Whilst panting is normal for dogs when they're hot, excited, or energetic; heavy panting is dangerous sign of many chronic health problems. However, knowing the common causes of panting, what to do about them, and when to see a vet can help with early detection and prompt treatment.
How can I identify heavy panting?
Dogs take between ten and thirty breaths a minute, depending on their size, weather, age, weight and underlying medical conditions. Anything more is considered as heavy breathing. Heavy panting is far more excessive than a dog's normal breathing pattern, i.e. the dog appears to be exerting himself/herself to breath harder than usual. It also occurs at uneven times and sounds raspier, louder, and more exerted than normal. In such situations your dog may look discomforted, extremely fatigued, drooling, and at times in pain.
Heavy panting is a sign of many acute and chronic illnesses in dogs of all ages. Here are some of the common causes of heavy panting -
Excessive heat combined with little to no air circulation or consumption of water can lead to a heatstroke. Heavy panting is often seen as one of the first signs of the onset of a heatstroke in both puppies & dogs.
Consumption of a toxic substances can lead to heavy panting in dogs. These substances include, but aren’t limited to, flowers, daily objects, cleaning supplies, human food - mushrooms, grapes, raisins, chocolate, avocados, sugar, salt, xylitol, alcohol etc.
Heavy panting from over exertion, or over exercising, is seen in senior dogs, overweight dogs, & dogs with pre-existing ailments of the heart and lungs. Such dogs find themselves panting heavy after any form of aerobic exercise and whilst this may seem normal, it does require medical attention.
Dogs that weigh above their breed’s normal weight range are considered overweight. Heavy panting is almost always seen in overweight dogs, especially after they’ve indulged in minimal aerobic activity. This is because their hearts and lungs have to work twice as hard to pump oxygen to all the cells of their body than it would in a dog within normal weight range. Heavy panting in overweight dogs is a condition that requires prompt medical attention to prevent life-threatening heart failures.
5. Heart failure
Like people, dogs can suffer from heart failure. In fact, they often exhibit the same symptoms as humans - shortness of breath, fatigue, heavy breathing/panting, coughing, inability to engage in minimal exercise etc. In such cases, veterinarians will find the root cause of why your dog’s heart isn’t able to perform well & subsequently prescribe medication such as ACE inhibitors and diuretics.
6. Cushing’s syndrome
Cushing’s Syndrome occurs when your dog’s adrenal glands produce more-than-necessary amounts of cortisol. Heavy panting, excessive hunger, frequent urination, excessive thirst, pot-bellied appearance, and fur loss are common symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome. This disorder is often detected by a routine blood test and is treated using adrenal-suppressants and/or surgery.
In cases of pneumonia, lung tumours and other respiratory disorders, parts of your dog’s lungs are blocked making it harder for the lung to perform at its optimal level which then causes it to take twice as much time to deliver oxygen to all the cells in your dog’s body.
Like with Pneumonia, tumours can also cause heavy panting. However, tumours also produce other symptoms such as pain, discomfort, lethargy, stiffness, change in toileting habits and so on.
Heavy panting occurs when your dog may have an injury or is in deep pain. This can be accompanied with reduced appetite, restlessness, licking/biting at the site, whining, wincing etc. However, some dogs can mask this pain with normal behaviour making it difficult for early detection, hence it’s best to seek veterinary care.
Certain medications have heavy panting as a common side effect. If your dog experiences heavy panting due to a particular medication, seek veterinary care immediately.
Other causes of heavy panting include Eclampsia, allergies, wheezing and low calcium - all of which need immediate medical attention.
What should I do if my dog is panting heavy?
The first step is to determine the cause of heavy panting. Once you've narrowed down what is causing your dog to pant heavy, you can take note of additional signs/symptoms that accompany the heavy panting - for example, abdominal pain, excessive drooling, howling, wincing, pacing, gasping for air etc. Then, rush your dog to a veterinarian to be examined thoroughly.
Remember, it is important to ensure you reach your veterinarian in time, i.e. with no delay in hope of the heavy panting to subside on its own.