest in dogs could indicate breathing problems. Panting in cats is never normal and should be considered a medical emergency. Call your vet for advice straight away. 
  • Rapid or laboured breathing: If your pet is breathing excessively fast or struggling to catch their breath, it could be a sign of respiratory distress. Call your vet for advice straight away. 
  • Noisy breathing: Unusual sounds like wheezing, snorting, whistling, rasping, or gasping can indicate an obstruction or respiratory infection. Call your vet for advice straight away. 
  • Blue, pale or bright red gums: Check your pet’s gums; a bluish or pale colour may suggest inadequate oxygenation. Bright red gums can indicate carbon monoxide poisoning. Call your vet for advice straight away. 
  • Coughing or gagging: Frequent coughing or gagging might indicate airway irritation, a respiratory infection, or an obstruction. Coughing and gagging may not be an emergency, but If your pet is also struggling to breathe, call your vet for advice straight away. 
  • Shallow breathing: If your pet’s breathing seems very shallow and rapid, it could be a cause for concern. Call your vet for advice straight away. 
  • Excessive chest or abdominal wall movement: Normal breathing causes a small amount of chest and abdominal wall movement. If your pet’s breathing involves extreme abdomen or chest movement, it may indicate they are struggling to breathe. Call your vet for advice straight away. 
  • Strange standing, seated, or lying position: Is your pet standing with its head low and neck extended, possibly with its front legs spread wide? Or is he sitting up, or lying on his tummy, with his elbows pushed out wide from his body? If so, he could be struggling to breathe and is trying to maximise his lung capacity. Call your vet for advice straight away. 

How can you help a pet with breathing problems?

  • Keep your pet calm: Stress and anxiety can exacerbate breathing difficulties. Create a quiet, comfortable space for your pet to rest. 
  • Keep them cool: Even if it’s not caused by heat stroke, it’s common for pets with breathing problems to overheat. Don’t actively cool them, if they are not overheated, but make sure there is good ventilation and avoid wrapping them in blankets.  
  • Elevate their head: Slightly elevate their head and gently straighten and extend their neck to improve airflow. 
  • Open windows and use fans: Improve air circulation in the room where your pet is resting to ensure fresh air. 
  • Use a humidifier: Adding moisture to the air can help ease breathing, especially if your pet is suffering from respiratory congestion. 
  • Keep them hydrated: Ensure your pet has access to fresh water, as dehydration can worsen breathing issues. 

How to safely transport a pet to the vet in an emergency

  • Remain calm: Your pet may be agitated or scared; approach them calmly and confidently to minimize stress. 
  • Seek assistance: If possible, have someone help you during transportation to hold or comfort your pet while you focus on driving safely. 
  • Use a pet carrier or box: If your pet is small enough, place them in a well-ventilated carrier. Make sure it is secure and has ample airflow. 
  • Large dogs: For bigger dogs, use a makeshift stretcher like a sturdy board, blanket, or dog bed to move them safely. 
  • Muzzling: In extreme cases, if your pet is distressed and may bite, consider using a muzzle. However, be cautious to ensure it does not impede their breathing further.