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Why is My Elderly Dog Panting So Much

Excessive panting goes beyond what is considered normal for a particular situation. It may persist even when the dog is at rest or occur in cooler environments.

Dr. Bethany Hsia

January 10, 2024

As the loving caretaker of a pet, it is natural to be concerned when you notice your elderly dog panting heavily. Panting is a normal way for dogs to regulate their body temperature, but excessive panting can be a sign of discomfort or an underlying health issue. There are several possible reasons why your elderly dog may be panting a lot. If you have concerns, there are several appropriate steps to take to address these concerns.

Normal Panting vs. Excessive Panting

Before diving into the potential causes of excessive panting, it’s essential to differentiate between normal and excessive panting in dogs. Normal panting occurs when a dog is trying to cool down after exercise or in hot weather. It is characterized by open-mouthed breathing, rapid breaths, and a slight increase in heart rate. Once the dog has cooled down or the environmental temperature has decreased, the panting should subside.

On the other hand, excessive panting goes beyond what is considered normal for a particular situation. It may persist even when the dog is at rest or occur in cooler environments. Excessive panting can be accompanied by other symptoms such as restlessness, lethargy, increased thirst, coughing, or difficulty breathing.

A dog with trouble breathing is experiencing a very serious event. You might notice more coughing than normal, short shallow breaths, increased respiratory effort, increased respiratory rate while at rest, the rib cage or belly may seem to be expanding more than usual, or they may only be able to rest comfortably on their chest rather than their side. If any of these signs are noted, the dog must be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Potential Causes of Excessive Panting in Elderly Dogs

There are several reasons why your elderly dog may be panting more than usual. Some of these reasons include:

Age-related changes

As dogs age, their bodies undergo various changes, which can affect their ability to regulate their body temperature. Older dogs may have a harder time cooling down, leading to increased panting.

Medical conditions

Excessive panting can be a symptom of several medical issues, such as heart disease, lung disease, metabolic disorders, or significant gastrointestinal disease. It is essential to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health problems.

Pain or discomfort

Your elderly dog may pant excessively when they are in pain or discomfort. Such as pain due to hip dysplasia, arthritis, dental disease, constipation, acute injury or any other condition causing physical distress. If your dog’s panting is accompanied by limping, reluctance to move, whining, yelping, or changes in their energy level, it is essential to consult with a veterinarian.

Anxiety or stress

Dogs can experience anxiety or stress, which can lead to excessive panting. Stressors may include a change in environment, the presence of unfamiliar people or animals, loss of vision or hearing, geriatric cognitive disorders, loud noises such as fireworks or thunderstorms, or any other factor causing distress.

Overheating or heatstroke

Elderly dogs may have a harder time cooling down, so it is essential to ensure that they are not exposed to excessive heat or humidity. Dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke than humans due to their limited ability to sweat. If a dog’s body temperature rises significantly and they cannot dissipate heat adequately, it can lead to heatstroke. Excessive panting is often one of the initial signs of heatstroke and should be taken seriously as it can quickly progress to a life-threatening condition. Additional attention must be paid to brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds such as boxers, bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, and the like.

Respiratory issues

Certain respiratory conditions can cause dogs to pant excessively. These may include infections, allergies, asthma, chronic bronchitis, or even the presence of a foreign object in the airway. Breeding for certain body conformations can also cause respiratory issues such as an elongated soft palate leading to obstruction of the airway. Dogs of brachycephalic breeds often experience multiple such issues concurrently.

Cardiovascular issues

Certain cardiac conditions can cause dogs to pant excessively or have labored breathing. Disease of the valves that separate the chambers of the heart, such as mitral valve disease, is particularly common in small breed dogs. Diseases that affect the heart muscle such as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) can also lead to congestive heart failure. Less commonly infectious diseases, such as heartworm disease, can lead to respiratory changes.

Identifying the Underlying Cause Of Panting In Dogs

To determine the cause of your elderly dog’s excessive panting, observe their behavior closely and take note of any other symptoms they may be experiencing. Additionally, monitor the environment and circumstances in which the panting occurs. If you suspect a medical issue, consult with a veterinarian who can conduct a thorough examination and recommend appropriate testing to diagnose any underlying conditions. As a rule of thumb, a dog that is resting or sleeping will usually have a resting respiratory rate that is less than thirty breaths per minute.

Preventative Measures to Keep Your Elderly Dog Comfortable

To help prevent excessive panting in your elderly dog, consider the following measures:

Maintain a cool environment

Keep your home cool and well-ventilated, and provide a comfortable and shaded outdoor space for your dog.

Provide fresh water

Ensure your dog has access to clean, fresh water at all times.

Regular light exercise

Regular exercise can help maintain your dog’s overall health and prevent obesity, which can contribute to panting. Be mindful of the weather and limit exercise in hot humid conditions, especially for brachycephalic breeds.

Monitor the dog’s weight

Obesity can make it more difficult for your dog to regulate their body temperature, so monitor their weight and consult with your veterinarian if you notice any significant changes.

Regular veterinary check-ups

Regular check-ups can help detect any potential health issues early and provide appropriate treatment to prevent excessive panting.

Excessive panting in elderly dogs can be a concerning symptom, but it is essential to identify the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment. By working closely with your veterinarian and implementing preventative measures, you can help your elderly dog stay comfortable and maintain a good quality of life.

When to Seek Veterinary Care

If your dog is panting excessively and you are unsure of the cause or if it is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it is advisable to seek veterinary care. A veterinarian will be able to perform a thorough examination, take a detailed history, and recommend appropriate diagnostic tests, such as bloodwork, x-rays, or ultrasound, to determine the underlying cause of the excessive panting.

In some cases, prompt veterinary attention is crucial, such as when heatstroke is suspected or if the dog’s breathing becomes labored or distressed. Immediate veterinary care should be sought in these situations.

Managing and Treating Excessive Panting in Elderly Dogs

If your elderly dog is panting excessively, it is essential to address the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment. This may include:

Medical intervention

If a medical condition is causing the panting, your veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate treatment, such as medication or therapy, to manage the issue.

Pain management

If your dog is in pain, your veterinarian may recommend pain-relief medications or other therapies to help them feel more comfortable.

Environmental adjustments

Ensure that your dog’s living environment is cool and comfortable, with access to fresh water and shade.

Anxiety or stress relief

If anxiety or stress is causing the panting, work with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to help your dog cope with their environment and manage their stress levels.

Regular veterinary check-ups

Regular veterinary check-ups can help detect any potential health issues early and provide appropriate treatment to prevent excessive panting.

For chronic and progressive conditions, medical management will eventually cease to provide relief. It is important for pet parents to know what to expect as their pet’s condition progresses so they may discuss with family what an acceptable quality of life looks like and the way they will want to say “goodbye” before an emergency arises.

In-Home Dog Euthanasia

Making the decision to euthanize a beloved pet is never easy, but it may become necessary when the quality of life for your elderly dog has significantly deteriorated. Here are some factors to consider when deciding if it is time for in-home dog euthanasia:

Pain and suffering

If your dog is experiencing severe pain or discomfort that cannot be managed through medications or other treatments, it may be time to consider euthanasia.

Loss of mobility and function

If your dog can no longer move or perform basic functions such as eating, drinking, or eliminating without assistance, it may be time to consider euthanasia.

Loss of interest in activities

If your dog has lost interest in activities they once enjoyed, such as playing, eating, or interacting with family members, it may be a sign that their quality of life has significantly decreased.

Medical prognosis

Consult with your veterinarian to discuss your dog’s medical prognosis and disease progression to know when euthanasia may be recommended.

Emotional well-being

Consider the emotional well-being of both you and your family members when making this decision. What regrets may you have if you proceed with euthanasia? What regrets may you have if you wait? Deciding to pursue euthanasia can be a difficult process, but it may be the best option for your elderly dog.

Excessive panting in elderly dogs can be a sign of various health issues or discomfort. It is essential to monitor your dog’s behavior and consult with your veterinarian to address any potential problems. When it comes to the decision of in-home dog euthanasia, carefully consider your dog’s quality of life and consult with your veterinarian to make the best choice for your beloved pet.

About

Dr. Bethany graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2010. After graduation, she moved west. Dr. Bethany spent a year at a small animal exclusive practice in Washington state, where she was first introduced to in-home euthanasia. She gravitated towards helping pet parents and their pets in their last moments when it seemed other doctors did not find an interest. Growing up, Bethany had many childhood pets and occasionally tended to injured wildlife. The ability to calm and comfort animals seemed to come naturally to her. Dr. Bethany believes a peaceful passing is the last gift we give our pets and that it’s a gift best given at home. In her spare time, Dr. Bethany enjoys reading and running, although her favorite time is spent together with her husband and their young children. Read More

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