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Learn everything about excessive panting in older dogs!

Old black dog panting

Dog panting can be a response to heat, illness, pain or an outburst of energy.

© Amelia Martin - Shutterstock

Dog panting can be a normal behaviour. However, there are times when excessive panting in older dogs is a sign of a serious disease. Therefore, if your senior dog is panting for an unknown reason or he seems unwell, it’s important to get in touch with your vet for advice.

By Daniel Mar

Updated on the 23/03/2021, 14:09

Dog panting can be a response to heat, excitement or an outburst of energy. Nonetheless, heavy and excessive panting with no apparent cause can be much more concerning. In fact, it can be a sign that your dog is overheated or affected by a serious health problem.

Learn about excessive panting in older dogs to know how to treat your dog if necessary.

Causes of excessive panting in older dogs

Dogs have very few seat glands, which means the most effective way to cool off is through panting. While panting is a natural mechanism to cool off a dog’s body, it can also 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 from very little exercise due to their short snouts and inability to breathe in enough oxygen. But panting is also a result of a heat stroke. This can be a serious concern, and can lead to seizures and fatalities if not treated swiftly.
  2. Chronic illnesses: There are a many of chronic illnesses that can cause excessive panting in older dogs. The most common ones are heart failure, Cushing’s syndrome and respiratory disorders affecting the lungs. Fortunately, it is possible to treat many of them, but for that, you need professional help.
  3. Pain: Unfortunately, dogs can’t tell us easily when they are in pain. Even though there are many signs of pain like enlarged pupils, lack of appetite and restlessness, excessive panting is also a frequent one. Other symptoms to look out for are licking areas of the body which are uncomfortable, whining and refusing to lie down and settle.
  4. Medication: Your dog can also experience the side-effects of a drug. Drug allergies are an uncommon cause of excessive panting in older dogs. So, if you believe that your dog is not reacting to the medicine normally, you should contact your veterinarian for advice.

Why is my senior dog panting at night?

You might be seeing excessive panting from your dog at night because it is a sign of pain. When an older arthritic dog lies down and rests, joints can seize up and become very sore. As a result, your dog may exhibit some of the symptoms already listed above.

The reality is, your dog might be also experiencing these symptoms more subtly during the day too, however since the panting can be disturbing at night, this is when it is most noticeable.

How to respond to excessive panting in older dogs?

The approach you need to take to respond to your panting dog will vary depending on the suspected cause. 

If you think that your dog has 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 of place damp towels over his body.
  3. Give your dog cool (not cold) water
  4. Blow a fan over him when he is damp.
  5. 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).

If your pet is panting for no known reason and you’re confident the heatstroke is not the cause, you may want to consider taking him to the vet to investigate the problem. A dog’s breathing rate should normally be between 15-30 breaths per minute. If he is breathing faster than this, seems unwell or is showing any of the previously mentioned symptoms, turning out his elbows from his chest, or has excessive abdominal movement with every breath, a health problem could be a serious concern.

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. Even though it can be normal behaviour, be aware that in some circumstances it is not, and may require veterinary attention.

Reviewed by Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS