Panting is as natural to dogs as sweating is to humans. We expect our dogs to pant on a hot, sunny day or during exercise to cool down. However, sometimes we may find our dog panting at night or showing signs of restlessness like pacing.
Sometimes dogs won't stop panting and pacing. When there's no apparent cause, owners can quickly become distressed, wondering, "why won't my dog stop panting?" Or why is the dog panting in the first place?
Why do dogs pant?
Most of the time, panting is both natural and healthy.
Unlike humans, dogs only have sweat glands on their paw pads, which doesn't help cool down. When they get warm or start heating up through exercise, they release excess body heat through their mouth.
This means warm blood is sent to cool down by close contact with fresh air in the open mouth.
Simultaneously, water vapor evaporates from the tongue, inner mouth, and the back of the throat.
Panting is not the best mechanism in the animal kingdom for cooling down, mainly because dogs are built to retain heat more than release it.
But it is the best mechanism dogs have, so it's natural to see a dog panting whenever it's hot or they have been running around.
Short-nosed—brachycephalic—dogs such as Pugs or Bulldogs tend to pant more. Their shorter airways don't allow them to regulate their body temperatures as easily.
It also makes them prone to various medical conditions such as reverse sneezing.
Humidity can interfere with the panting process, so keep an eye on your dog in humid regions. They may overheat more quickly.
But if the panting is excessive and it's not very hot, like at night, the causes may be more serious.
Usually, abnormal panting presents itself with other symptoms, such as restlessness and pacing.
What's the difference between normal and abnormal dog panting?
It's a good idea to count your dog's breaths per minute when they are resting and after exercise so that you know what is normal for them.
This way, you can get an idea if your dog is panting too much. In general, dogs breathe between 15 and 20 times a minute. Anything from 35 to 40 breaths per minute while resting is considered abnormal.
If you find that your dog's respiratory rate is abnormally high when resting, take them to a cooler, better-ventilated area.
Allow them half an hour to an hour before checking again. If the problem persists, it may be time to contact a vet.
Please note, waiting half an hour does not apply to the signs of heatstroke. If your dog is displaying symptoms of heat exhaustion or heatstroke, you need to intervene immediately.
There are other signs of abnormal panting and breathing to look out for, such as:
- The dog's breathing looks excessively strained or labored.
- The panting sounds harsher or higher-pitched than usual.
- The painting is accompanied by signs of distress such as pacing, restlessness, drooling, licking a specific place on the body, crying or whining, vomiting, or any other abnormal behavior. In fear-based panting cases, the dog may be hiding, shaking, or showing signs of "shutting down."
- It doesn't happen when it is overly warm or when your dog has just been active.
- It only happens at night when the dog should be resting.
Reasons why my dog is panting and pacing
Abnormal panting is often accompanied by restlessness and pacing. These are usually the first signs that more is going on than just your dog cooling down.
Just like humans who might hyperventilate and pace up and down when they are in distress, a dog will behave similarly. In general, there are four leading causes of abnormal panting.
- Anxiety or stress
- Illness or a medical condition
- The side-effects of certain medications.
In the first three, the pacing is often seen as co-symptom with the panting. For example, a bitch in labor will frequently pace and pant at the same time.
But dogs can't tell us what is causing their distress, so if we notice excessive panting at night or other times, we need to investigate to pinpoint the cause.
Is panting a sign of anxiety?
Abnormal panting is often the first symptom of anxiety. Like humans, heavy breathing is a typical flight or fight response in situations that provoke fear.
One study showed a prevalence of general fearfulness in over a quarter of the dogs researched.
The study states that symptoms of anxiety include the following:
- Heavy panting
- Restlessness and pacing
- Vocalizations such as whining, crying, barking, or howling
- Involuntary urination or even defecation
- Escaping or trying to escape
- Self-harm such as licking, chewing, or biting themselves.
- Damaging property through destructive chewing
If you suspect your dog is panting because of anxiety, the best thing to do is look for the cause. There are different kinds of stress in dogs, as in humans.
Sometimes, they react to a stressful home environment or a major change, such as being newly adopted.
Older dogs are also susceptible to what is called "doggy dementia," and this may be the cause of a lot of anguish. Seniors may display odd behaviors such as incontinence, circling, or wandering.
As their cognitive abilities wane, so their anxiety might increase. It's best to speak to a vet about how to ease their angst.
However, the two most common sources of panting at night and anxiety, in general, are separation anxiety and noise sensitivity.
If your dog's panting at night begins around the time you go to bed and they are shut away from you, your dog might be showing signs of separation anxiety.
Around 14 – 17 % of dogs suffer from separation anxiety, which is closely linked to problems like hyper-attachment and lack of exercise or stimulation. It can also be caused by genetic factors, such as a tendency towards fearfulness.
Separation anxiety can be differentiated from other kinds of anxiety.
The symptoms will only appear from the moment the dog first suspects you are leaving to within about 30 minutes after you have left.
The anxiety should go away the moment you return.
Besides panting, your dog might vocalize by howling or barking, engaging in destructive behaviors such as chewing or digging, trying to escape, or urinating in the house.
In cases of separation anxiety, it's best to consult a vet about calming medication or products.
Consult a certified behaviorist in extreme cases.
Noise sensitivity or noise phobia
If your dog sleeps near you and has no reason to be anxious about being apart, the problem may be noise.
Nearly 40 % of dogs struggle with noise sensitivity, and the symptoms can be extreme.
Dogs with a noise phobia may show all the usual signs of fearfulness, such as panting, restlessness, trembling, or chewing. They may also try desperately to escape and run away.
The usual causes of noise-related anxiety are fireworks, gunshots, or thunderstorms.
But not all noises are that obvious. It's important to remember that dogs have more sensitive hearing than we do. When ambient noises such as traffic are lower at night, your dog may hear sounds it finds distressing.
This may include other dogs barking, or people walking around outside.
There are various ways to help a dog with noise phobia, including medications, pheromone dispensers, and counterconditioning.
One useful tip is to leave some music playing to block out the noises.
Why is my dog panting at rest?
Suppose there is no cause for anxiety in your dog, and the panting is excessive. In that case, we need to look at possible medical reasons.
Dogs will pant from pain, certain diseases, a lack of oxygen, or from some medications.
If your dog has suffered an injury or some kind of physical trauma, they may pant heavily.
The damage may be internal, so you may need to look for enlarged pupils, refusal to eat, restlessness, lameness, orbiting, and licking the painful area.
You can gently palpate your dog's body to look for places that seem to cause discomfort when touched. If your dog is in severe distress, it's best to treat it as an emergency.
Medical conditions may also cause panting. If your dog has overheated, they may have heatstroke or heat exhaustion and need immediate veterinary intervention.
Poisoning or an allergic reaction may also be to blame, in which case you may need to induce vomiting or get to emergency services.
Heart failure may be another underlying culprit, as it can cause breathing difficulties and decrease your dog's ability to exercise.
Similarly, respiratory disorders such as lung tumors, laryngeal paralysis, or pneumonia all cause labored breathing.
Cushing's syndrome causes the adrenal glands to produce too much cortisol, a stress hormone. Dogs with this disorder may pant, develop a potbelly, lose their hair, or show excessive thirst.
In pregnant or lactating bitches, excessive panting may be a sign of labor. More worryingly, it is also an early symptom of eclampsia or low calcium levels in the blood.
This is a serious condition that can be fatal within an hour.
The panting is usually followed by tremors and difficulty standing.
A final cause of panting might be the side-effects of some medications your dog may be on. Prednisone or other corticosteroids may cause excessive panting.
Why is my dog panting at night?
If abnormal panting seems to occur mostly at night, the best thing to do is go through the various common causes to narrow down the trigger.
It's good to work through the possibilities methodically and rule them out one-by-one.
Common causes for dog panting at night: Checklist
Check the environmental temperature.
Is it too hot? Anything above 90°F (32°C) is too hot for most dogs. But there are cases where dogs are more heat-sensitive than others.
Short-nosed breeds struggle are more susceptible to warm conditions.
Old dogs and puppies younger than eight weeks cannot properly regulate their own body temperature either.
Obesity may also make your dog pant even if it doesn't feel that warm.
Check for reasons for excitement.
Perhaps your dog has just come back from a long run and is cooling down for the evening, or another dog has come to visit for a play date.
Check for anxiety.
Suppose neither heat nor activity seems to be the problem. In that case, it's time to start looking for the symptoms of anxiety listed above.
Are there any loud noises? Is the dog being bullied by another dog? Are you about to leave your dog somewhere while you go to your room to sleep? Have there been any significant changes in the dog's environment lately, which may be causing stress?
Check for signs of pain or injury.
If there are none, note any other symptoms that may indicate an underlying disease like Cushing's Disease or heart or respiratory problems.
Dogs with laryngeal paralysis are known to have their panting get much worse at night.
So keep an eye out for noisy, high-pitched breathing, hoarse barking, tongues becoming darker or purple, a dislike for being touched or restrained, or reduced ability to exercise.
Laryngeal paralysis is also an excellent example of why it is essential to use a harness rather than a collar when going for walks.
Check the side-effects of your dog's medication.
If you believe the panting is a side-effect and is problematic, you can speak to your vet about possible alternatives.
- Check your dog's age.
Look for any symptoms of Canine Cognitive Disorder (doggy dementia).
How do you stop a dog from panting?
Stopping a dog from panting means first identifying the cause.
If the problem is temperature, try cooling your dog down by moving them to a cooler spot to lie on, preferably with a fan or good ventilation.
Provide plenty of water for them to drink.
Be aware of heatstroke, where your dog's temperature may exceed 106°F (41°C) and will then need to be rehydrated and cooled down, in addition to needing immediate medical attention.
If you think there is a medical reason, you will need to either make an appointment with your vet in the morning or call for an emergency visit if you suspect something severe.
What to do if your dog is panting and restless
If your dog is panting, restless, and showing signs of anxiety, the first thing to do is to try to remove the stressor.
If it is out of your control, you can sit with your dog, but avoid patting or stroking too much as this can confirm that the fear is necessary in your dog's mind.
Try to identify the source of the anxiety and develop a plan to deal with it.
Speak to your vet about options such as medication or pheromone dispensers.
Behaviorists and professional trainers can also help deal with reactivity and recondition your dog to reduce his stress.
Panting is a perfectly normal part of life for dogs, just like sweating for humans. But excessive or abnormal panting can be a sign of anxiety or a medical condition. Panting at night is generally a symptom of some sort of discomfort, and the owner may need to do some detective work to identify the cause.
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PetMD Editorial. “The Science Behind Calming Dogs With Sound.” PetMD, 21 Feb. 2019, www.petmd.com/dog/science-behind-calming-dogs-sound#:%7E:text=Calming%20Dogs%20With%20the%20Right,music%2C%20pop%20music%20and%20conversation.
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