dog health risks

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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Homemade Slime: Toxicity and Health Risks for Pets

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There has been a rise in a love of crafting homemade slime in households. While not a threat to creativity, some ingredients in slime pose a threat to our beloved pets.

 

Table Salt

This is often the most concerning ingredient in many slime recipes. Pets can develop salt toxicity or hypernatremia. Depending on the amount of salt ingested symptoms can range from GI upset to Central Nervous System signs such as lethargy, tremors, seizures, coma, and death. Signs of toxicity can be seen at 2 g/kg , or 0.13 tablespoons/kg of body weight. To put this into perspective, a 10lb dog (4.54 kg) could began to show signs of toxicity after ingesting just over 0.5 tablespoons of table salt. For that same 10 lb dog a fatal dose is possible at 1.5 tablespoons of salt ingested. Some slime recipes do not contain a particular amount of salt but just instructions to continue adding salt until the desired consistency/texture is achieved. This can make it difficult to gauge the amount of salt in the finished product. Some homemade slimes contain epsom salt instead of table salt. It would generally take more epsom salt than table salt to cause toxicity but this is still an ingredient that should not be ingested in large amounts as significant GI signs can result.

 

School glue

This is a common ingredient that does not usually hold significant potential for toxicity. When ingested GI irritation (vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia) is possible.

 

Shaving cream, hand soap, dish soap, shampoo and most hand lotions

These ingredients cause not much more than GI irritation but variations in ingredients are possible that may increase the risk for toxicity. For example, there are shampoos and lotions that contain cocoa bean (Theobroma Cacao) extract which is an ingredient of concern for chocolate toxicity.

 

Boric Acid

Generally, in acute (one time) doses, this is a GI irritant that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or anorexia.

 

Saline Contact Lens Solution

While some contact lens solutions are just saline, in addition to the salt concern, many (usually the ones used to make slime) contain Boric Acid or Borate which is a GI irritant.

 

Laundry detergent

Laundry detergent, when ingested, can be a GI irritant or for some products even cause corrosive injury to the oral cavity and GI tract. Mixed into a product like a slime it would be diluted and less likely to cause corrosive injury but if not well mixed and if an area of concentrated laundry detergent came into contact with the GI tract there would still be potential for injury.

 

Toothpaste

Many kinds of toothpaste contain xylitol which can pose significant toxicity risk for dogs.  Depending on the dose ingested, xylitol can cause profound hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and in higher doses liver failure. Both of these levels of toxicity can be life-threatening for your dog.

 

Liquid Starch

Most liquid starches contain ingredients that would be expected to cause GI irritation at most when ingested in a slime mixture.

 


There are other concerns in addition to toxicity when our pets ingest slime. Large amounts of slime could pose a risk for a foreign body obstruction or blockage in the GI tract.

When slime contains decorative additives such as sequins, tinsel, or glitter, injury to the GI tract is also possible. Tinsel is of particular concern as if long enough strands (more than a couple of inches long) are ingested, linear foreign body (a condition where string type materials can cause injury to the GI tract by bunching it up and causing blockage or necrotic damage)is possible.

Another concern is that slime is by nature slimy, and viscous. If your pet vomits this material back up there is a risk for aspiration of the product into the lungs which can quickly become a life threatening situation.


How do we prevent our pets from ingesting homemade slime?

  1. When the slime is not in use keep it somewhere that is not accessible to your pet.
  2. Keep your pets out of areas where slime is in use.
  3. Teach your children not to walk away from their slime project without putting it somewhere that is inaccessible to pets.
  4. Store the slime making ingredients out of reach of your pets at all times.
  5. Slime ingestion is also harmful for wildlife. Please dispose of your used slime responsibly.
 

What should you do if your pet ingests slime?

  1. Do not attempt to induce vomiting at home or treat your pet in any other way without advice from your veterinarian or an animal poison control center. Some at home treatments can do more harm than good.
  2. Call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline.

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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).