A pet with heart disease may have an increase in both the breathing rate and or breathing effort. An animal’s breathing pattern may be easily monitored at home. Each breath may be seen as the chest rises with inspiration and falls with expiration—one cycle of inspiration and expiration equals one breath. To determine the breathing rate, simply observe your pet in a calm situation and count the number of breaths per minute. Alternatively, count the number of breaths taken in a 30 second period (you’ll need a watch with a second hand) and then multiply this number by two to get the number of breaths taken per minute. The normal breathing rate for a dogs and cat with well controlled heart failure is less than 35 to 40 breaths per minute, and a very slow breathing rate (less than 20 breaths per minute) is seen in some animals. Rapid or labored breathing may require adjustment of medications (see the Management section).
It is also important to measure the breathing effort of a pet; that is, how hard he or she is working to breath. If a pet is breathing with greater effort than normal you may see the abdominal muscles (stomach region) moving forcefully in and out with each breath. The chest wall and ribs will move further with each breath. Additionally, the dog or cat might breath with an open mouth, have their cheeks billow out with each expiration, stand with legs in a wide stance, or neck outstretched. Cats are well known for their ability to hide their own breathing difficulties, so this may be hard to see. A cat may just
not look right, interact less with owners, hide in a closet, or just not act like themselves. If you notice increased breathing effort then see the Management section or take your animal to your veterinarian.