Why do senior dogs pant and overheat
Do you live with a senior dog? If you do, you may have noticed that your canine friend seems to be panting more often. In such cases, most people assume that their dog is hot, however, that may not be the case.
There are four main reasons why dogs pant and today I would like to go through them one by one to give you a deeper understanding of how to make your dog comfortable and happy.
A lesson from my dog
For the longest time, I was puzzled by the fact that older dogs pant a lot and, it often happens, my dog Skai gave me the answer.
When he was about 10 or 11, I noticed that whenever it got hot, he slowed down dramatically and was not as energetic. At first I thought he was just getting older and slowing down in general.
But, something interesting happened. I took Skai for a trip to Haleakala, a ten thousand foot high volcano in Maui, and despite the elevation, he turned into his bouncy and youthful self. He is now 15 and I see this transformation every time he gets in colder weather.
What do ageing lungs have to do with it?
During my veterinary school years, we learned in radiology that the lung tissue of an older dog looks different than the lungs of a young dog. The older lungs show more white on the image because the tissue is denser. It is a normal, unavoidable part of the ageing process, similar to wrinkles on the face.
Naturally, as the lungs age and the tissue becomes less filled with air and more dense, it affects your dog’s ability to cool down.
My experience is that in most dogs, the capacity reduction DOES NOT affect exercise tolerance as much as the ability to cool down.
It is common knowledge that dogs do not have sweat glands and their cooling system relies on the heat exchange through the body surface or the respiratory tract through breathing and panting.
This also explains why some senior dogs, who are very mobile and frisky in cold weather, slow right down when the weather is hot.
What to do about your dog’s excessive panting
- Walk your dog early in the morning and/or in the late afternoon.
- Never exercise your dog vigorously in the heat of the day. If you are tempted, put on a thick winter coat and try to run around to see how it feels. Click here to see Why ball retrieving may not be the best exercise for any dog, but especially a senior dog.
- Swimming is great to cool your dog down, but too much swimming can also cause injuries. I suggest that you read the article on How much swimming is too much to prevent overextension and injuries.
- Hose your dog down in the heat of the summer before you go for a walk.
- Put a fan by your dog’s bed if needed and keep the bedroom temperature around 15C (60F).
- Many dogs also pant because of being on a kibble diet, which generally makes the body acidic. Panting is a way to expel CO2 from the body, which reduces the acidity.
- Toxin build-up also causes increased panting, especially when it happens in the middle of the night. A gentle semi-annual cleanse can make a huge difference in the comfort of your dog. Here is an article with a step by step liver cleanse protocol for dogs.
- Some dogs may also pant because they are in discomfort, have back pain or tight muscles. This leads to inflammation, acidity and excessive panting. Here are 10 steps to keeping your senior dog happy and mobile.
- We are currently in the process of preparing an online course on a medication-free approach to arthritis and stiffness. If you would like to get more information make sure that you sign up for our newsletter here to get more updates.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM