Yes, who got kicked off Dancing with the Stars might be more interesting than this topic, but it is one I get asked about a lot. Who wants to hear their beloved Labrador Retriever panting all night long, or see their 1-year-old Jack Russell seemingly out of breath over nothing? What does it mean? Should we be worried about it? Can we fix this annoying but possibly very important issue?
Panting can be a sign of a medical problem, such as heart disease, lung issues, obesity, Cushing’s disease, and others. It can also be a sign of anxiety, stress or other behavioral issues. We certainly don’t want to forget about pain from orthopedic or surgical causes. To differentiate among these potential problems, a thorough history and full physical exam are a good start. Often this can tip us off to behavioral causes or some of the more common physical conditions. Sometimes a combination of testing can pinpoint the issue. Blood tests, for example, can tell us about thyroid conditions, excess steroid hormones, or even infections. Chest radiographs, or x-rays, can diagnose heart or lung conditions. More advanced testing such as specific tests for Cushing’s disease or heart rhythm tests (ECG) may be needed.
If the history, physical exam, and tests are all normal – what else might be happening? Sometimes it is something as simple as having a long/thick-coated pet in a warm environment. Overweight dogs and cats certainly have more difficulty with any weather change. Along with obesity often comes lack of conditioning or athletic ability, and those pets often get winded much faster. Older pets can also suffer from those conditions as a normal part of the aging process.
My own Golden Retriever, Baxter, used to pant nearly continuously. Strangely, it would worsen whenever I watched a movie or was on the phone. After I conducted a thorough history on myself, a full physical exam on him, and some testing – I found absolutely nothing wrong with him. He continued to pant until he passed at 16 years of age. Sometimes, dogs just like to pant!