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Learn everything about excessive panting in older dogs!

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Dog panting is a normal behaviour in older dogs. However, there are times when excessive panting in older dogs is a sign of a serious disease. It is very normal to see an older dog panting. Whenever a dog pants, it is a response to heat, excitement or energy outburst. Nonetheless, heavy and excessive panting is different and far more dangerous. In fact, it can be a sign that your dog is dangerously overheated or affected by a serious health problem. Learn about excessive panting in older dogs to know how to treat your dog if necessary.

By Daniel Mar

Causes of excessive panting in older dogs

While panting is a natural mechanism to cool off a dog’s body, it can be a result of something else. Usually, “Dogs take ten to thirty breaths a minute depending on their size. Get to know what your dog’s everyday breathing and panting looks like so you’ll more quickly notice suspicious changes”, says Dr Amy Flowers.

Furthermore, here you have the most commons causes of excessive panting in older dogs: 

  1. Heatstroke: It is usual for a dog to start panting harder after exertion. However, some dogs (Boston terriers and pugs) are prone to breathing heavily due to their short snouts. But, panting is also a result of a heat stroke. A dog who has a thick coat suffer very often the effects of heat. This is perhaps the most common cause of excessive panting in dogs.

  2. Chronic illnesses: There are a couple of chronic illnesses that can cause excessive panting in older dogs. The most common ones are heart failure, Cushing’s syndrome and respiratory disorders. Fortunately, it is possible to treat them, but for that, you need professional help.

  3. Pain: Unfortunately, dogs can’t tell us easily when they are in pain. If you are not accustomed to your dog’s behaviour, you are going to struggle! Even though there are many signs of pain like enlarged pupils, lack of appetite, anxiety and restlessness, excessive panting is the most frequent one.

  4. Medication: Your dog can also experience the side-effects of a drug. Drug allergies are a common cause of excessive panting in older dogs. So, if you believe that your dog is not assimilating the medicine properly, you may need to consider stopping the treatment.

Eclampsia is a rare cause of excessive panting in older dogs

Excessive panting in older dogs can also be a result of eclampsia. This is also known as ‘milk fever’ and it affects older nursing canine mothers. It is a dangerous condition that many dog owners don’t know about. The reason behind its danger is that it causes a low blood calcium level in your dog’s blood that leads to an inability to stand or walk, followed by tremors and excessive panting.

If you have a female older dog, and she has had puppies, it is vital that you pay very close attention to her condition! Eclampsia can be deathly if not caught in time. So, if you notice any changes in the breathing of your dog, call your vet right away.

How to respond to excessive panting in older dogs?

Among the causes of excessive panting, heatstroke is the most common as already stated. Also, it is the one that you can treat right away. The rest will need more of a professional approach. If you are sure that your dog has a heat stroke, a quick response is life-saving. To know if this is the case, be on the lookout for excessive panting, weakness, glassy eyes, fast heart rate, drooling, vomiting, seizures and fever. If you can, take the rectal temperature. Your dog's temperature surpasses 40 °C, go immediately to the vet.

Here is what you can do to save your dog:

  1. Move your dog to a shady and cool spot.

  2. Submerge your dog in cool (not cold) water. You could also apply ice packs to your dog’s chest, neck, belly and head.

  3. Give your dog cool (not cold) water. If he refuses, try with ice cubes.

  4. Take another rectal temp to see if he is starting to cool down. Then take him straight to the vet.

Heatstroke can be avoided. Do not leave your dog in enclosed hot spaces or parked cars. Pets need shade and fresh water all day long (or at least during the hottest part of the day).

When do you know that excessive panting in older dogs is a problem?

First and foremost, remember that panting is normal for a dog who just exercised, he is hot or too excited. Nonetheless, there are times when excessive panting in older dogs is not normal like:

  • When panting starts suddenly for no reason.
  • If you think that your dog is in pain.
  • Your dog has been panting non-stop for a long time.
  • Your dog’s tongue and gums look blue, purple or white (lack of oxygen)

You need to be careful of excessive panting in older dogs. It may be a normal behaviour but you need to know when it is not.