Why is my dog panting and restless?
Of all the strange dog behaviors, this has to be among the scariest.
Is he just hot or is it a serious warning sign of illness?
Keep reading to learn all about heavy panting in dogs and what it really means.
Why Is My Dog Panting and Restless?
“My dog keeps panting and won’t settle, what’s wrong?”
Heavy panting in dogs is one of those symptoms that tends to send owners into worry overdrive. It makes sense.
All that huffing and puffing is a very visible symptom.
While sometimes it means nothing, sometimes, it’s a symptom of some bad things happening inside our pooch.
I’ve had so many owners ask me about their dog’s panting and what it could mean.
Unfortunately, heavy panting in dogs is one of those symptoms that can go with anything from being too hot to having a severe illness.
That’s why today, we’re going to talk about why your dog is panting and restless, and what to do when you notice this symptom.
Why Dogs Pant
Before we get into heavy panting in dogs, let’s talk about why dogs pant, in general.
Knowing why dogs pant can help you feel a little less nervous if your dog is panting heavily.
This allows you to calmly asses him and figure out if he needs medical attention or something as simple as water or a rest.
When no other outside stimuli are involved, dogs pant for two reasons.
- They pant to reduce their body temperature…
- and they pant to relieve stress.
Often, they’ll pant to do both simultaneously.
When Heavy Panting in Dogs is Okay
Panting is a natural part of being a dog.
Even heavy panting, as scary as it might look to some owners, is a natural part of dog life.
Therefore, it’s important to know when panting and restless behavior is okay and when it isn’t.
To Cool Down
Humans cool down by sweating. Dogs, however don’t do that.
Instead, they pant, which brings in cooler air into their lungs which is then expelled, taking some of the excess heat inside the dog with it.
This allows them to cool themselves down somewhat if they get too hot.
To Relieve Physical Stress
Dogs also pant to relieve stress, more accurately physical stress. Physical stress doesn’t have to be pain.
It can be anything that causes the dog’s blood to get up, as it were.
So physical stress could be seeing something that they really want but are unable to get or it could be exertion from playing fetch or wrestling.
Often times these two scenarios go hand in hand, such as when your dog has been playing fetch.
He is both hot from running and his body has experienced the stress of the physical activity. In such a case, he’ll be panting hard. That’s okay.
When Heavy Panting in Dogs is Not Okay
Just as there are times when heavy panting in dogs is okay, there are times when it isn’t okay.
It’s important to understand your dog, his routine, and his activity, especially during and around the time of his heavy panting.
This will give you a better understanding of whether or not his panting is normal or something else.
1. Mental Stress
Outside of physical stress, dogs also pant to relieve mental stress. It’s a physical reaction to a mental issue.
A dog with separation anxiety will pant heavily when his owners are gone or out of his sight due to the mental stress he is experiencing.
Another example is an improperly socialized dog being exposed to large groups of people or animals panting heavily.
In both cases, the dog is panting to relieve mental stress brought on by an external stressor.
When we are in pain, we take shallow quick breaths. The pain causes an involuntary increase in respiration.
The same is true of dogs.
Although you’ll remember in past posts that I’ve stated that dogs don’t feel pain in “the front” of their brain like we do, if a dog is in severe pain or discomfort, he will often pant heavily.
Just as people breathe heavily when they aren’t feeling well, so, too, do dogs.
Something as mild as a stomach upset can cause heavy panting in dogs. However, major issues can also cause heavy panting, as well.
Things like heart issues, liver problems, and kidney issues can cause heavy panting, as well.
Let’s break this one down a bit more and go over the different types of sickness associated with panting and restless behavior.
GI Tract Issues
Almost all GI tract issues cause heavy panting in dogs.
From minor upset stomachs to painful intestinal blockages, panting is associated.
Signs of GI tract issues include:
- Dark or black stool
- Bloated stomach
- Abdominal tenderness
Many people don’t know that heart disease and heart failure are both something that dogs can have.
When the heart begins to work less effectively, it leads to less poor blood oxygenation.
In addition, heart failure can lead to fluid around the heart or in the abdomen which can impair lung function.
In both of these cases, a dog will pant heavily because his body is attempting to offset poor blood oxygenation by pumping more oxygenated air into the body.
Anemia causes a reduction in red blood cells, the cells that transport oxygen to the body.
Just as with heart disease, this leads to poor blood oxygenation.
And just as with heart disease, the dog’s body will instruct it to pant heavily in an attempt to get more oxygen into his blood.
Symptoms of anemia in dogs include:
- Malaise (weakness)
- Inability to exercise or even move
- Pale pink or white gums
Obesity causes heavy panting in dogs. It is classified as a disease (at least by vets in the US), and it’s a bad one.
I can’t tell you how many dog owners came through the vet practice doors with obese dogs when I worked there.
I saw more than my fair share of barrels with legs.
While many owners overfeed their dogs because the love the joy it gives their pooches, what they don’t realize is that they are hurting their dogs badly.
In addition to panting, obesity leads to a host of other physical problems such as:
- Joint and ligament injury
- Joint and ligament pain
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Higher risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of cancer
I have personal experience with this one, even beyond seeing it at the vet.
My dog, Lucy, a super sweet Shih-Tzu had Cushing’s Disease. She almost always hyperventilated.
Cushing’s Disease is a condition in which the dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone.
This excess cortisol leads to hair loss, weight gain, increased blood sugar and blood pressure, loss of muscle and bone mass, and of course, heavy panting.
It’s treatable with both medicine and high doses of flaxseed lignans.
If your dog shows any or all of these symptoms, have your vet check him out immediately.
Sicknesses like laryngeal paralysis and pneumonia cause heavy panting in dogs.
Another condition that causes heavy panting is called brachycephalic.
That’s just a fancy term for any dog with that super cute “squished” face.
A brachycephalic dog has a harder time breathing because that cute face impedes his airway.
While not a sickness, strictly speaking, it can and does cause major breathing issues which lead to heavy panting.
4. Sudden Changes in Diet
Closely associated with GI tract issues, sudden changes in diet can cause heavy panting in dogs.
This is due to the new food causing upheaval in the dog’s GI tract.
A sudden change in food can lead to stomach upset and diarrhea, both of which are painful and can cause a heavy panting response.
The world is a dangerous place for our inquisitive dogs.
From pest control poison to weed killers and fertilizers, there are lots of things out there that can hurt our dogs.
That’s especially true because dogs tend to view the world through their noses and mouths, sniffing and licking or chewing everything in sight.
If your dog gets something poisonous into his system, he will almost always pant heavily due to the physical reaction to the poison.
6. Heat Exhaustion
Dogs seem like they have an endless well of energy, and that’s one reason they can succumb to heat exhaustion so easily.
Just like they are able to “forget” pain when something gets their attention, they forget the heat, as well.
That means that on a hot summer day, your dog is likely to overdo it, leading to heat exhaustion.
As the heat from the air around him and his physical exertion build, his body frantically tries to reduce it by panting heavily.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work after a certain point.
Heat exhaustion can take as little as 15 minutes, so it’s important to tightly regulate your dog’s physical activity on extremely hot days, especially if he’s brachycephalic. Heat exhaustion symptoms include:
- Glazed eyes
- Extremely heavy panting
Sometimes, heavy panting in dogs is simply boredom.
Dogs get restless from boredom and pent-up energy just like people do.
If your dog hasn’t had a good tussle or nice long walk and is beginning to pace and pant heavily, chances are, he’s just bored out of his gourd.
Unfortunately, I have personal experience with this issue, as well. As dogs age, all parts of them slow down, including their brains.
It’s the same with people. However, some dogs, just like some people, experience more than a slowing down.
They have a gradual, progressive decline in their cognitive abilities. Heavy panting is a common symptom of dogs with dementia.
Our dog, Buster, had dementia, and he constantly panted hard. Really hard.
He panted so hard because he didn’t understand what was happening to him, it’s akin to the panic that humans with dementia feel when they don’t recognize their surroundings.
They’re in a constant state of upheaval where nothing seems familiar.
Dementia symptoms include:
- Heavy panting
- Urination and defecation in the house
- Standing with their heads in a corner
What do you do when your dog won’t stop panting?
First things first, heavy panting in dogs, if deemed out of the ordinary, should be addressed by a veterinarian.
Vets have the medical knowledge to properly diagnose and treat any issues that may be causing the heavy breathing.
After that, there are some things owners can do to treat heavy panting in dogs.
If your dog is brachycephalic, limit outdoor activity during hot weather. Brachycephalic dogs already have a hard time breathing and heat exacerbates the problem.
If your dog is obese, put him on a diet. He may not like it, but he’ll be better for it.
The green bean diet is great because your dog will think he’s getting a treat.
Simply stop ALL treats and substitute half of his normal food with a good amount of green beans. They have almost no calories in them.
Take your dog on more walks and play games like fetch and tug of war if you find that he’s becoming bored and restless.
If you’re asking, “Why is my dog panting at night?” try moving his bed into your room. Often, dog panting at night is anxiety related.
If your dog is high-strung, you can buy “feel good” pheromone diffusers for the home as well pheromone collars which can help ease anxiety.
Thundershirts are also a great option.
Finally, if your dog is diagnosed with an illness, follow your vet’s advice explicitly. Don’t deviate from treatment.
Often times, heavy panting in dogs simply goes away as his illness or issue is resolved.
Heavy panting in dogs can be benign or a sign of a bigger problem.
Use this information to help you determine if your dog is bored or in danger.
With this knowledge, you’ll be able to help your dog more quickly and efficiently.