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Why is your pregnant dog panting?

Brown dog panting advice
© Pixabay

It’s normal for a dog to pant. A pregnant dog panting will usually indicate the onset of labour but it could just as easily point to a serious problem.

By Nick Whittle

Your dog pants when she gets hot or excited because doing so forces air over the blood vessels in her tongue and cools her core temperature. Heavy or excessive panting is something to take notice of though. It can be due to various things such as illnesses.

What are the causes of panting in a pregnant dog?

A pregnant dog pants for the same reasons as other dogs do: she may be winded or too hot. But there are other things that can make her pant excessively, and if she is pregnant her panting should be a cause for concern.

Heavy panting seen of a pregnant dog is caused by:

  • Heatstroke or toxicity
  • Iron deficiency
  • Gestational anaemia (after mid-term and close to end of term)
  • Chronic illness (heart failure, Cushing’s Disease, etc.)
  • Pneumonia and lung tumours

Hypoglycaemia in the later stages of a dog’s pregnancy is not uncommon and if left untreated can threaten the lives of mum and pups. Symptoms of gestational hypoglycaemia include trembling and muscle twitching.

Your vet may recommend a glucose solution (one teaspoon per five kilos of body weight) which is administered as a matter of urgency in the case of hypoglycaemia.

What should I do if my pregnant dog is panting?

Excessive panting of a pregnant dog warrants special attention. Underlying issues can quickly bring about a medical emergency.

However, if a vet deems your dog not to have any life-threatening illnesses, they will recommend the following steps:

  • Lay her down on a soft bed and stroke her (to reduce panting)
  • Keep her cool and bathe her paws in cool water (if heatstroke)
  • Give her iron supplements (if iron deficiency is diagnosed)

If your pregnant dog becomes extremely out of breath after exercise you should consider shortening her walks and playtime. In the latter stages of her pregnancy, you may find her breathless even after just a short walk. If this is the case, you should confine her to indoors and let her rest as much as possible.

Keep her comfortable at all times and make sure she can consume water and food if she wants to.

Panting during labour

Her panting heavily on her 59th or 60th day of pregnancy signals the onset of labour. The panting will be noticeable until she has given birth to her last pup.

Here are some of the other causes of panting in relation to the three stages of labour:

Two dogs one white and one brown lie on grass panting.
The pain of labour causes a pregnant dog to pant. © Pixabay

Labour: Stage One

The changes that take place in her uterus will bring her pain and discomfort which in turn causes her shivering and excessive panting; a dog may also vomit repeatedly. This stage of labour can last up to 18 hours. You should confine your dog to a quiet room and try to keep her as calm and as relaxed as possible.

Labour: Stage Two

The second stage sees the arrival of the pups. Your dog may pant even more than she did in the first stage and the contractions of her belly will be noticeable. After 10 – 30 minutes of straining, she will give birth to a puppy.

Although she will pant more in this second stage her body temperature begins to drop. This is a natural reaction to a sudden drop in a hormone called progesterone.

Note: Some conditions of pregnant dogs such as diabetes may cause difficulties at birth. Owners of dogs with diabetes are advised not to breed their animals.

Problems: Dystocia

If she has not given birth at the end of this period of time but continues to strain and pant she may have dystocia (or a 'difficult birth'). In other words, there may be something preventing one of her puppies from being born.

Dystocia may be due to a badly positioned pup and may require a caesarean section, but manipulation of your dog’s tummy can sometimes be enough to cause the pup to move through the birth canal.

Labour: Stage Three

Panting is a way for a dog to cool down its body.
In the third stage of labour your dog's panting should subside. © Pixabay

Otherwise known as the neonatal period, the third stage of labour sees the slow return of the dog’s uterus to its normal state and the start of a 6-week period of milk secretion, so that she may feed her puppies. During this period your dog should not exhibit excessive panting.

Vigilance throughout your dog’s pregnancy is recommended. A pregnant dog’s panting may be due to innocuous physical demands but it may also be a sign of more serious complications of the pregnancy, or other illnesses.

Try to calm your dog and slow down her breathing but do not delay contacting a vet after a few hours should your efforts not yield a positive result.