Hot Dog or Sick Dog??

Paper Trained
Scott Sandeman, D.V.M.
It can be difficult to determine in pets that cool themselves by panting if heavy breathing is simply an attempt to regulate their body temperature or due to some pathological disease.  This is especially true in older dogs that may multiple issues related to their age that can cause them to pant more than normal.  Here are some ways to tell if your senior pet needs medical attention or just some shade and cool drink of water:
1) Does your dog have to change its body position to breath?  A pet that pushes its neck out, pulls its elbows away from its body and wants to only stand and not lay on its side may have respiratory or heart disease and should seek medical care.  This situation may be an emergency and immediate care necessary.
2)Are the nasal openings drawn wide with heavy breathing and the lips pulled back in an attempt to get more oxygen in with each breath?  Again, this desperate breathing may represent significant disease, again heart or lung issues.
3)Is your pet panting at a fast rate but able to lie down comfortably?  This type of breathing may be from simply overheating or recovery from stress or exercise.  Providing a cool, calm environment and observing to make sure the breathing pattern slow down may be all that is needed.
4)Is the tongue hanging out and the nose just quivering with breathing?  These pets may not have any disease as well but just reacting to excitement or cooling as well.
Many owners will recognize non-life threatening panting simply by knowing their pet and their recent history.  Fireworks, a visit from the neighborhood dog or a jog after a rabbit in the backyard will be enough to know that a more serious problem is unlikely.  A recent injury or separation anxiety may need attention if it is causing panting but this helps to  suggest that a cardiac issue or respiratory disease are not behind the abnormal high breathing rate.
In addition to knowing your dog’s medical and environmental history, owners should be able to check their pet’s temperature, understand breed or size related problems like laryngeal paralysis and keep their pet at its optimal weight as obesity can contribute to panting as well.  If your pet is having frequent or extended bouts of heavy panting, make sure you make this a point of discussion with your veterinarian to help differentiate simply being out of breath with a problem that needs to be addressed medically.

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