Q. -- Hey, our little Gus has been panting a lot lately. He pants during the day, when he is eating and even at night when he sleeps. He wakes up in the middle of the night panting. During the winter we have the windows open, but when it is hot we have the A/C on, and he still pants. My wife says it is nothing but I am worried about him. Why is he panting so much?
-- D.G.H., Key West
A. -- There are many reasons why a dog may pant excessively. Without some specific information, I won't be able to tell you why Gus is doing so. For instance, how old is Gus? Is he overweight? Does he have any medical problems such as diabetes or heart disease? Does he ever stop panting? Does he get tired when he exercises?
Although there are many causes of panting, whenever I examine a panting dog there are two areas that I pay special attention to -- the heart and the lungs.
The lungs allow oxygen to get to the inside of the body. In diseased lungs this necessary action can be compromised. The body may pant, or breathe harder, to help bring in more air. Likewise, the heart is necessary to pump blood from the body to the lungs, where it essentially re-oxygenates, then gets pumped back to the tissues to support normal metabolism. If the heart is not working efficiently and the blood is not getting pumped to the lungs and around the miles of blood vessels in the body, then the dog may pant once again to try to increase the amount of air taken in by the body.
Long-haired dogs are more likely to pant, especially if the ambient temperature is warm. Dogs do not sweat the same as people. When a person overheats, they sweat; as the sweat evaporates on the skin, it helps cool the body off. Dogs only sweat across the bridge of their nose and in between their toes. When a dog needs to lose body heat it will pant, blowing off excess heat with its breath.
That said, your dog should not be panting when indoors, especially if there is air conditioning.
For the most part, dogs older than seven years of age are considered a canine "senior citizen." As in humans, when one gets older it is a good idea to have annual physical examinations. Pets should also have routine physicals as they get older. There are a number of medical reasons that your dog may be panting -- as mentioned, the heart and the lungs should be at the center of investigation.
Heart disease, lung disease, Cushing's disease, thyroid disease, arthritis (chronic pain) and more can all cause panting. A thorough physical, with x-rays, EKG and laboratory testing, as necessary, should be able to determine the cause if there is one.
If the cause is still undetermined, then a cardiac ultrasound and/or a bronchoscopy may be needed. These are advanced medical tests and may not be available through your family veterinarian. Ask for a referral to a specialty hospital.
I do not consider constant panting to be normal for any dog. I do encourage you to seek the advice of your veterinarian.
Dr. Mader is an ABVP board certified veterinary specialist practicing in the Keys. Send your questions to Mvh525@aol.com.