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Why Is My Dog Breathing From His Stomach? 6 Common Reasons

Key Takeaways

  • A dog breathing from the stomach may happen if the tummy is enlarged due to bloating, heart failure, internal bleeding, or liver disease.
  • You will know that a dog struggling to breathe when his stomach expands with each inhalation.
  • When a dog has difficulty breathing, it could be a life-threatening emergency, so make sure to take the dog to the vet. 

When a dog seems like he is breathing from his stomach, he may be experiencing dyspnea. This medical term simply means your dog is in respiratory distress. There are several reasons a dog may breathe from the stomach including foreign objects in the airway, congestive heart failure, infection, abdominal disorders, heatstroke, and acute trauma. In this article, I am going to talk about the dangers of dyspnea in dogs and how understanding why a dog may breathe from his stomach is critical for pet owners. I always tell pet parents who notice labored breathing in a dog, or any abnormal breathing at all, that there’s a high chance that he is having a life-threatening medical emergency. 

What Does It Mean When a Dog Is Breathing From His Stomach?

When a healthy dog does normal breathing, his chest wall should rise and fall just like humans. When breathing becomes difficult for a dog, his stomach may begin to expand with each inhalation. 

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What Are the Signs of Dyspnea in Dogs?

Discovering your dog is in respiratory distress becomes frightening. You should know the warning signs that may occur with dog breathing problems, similar to knowing when a dog’s breathing is normal or not. If you notice any of these signs, especially multiple ones, call your vet right away!

Dog breathing from stomach.
  • Your dog’s nostrils are flaring. 
  • Your dog is excessively panting. 
  • Your dog is breathing noisily. 
  • Your dog is holding his head low. 
  • Your dog appears to be anxious.
  • Your dog’s gums are turning blue.
  • Your dog is taking rapid and shallow breaths.
  • Exercise intolerance

All of the above are signs a dog is having trouble breathing. A dog’s breathing problems can happen at any age and to any dog breed for a variety of reasons. Once you have discovered your dog is not breathing normally, you need to know why. It’s also important that every pet owner knows how to do CPR on a dog for emergency cases.

Reasons For Labored Breathing Or Dog Breathing From Stomach

The following are the most common reasons for dogs breathing from their stomachs. Below, you can find detailed information on each of these. 

  • Foreign objects in the airway
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Infection
  • Abdominal disorders
  • Heatstroke
  • Acute trauma
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Foreign Object in the Airway

Vet touching dog's stomach.

Dogs are curious by nature. As they sniff along, a dog can accidentally inhale a foreign object into their trachea. Inhalation of an object can also occur while a dog is eating. 

Common inhaled objects include food, fish hooks, needles, bones, and small toys. If you suspect a foreign object is caught in your dog’s trachea, you must perform the Heimlich Maneuver  right away [1]. 

Congestive Heart Failure

Just like humans, dogs can develop congestive heart problems. This condition occurs when a dog’s heart weakens and is no longer able to pump blood throughout the body efficiently. 

The most common causes of heart disease in dogs are mitral valve insufficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy. If your dog has congestive heart problems, you may notice the following symptoms, in addition to respiratory distress.

  • Chronic cough
  • A decrease in stamina
  • Fluid in the chest or abdomen
  • Fluid in the lungs or pulmonary edema


Labored breathing is also caused by infections. Bacterial and viral infections can both affect a dog’s lungs. Puppies and older dogs are more susceptible to developing respiratory tract infections or any other lung disease. 

These infections may be highly contagious, spreading to multiple dogs within the same home. The clinical signs of infection typically do not begin to show until 4 to 5 days after exposure, which makes these infections highly spreadable without warning.

Abdominal Disorders

When a dog has an enlarged abdomen, it can affect its ability to breathe. Excess gas is a common and temporary culprit, though it could be caused by a serious condition. Find out what home remedy you can your dog for gas.

Excess fluid in the abdomen may also cause breathing difficulties. Excessive abdominal swelling can be caused by liver disease, internal bleeding, and heart failure. 

Heat Stroke

Dog with mini fan.

If your dog has been in the heat and begins breathing from his stomach, a heat stroke could be to blame. The normal temperature of a dog is between 100.5 to 102.5°F. If a dog has a heat stroke, his temperature can spike greater than 105.8°F. 

All dogs can overheat, though some are more prone to it than others. A heatstroke is a serious medical condition that requires immediate treatment. Learn how to protect your dog from heatstroke.

Acute Trauma

Dogs may also breathe using abdominal muscles when they experience acute trauma. Trauma to the chest cavity of a dog will cause it to breathe from the stomach. Your dog may have been hit by a car, attacked by an animal, or fallen. Broken ribs are one of the most common types of injuries causing stomach breathing. Injuries to the chest cavity are very serious. 

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FAQ About Abdominal Breathing In Dogs

If your dog is breathing from his stomach, you probably have a lot of questions and concerns. The following offers answers to the top questions dog owners have. 

1. What are the signs of respiratory distress in a dog?

Your dog may cough, have slow or rapid breathing, or have noisy breathing. When a dog is in respiratory distress [2], his nostrils will flare, and he will breathe through his stomach. 

2. What does it look like when a dog is struggling to breathe?

Watch for flaring of the nostrils, shallow breathing, and grunting noises. Your dog may also hang his head low or act out in anxiety if he is struggling to breathe. 

3. Why is my dog contracting his stomach?

Your dog may contract his stomach to force air into his lungs. There is a multitude of reasons dogs go into respiratory distress, including the most common listed above. If your dog is contracting his stomach, check for other signs and call your vet immediately. 

4. When should I be concerned about my dog’s breathing?

If your dog is breathing heavily but only temporary, you may not need to worry. If he suddenly seems in distress and extends his belly when breathing, he could have difficulty breathing. Check for other signs, including flaring nostrils and blue gums. 

Call Your Vet Immediately

Respiratory distress can be life-threatening. If your dog is suffering from any of the above, a call to the vet is warranted. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to breathing difficulties in your dog

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1 thought on “Why Is My Dog Breathing From His Stomach? 6 Common Reasons”

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my message I have an 11 year old Pomeranian. we just took her to the vet four days ago for excessive breathing they took x-rays .she may have collapsed trachea . But mild .they put her on sedative she is going to have a trachea procedure in seven days.
    My question is my dog is breathing with her stomach she engages a stomach to breathe she’s not breathing heavy and she does not make noise do you think it’s worth it to wait seven days for my next appointment. and could it be the sedative causing her to engage breathing with her stomach since it is a new medication . Lung x-rays were done and she does not have heart disease .thank you so much😊


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