Why is my dog panting and restless?

Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer to this question. Your dog may be overheated, experiencing pain, struggling to breathe, or they could be anxious. Dogs pant for several reasons.

If you’re concerned about your dog’s panting and restless actions, you’ve come to the right place. We discuss the many scenarios that could be keeping your dog from catching its breath. Don’t panic! You may be able to easily remedy the most common reason for your dog’s restlessness and rapid breathing.

Why Do Dogs Pant?

panting dogs

To understand why your dog is panting, you need to assess the situation and consider any other abnormal behavior patterns. Keeping a little medical book where you jot down your dog’s behavior and symptoms can significantly help your family vet diagnose and treat your dog.

Let’s talk about the various situations that can have an impact on your dog’s breathing.

Exercise or Heat

A dog who pants due to heat and exertion has its tongue hanging out of its mouth. Rather than sweating like humans, the dog’s body relies on panting as a means to expel excess heat and encourage cooling. After a period of panting, your dog’s body temperature will drop to normal, and they will relax.

If your four-legged friend does not stop panting after a cool-down period, heat exhaustion may have set in. Dogs who are left alone in hot cars, are exercised on scorching days, or have not received enough water are significantly at risk.

The following dog types are most susceptible to heat exhaustion:

  • Large breed dogs
  • Brachycephalic, flat-faced dogs
  • Thick fur dogs that are better suited for cold climates
  • Senior dogs may have a hard time regulating their body temperature
  • Overweight dogs struggle to cool down due to extra layers of fat.

If your dog is lethargic, has a rapid heart rate, is panting excessively, or has a temperature over 104 degrees, do what you can to cool them down. You can save your pet from heatstroke by providing shade, cold water, or a cooling mat.

Anxiety

Studies on canine anxiety disorders show that around 80 percent of the dog population suffer from fear and stress. Anxiety is normal for young or old dogs, and symptoms may include aggression, lip licking, vocal cues, destructive behaviors, escape attempts, house training regression, panting, and restlessness. A fearful pet can hide during triggering situations.

Separation anxiety, canine cognitive disorder, noise sensitivity, social anxiety towards other dogs or people, and car rides can cause stress in dogs.

Helping your dog to overcome and deal with their anxiety is essential. Your dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol when they are in a stressful situation. Cortisol is helpful to a certain degree; this stress hormone can regulate blood pressure, boost energy to respond to stress, control inflammation, and awaken the body to handle or escape overwhelming situations. But too much cortisol, also known as hypercortisolism, leads to Cushing’s Disease and can encourage tumor growth.

Nerves

I’m sure you’ve experienced the effects of nervous energy and how it makes your heart race. For dogs, it’s no different. Your dog may be content during most situations, but a sudden and unexpected change in their routine may cause some abnormal panting and sudden unease.

It may be a visit to the vet, moving house, the introduction of a new family member, or a traumatic event that affects your dog and causes them to become nervous. If this is an isolated event (unlike anxiety), do what you can to reassure and calm your dear companion dog.

Obesity

An estimated 25-30% of all dogs are classified as being obese. Dogs who carry some extra pounds may find it difficult to catch their breath during exercise or even after normal movement.

The worst thing about weight gain is not your hefty hound jumping on your lap but the health risks that often accompany obesity in dogs. Obesity affects your dog’s entire body and can lead to joint disease, diabetes, decreased life span, cancers, and heart disease. An obese dog’s heart is working extra hard to pump blood. This causes heavy panting in your fur child.

Injury

If you notice excessive panting in your pet, look out for other strange behavior that indicates injury, such as bleeding, inflammation, foreign objects (thorns), limping, difficulty standing, aggression when touched, vocalizations, etc.

Rapid breathing, sudden panting, or trouble breathing are all signs of breathing difficulties in dogs and can indicate several traumatic situations, such as:

  • Foreign object obstruction in the throat
  • Bloat
  • Allergic reaction
  • Asthma
  • Injury to your dog’s chest wall
  • Toxic response to rat poison, antifreeze, human food, or other poisonous items.

Seek emergency care if your dog has an injury that is causing breathing difficulty.

Pain

Many pet parents have trouble identifying pain in their pets.

While acute and external sources of pain may be obvious, chronic pain in dogs often goes unnoticed. If your dog is depressed, lethargic, reluctant to eat, is excessively grooming, and is panting and restless (especially at night), they may have a more severe condition that requires veterinary intervention. In this scenario, your dog’s panting is a cry for help.

Many health conditions can cause pain for your pet. Some of the common triggers include:

  • Abdominal pain from liver disease, Pancreatitis, Gastroenteritis, or viral or bacterial infections
  • Dental pain and inflammation
  • Musculoskeletal conditions like canine arthritis, dysplasia, tendon and ligament issues, degenerative joint disease, etc.

Heart Disease 

Ongoing labored breathing in your dog may be a sign that their heart is stressed. When the heart fails to effectively pump blood, tissues in the body cannot get enough oxygen. This shortage of oxygen will cause excessive panting as your dog struggles to increase its respiratory rate.

Heart disease that is left untreated can cause congestive heart failure and can be fatal for your pet.

Other symptoms of heart disease to look out for include:

  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Collapse
  • Restlessness
  • Pacing
  • Rapid and heavy breathing
  • Blue or grey gums due to lack of oxygen
  • Weight loss.

Respiratory Disease

It makes sense that respiratory disorders would cause labored breathing. Oxygen is vital for survival. Laryngeal paralysis is a common condition in dogs. Trauma to the neck, throat obstruction (by an object or growth), congenital disabilities, Hypothyroidism, and Cushing’s disease can all cause Laryngeal paralysis.

If your dog is struggling to catch their breath, take them to the vet immediately.

Why is My Dog Panting and Restless?

panting and restless dog

Discomfort or stress may cause restless movement in your dog.

Is your dog panting heavily while they pace around the room? Has this become normal behavior for nighttime? Older dogs who show slow-onset anxiety at night may be struggling with canine cognitive disorder, similar to Alzheimer’s. This senior dog condition can cause memory loss, disorientation, and changes in your dog’s behavior, including panting and restless movement.

How to Help Your Dog

help your panting dog

Caring for your dog is a lifelong and daily commitment. Knowing when your dog needs help can save its life.

Determine the Reason for Panting

Pinpoint other signs of ill health or patterns in your dog’s behavior. Do they struggle to stop panting following exercise? Is your dog panting and restless during certain situations, or if there are loud noises or other stress triggers? Do any other symptoms accompany their behavior?

Once you can give your vet a complete description of the situation and your dog’s health, they may be able to identify the reason for panting in your dog.

Talk to Your Vet

Extreme cases of panting, especially when it’s sudden, can indicate trauma, injury, or toxicity. Don’t waste another minute. If your pet’s breathing is labored, or if they collapse, have a stroke, or stop breathing, seek emergency care.

For chronic pain or stress disorders, speak to your vet about anti-anxiety prescription medications or pain relief drugs so your dog can get rest at night. A veterinary behavior specialist can help with counter-conditioning when it comes to dealing with anxiety triggers.

Keep Them Calm and Comfortable

Consider the opposite: stressed and uncomfortable. Do what you can to help your dog to remain content and comfortable.

  • Calm Vests provide deep pressure stimulation that can assist in relieving anxiety in dogs.
  • Keep your dog inside on hot days when heat exhaustion is a risk. Regular exercise can still happen during summer with slow indoor activities, mental stimulation, or doggy yoga sessions.
  • Make sure your dog has fresh water and access to shade daily.
  • Most dogs are comforted by a designated “safe space.” This may be your bed, a covered crate, or a cozy dog blanket. Give your pet a place to retreat when they’re feeling tense or afraid.
  • Senior dogs with arthritis may finally settle down with an orthopedic bed.

Incorporate Natural Supplements

If your dog’s medication is causing adverse reactions, speak to your vet about introducing natural supplements. Products like CBD oil are safe and have numerous health benefits.

  • Many dogs have experienced the calming effect of CBD.
  • Full-spectrum hemp oil helps support joint flexibility and mobility.
  • Cannabidiol may help with occasional discomfort.
  • CBD bites and chews may help protect body cells and tissues.
  • CBD products promote normal healthy brain activity.

Preventing Panting and Restless Dogs

prevent dogs from panting

From day one of being a pet parent, your dog’s health should be a priority. We cannot emphasize enough how critical preventative care is for ensuring a long and healthy life for your furbaby. Until the age of around seven, your dog should have annual wellness exams and vaccinations to keep serious illness at bay. During this time, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and weight control are vital for avoiding health decline that often sets in with aging.

A senior dog (age 7+) has unique needs depending on its lifestyle, breed, and history. From this stage, take your pet to the vet for a checkup at least twice a year. Diagnostic tests will give your vet an indication of any underlying health issues that might go unnoticed. With early treatment of health problems that cause pain, respiratory distress, or heart illness, symptoms like dog panting and restless behavior can be avoided.

Desensitizing, early socialization and home relaxation methods can treat anxious behavior. Teach your dog that a calm demeanor is favorable by giving them a reward when they manage to remain serene during stressful situations.

Dog Panting and Restlessness – Emergency or Not? 

As you may be able to tell, panting and restlessness in dogs have many causes. What’s important is that you recognize an emergency and take your dog to the vet if your companion animal shows signs of respiratory distress or collapse.

For overheating, pain or anxiety, find ways to make your pet comfortable at home. Always consult your vet if chronic behavior persists.

Do whatever you can to help your dog live a healthy and happy life. Habits today can echo into your dog’s final years, so deal with the anxiety, address obesity, and give your dog all they need for holistic care.

FAQs

Why is my dog panting and pacing at night?

Older dogs who show anxiety at night may be struggling with canine cognitive disorder. This senior dog condition can cause memory loss, disorientation, and changes in your dog’s behavior, including abnormal panting and restlessness.

Why is my dog restless all of a sudden?

A sudden and unexpected change in your dog’s routine may cause some abnormal panting and sudden unease due to nervousness. It may be a visit to the vet, moving house, introducing a new family member, or a traumatic event.

How do you calm a dog from panting?

If your dog is lethargic, has a rapid heart rate, is panting excessively, has a temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit, do what you can to cool them down. You can save your pet from heatstroke by providing shade, cold water, or a cooling mat.

author avatar
Special Reports Team
The Veterinarians.org Newsroom is at the foreground of breaking news and trending stories in the animal wellness and pet space. Our special reports have been featured on media outlets like Time, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, The New York Post, The Telegraph, USA Today, Travel + Leisure, and more.