dog health

Heavy Panting in Dogs: When is panting normal, and when should you be concerned?

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It’s normal for dogs to pant, especially when they’re hot, excited, or energetic. Heavy panting is different, though, and may be a sign your dog is dangerously overheated, coping with a chronic health problem, or has experienced life-threatening trauma.

Here are answers to three important questions every dog owner should know:

  • What are the common causes of heavy panting in dogs?
  • What can I do about them?
  • When is it time to see the vet?

 

Common Causes and Treatments

Panting helps dogs cool off when they’re hot or engaged in lively exercise. Dogs take between ten and 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 any changes.

Some common reasons dogs pant heavily include:

Heatstroke or poisoning

It’s normal for a dog to start breathing harder or panting after exertion. As for some dogs, like Boston terriers, bulldogs, and pugs, are prone to heavier breathing than other dogs because of their short snouts. However, heavy panting is also a sign a dog may be suffering from heatstroke or may have consumed a toxic substance.

If you can’t find any obvious reason for a sudden change in your dog’s breathing, take him to a veterinarian immediately. If you suspect heatstroke, first follow the steps at the end of this article to help cool your dog safely.

Chronic illness

Illnesses like heart failure, Cushing’s syndrome, or respiratory disorders can all cause heavy breathing or panting in dogs:

  • Heart failure: Like people, dogs can suffer from heart failure. And just like people, dogs may show some of the same symptoms, including breathing difficulty, reduced exercise tolerance, and coughing. How your dog’s heart failure is treated depends on the cause. But treatment may include medications such as ACE inhibitors and diuretics.
  • Cushing’s syndrome. This occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. Along with heavy panting, symptoms can include excessive hunger and thirst, hair loss, and a pot-bellied appearance. Treatment varies but may include adrenal-suppressing drugs or surgery. For more information on Cushing's disease, read our article.
  • Respiratory disorders. Several respiratory disorders, such as laryngeal paralysis, pneumonia, and lung tumors, may all lead to heavy breathing or panting. Treatment depends on the condition and how far it’s progressed.

Injury and pain

Dogs can’t tell us with words when they’re in pain. So, it’s up to us to know what to look for. Heavy panting is one sign your dog may have suffered an injury.

Other signs of pain or trauma in pets include enlarged pupils, reduced appetite, a reluctance to lie down, restlessness, anxiety, and licking or biting at the pain site.

Dogs may mask their pain with normal behaviors, such as wagging their tail. And an injury may be internal — for example, as a result of being hit by a car. So if you suspect your pet may be in pain, don’t delay. Seek veterinary care right away.

Medication

Some medications, such as prednisone, may also lead to heavy panting in dogs. Talk to your veterinarian if you think your dog’s medication is causing heavy panting.

Other Causes of Heavy Panting in Dogs

Heavy breathing or deep, intense panting can also be a symptom of eclampsia, also called milk fever. Eclampsia is a dangerous condition that affects nursing mothers; low blood calcium levels lead to an inability to stand or walk and tremors. And allergies, infection, or irritation within the airways can cause wheezy, noisy breathing in dogs.

No matter what kind of breathing your dog usually has, any unexplained change — whether heavy panting, coughing, or wheezing — should lead with a call to your veterinarian.

 

Heatstroke and Your Dog: Emergency Response

Overheating is a medical emergency — and one of the most serious reasons for heavy panting in dogs. If you suspect your dog has heatstroke, a quick response can be lifesaving.

Symptoms of heatstroke include excessive panting, glassy eyes, weakness, fast heart rate, drooling, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, and a body temperature over 104 F. If possible, take a rectal temp. You want to stop once temp is back down to 103.

If you think your dog may have heatstroke, here’s what to do to help:

  • Move your dog inside or to a shady spot.
  • Submerge your dog in cool water (avoid cold water, which constricts blood vessels) or apply ice packs or cold towels to your dog’s chest, neck, and head. Don’t spray your dog with a yard hose -- on hot days the water inside a hose can reach near boiling temperatures. You want to cool him off gradually.
  • Give your dog cool, not cold, water. Or give him ice cubes to lick.
  • After you’ve started cooling your dog down, take your dog to the vet immediately.

The best way to manage heatstroke is to avoid it. Never leave your pet in a parked car. It’s better to leave your pet at home than to risk heatstroke. At home, be sure to provide all pets with shade and water or a way to get inside during the hottest part of the day.

 

When to See a Vet

Remember, panting is normal for a dog after exercise, excitement, or when it’s hot.

Call your vet immediately if any of the following applies:

  • Your dog’s panting starts suddenly.
  • You think your dog may be in pain.
  • The panting is constant and intense.
  • Your dog’s tongue or gums appear blue, purple, or white — a sign your pet isn’t getting enough oxygen.

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New Year's Eve Survival Guide for Pets & Pet Owners

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Up-to-date ID

Parties mean doors getting opened a lot. Even if you have thoughtfully hung a sign on your bedroom door saying ‘Do Not Open’, or if you have your pets safely contained in a crate inside the bedroom, accidents happen. Make sure your pet ID tags and microchip information has your current address and phone numbers.

 

Confining your pet

Many pets have a favorite hiding place they go to when frightened. For some pets, a crate can lend a feeling of safety, security, and act as a sort of sanctuary. However, for some pets that did not grow up using a crate, it may only cause more stress and lead to injuries of their nails or teeth trying to get out. If crating is not an option, place your pet in a room they cannot hurt themselves or damage any belongings.

 

Exercise

For dogs and even cats, giving them plenty of exercise on New Years Eve day will help them achieve a more restful sleep that night. A good long walk or hike with your pup will help burn off any day-of anxiety for both you and your dog.

 

No human food

Make sure everyone is on the same page that the dog is not allowed table scraps. The #1 reason pet owners end up at the emergency vet on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day is due to a sick pet from too much people food, good or bad. Even supposed ‘safe’ foods you think of can lead to pancreatitis, which can be fatal.

 

White noise

Fireworks and loud music can disturb and upset even the calmest of pets. Put on white noise or classical music at a volume that will cover up outside noise. For sound-sensitive animals, many pets find relief in using a Thundershirt pet wrap (available at most pet stores).

 

Distract with toys or games

Food puzzles and new toys to play with during the time there will be a lot of noise or festivities will keep an active and distracted mind. For cat owners, try spritzing catnip spray on the new toy. For dog owners, stuff a puzzle toy with peanut butter to keep their attention focus (we highly suggest peanut butter filled Kongs).

 

Don’t reward anxious behavior

It is ok to hug them, but do not reward any anxious behavior by fussing over them. Staying happy and in control lets them know everything is ok.

 

Talk to your veterinarian

If your doctor is already familiar with your pet’s issue, speak with your vet to consider anti-anxiety medication for your pet. Other options are diffusers (Adaptil for dogs, Feliway for cats) which release natural pheromones that help keep pets calm during times of stress.


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Periodontal Disease and Treatment: Dental Scaling

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), Periodontal disease is the most common clinical disease seen in adult dogs and cats. At three years or older, dogs and cats begin to exhibit signs of periodontal disease. It is completely preventable and reversible in many cases, however, the more severe cases can only prevent further damage with the appropriate tailor-made treatments. In order to effectively prevent, treat, or slow down the destructive effects of periodontal disease, veterinarians need to ensure they are performing the most crucial step of dental scaling: subgingival curettage.

 

The impact of periodontal disease

Periodontal disease refers to gingival inflammation induced by the bacteria found in plaque and encompasses both gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis refers to inflammation that extends only to the gingiva and not the surrounding periodontal structures. If treated, gingivitis is reversible. If untreated, it may lead to periodontitis as plaque migrates and calculus accumulates under the gingival margin. The proportion of anaerobic bacteria increases in subgingival plaque and triggers an inflammatory response that then destroys surrounding tissues, such as periodontal ligaments and alveolar bone. Destruction of these supportive tissues is permanent.

Periodontitis can have both local and systemic ramifications. Local manifestations include oral pain, periodontal abscesses, oronasal fistulas, osteomyelitis, and pathologic fractures. [include photos] Systemically, periodontal disease can lead to morphologic changes in the kidneys, heart, and liver.

 

Treatment of periodontal disease

The treatment for periodontal disease is a professional dental cleaning under general anesthesia and home care maintenance. Together, these methods help to remove plaque that triggers the inflammation responsible for damaging tissue.

Homecare

To remove superficial plaque, home care such as teeth brushing and antiseptic applications are great routine practices.

Vet care

Professional cleanings done by your vet removes mineralized plaque in the form of tartar and calculus from both below and above the gum line. The treatment of gingivitis is aimed at restoring the health of the gingiva and preventing the onset of periodontitis. Treatment of patients with periodontitis aims to prevent localized disease progression and the spread of disease to other teeth.

 

Periodontal probing

Before a dental cleaning, your vet will perform an oral exam. During this exam, a periodontal probe is used to measure the subgingival pockets. The probe is rounded with a blunt tip that has graduated markings that are gradually inserted at each point in the gingival sulcus. Patients with gingivitis have normal periodontal sulcus depths. However, patients with periodontitis have deeper probing depths than what is typical. The pathogenic periodontal pockets are a result after inflammation progressively destroys the periodontal ligament and causes the epithelial attachment to migrate toward the root’s apex. Vertical alveolar bone loss can also increase periodontal pocket depth.

 

Subgingival curettage

An integral step to the treatment of periodontal disease is the removal of plaque and calculus above and below the gingival margin. Once the subgingival surface remains free of plaque and debris, the sulcular epithelium can reattach to the tooth root. A failure to remove subgingival calculus will prevent reattachment and allow periodontitis to progress.

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society:

“The most critical part of a dental scaling procedure is scaling the tooth surfaces that are within the gingival pocket … where periodontal disease is active.”


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Don't forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for more recipes, articles, and clinic updates delivered to your inbox (here). Or, you can keep up to date by liking and following our Facebook page (here). We also have additional helpful articles under our tips category (here).