It’s no secret that bringing a dog home means Fido will stare at you with loving eyes as drool drips down his panting tongue. However, his panting may sometimes alarm you, especially if he does it while resting at night.
Excessive panting in dogs at night isn’t always a reason for concern, but it can give important insight into your dog’s health, depending on the situation. In this guide, I’ll help you sort through the possible causes of your dog’s panting and let you know when it might be time to take a trip to the vet.
Table of Contents
Background on Panting
Panting is a normal function that dogs do because it helps to keep them cool when hot. You’ve likely noticed that your dog’s fur doesn’t get damp with sweat, and that’s because, unlike humans, dogs don’t have massive amounts of sweat glands. Therefore, they rely on heat exiting their body via their mouths to stay cool.
Dogs have a higher body temperature than humans, at 101 to 102.5 °F compared to 97.7 to 99.5 °F. That means that they can overheat quicker than humans do—you likely can tell the difference when your dog pants at a gentle pace after going the bathroom outside on a hot day versus playing a vigorous game of tug-o-war.
Healthy Reasons Dogs Pant
More often than not, dog panting is normal. Just like when people pant, your dog pants for the following reasons:
- To help them catch their breath
- To show that they’re tired and need a break
However, unlike people, your dog’s panting may correspond to its emotions. Examples include:
- When they’re scared of something
- Separation anxiety
- Feeling pain or discomfort
Sometimes, there’s not much you can do for your dog if their panting is related to their emotions. However, if you can remove whatever is stressing them, you should do so.
Unfortunately, excessive panting can also mean that your dog has a more serious medical condition. People often notice their dog’s abnormal panting behavior at night since it’s when your dog should be in a resting state.
Differentiating Normal vs. Excessive Panting
If your dog wakes you up in the middle of the night with its excessive panting, it’s important to have a base to compare it with. After play or being in a hot environment, a dog may inhale and exhale a total of 400 times per minute before they settle down. However, water and taking a break should soon calm their excessive panting.
Let me make this clear: No one expects you to count your dog’s breathing. However, as you slump over the side of your bed in the middle of the night trying to calm your panting dog, you can get a feel for your dog’s breathing rhythm with a simple observation.
Aside from a constant, rapid panting that doesn’t slow down with time or water, another sign to look out for is how your dog’s panting sounds. Normal panting has a low, airy sound; abnormal panting is louder and may squeak or sound strained.
Health Concerns With Excessive Dog Panting
If your dog begins panting heavily at night after not doing any activity and resting in a cool environment, he might be suffering from a health issue. Several factors can cause excessive dog panting at night, including:
- Liver, heart, or lung disease
- Cushing’s disease
- Laryngeal paralysis
Additionally, some medicines cause dogs to experience excessive panting. Therefore, the solution could be as simple as asking your veterinarian to change your dog’s medication.
It’s important to note that excessive dog panting because of these health issues can occur during the day, too. However, many owners only notice their dog’s unusual panting at night because their dog is active during the day.
Of these diseases, a few stand out for being extra common, unique to night panting, or reasons that people often don’t consider. Let’s take a look at them.
Did you know that a dog’s liver is more active at night than during the daytime? The liver knows that it has more time to perform its functions when your dog is calm at night, so this is its prime time.
As a result, if your dog has repeated episodes of excessive panting at night but seems better during the day, you should consider bringing him to the vet to see if he has liver disease.
Should your vet confirm that liver disease is the problem, they’ll either treat your dog with antibiotics or surgery, depending on how advanced the disease is.
From there, you’ll need to make some lifestyle changes for your dog to keep its liver healthy in the future. That includes making changes to its diet according to your veterinarian’s recommendations and giving it supplements like SAM-E or milk thistle.
Dogs display many common symptoms of heart failure as humans. For example, they may have trouble breathing, which will result in them panting in short, quick bursts. Other signs that your dog has heart failure include coughing, lethargy, and refusal to exercise when he usually loves to play.
Veterinarians use several different treatments for heart failure, depending on just how severe it is. Often, they’ll use ACE inhibitors, diuretics, and other medicine to revive your dog.
Cushing’s Syndrome is the result of an overproduction of cortisol. The cortisol hormone is important for all dogs as it helps with weight control, preventing infections, and managing their stress.
Dogs usually pant too much when they have Cushing’s Syndrome. You also might notice that your dog has an insatiable thirst, forms a pot-bellied look, and starts losing its fur. To treat this disease, your veterinarian will either operate on your dog or use an adrenal-suppressing drug.
A dog’s age isn’t health-related per se, but it does impact how a dog breathes. The reason circles back to pain; just like people, dogs can get arthritis as they age. And, similar to people, arthritis often feels more painful for a dog when he’s resting than after he’s moved around.
Therefore, if you have an older dog and notice that he’s been gradually panting more not only at night but anytime he rests, it might be because he’s trying to calm his nerves from arthritis pain.
To help your dog manage his arthritis, you can speak with your veterinarian about giving him an anti-inflammatory medicine. You can also try to self-medicate your dog at home by giving him supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM.
We all know how much dogs love sticking their snouts into anything they can. However, they might end up lapping up something poisonous to them (like artificial sweeteners in jelly beans or milk alternatives) and begin excessively panting as a result. In addition to excessive panting from consuming a toxic substance, other signs that your dog ingested something they shouldn’t have include:
- Loss of consciousness
If you grew up with golden retrievers but just welcomed a pug into your family, you might already have one foot out the door to the vet’s office because of the pug’s excessive panting.
While I always encourage bringing your dog to the veterinarian if you’re concerned about its behavior, rather than take a wait and see approach, there’s a harmless reason for excessive panting in dogs at night—the dog breed.
Due to their short noses, below are some of the most common dog breeds that naturally pant more:
- Boston terriers
What to Do When Your Dog Has Excessive Panting
Dogs are family, so when you see that your dog is panting excessively, you want to help. If your dog’s panting seems to come out of nowhere, the best thing you can do is take him to the vet, as there’s a high chance that it’s health-related.
Excessive panting is stressful on your dog (and, as we discussed earlier, stress is sometimes the reason for panting). Therefore, speaking gently to your dog and petting or cuddling him can help. You can even give him a massage.
Should you have an older dog that suffers from excessive panting at night, try buying him a more comfortable bed. The dog bed market brims with options, so you’ll have your picking of orthopedic choices. Some dog beds even have memory foam, which can further help with arthritis pain.
Finally, whether your dog excessively pants at night out of anxiety or from pain, some Vets now recommend you can offer him CBD oil. While they still need to do more research, science suggests that CBD oil can help relieve pain and anxiety in dogs.
The Bottom Line
Excessive panting in dogs at night is sometimes normal, but often, it’s an indication that your dog has a health issue. Therefore, if you notice a change in your dog’s panting in the evening, it’s best to call your vet.
Thankfully, veterinarians can often treat many health issues that cause excessive panting so your beloved four-footed companion can get back to what’s most important to him—naps and playing ball.