Something is not right: Your dog is panting and restless. His tongue hangs out of his mouth while he paces around the house, curling up in his dog bed for a few minutes before getting right back up and continuing his path from room to room, unable to settle—and it’s even worse at night.
Figuring out what might be causing these behaviors can require a bit of investigation, according to Dr. Tessa King, veterinarian with Compassion 4 Paws in Edmunds, Washington.
“You need to be a detective and look for clues,” she adds. “Keeping a journal to look for patterns can help the vet figure out what might be causing behaviors like panting and restlessness.”
Why Do Dogs Pant?
Panting is a normal behavior. Dogs sweat a little through their paw pads but they largely depend on panting to expel hot air from their lungs and draw in cool air to cool down, notes veterinary behaviorist Dr. Lore Haug of Texas Veterinary Behavior Service in Sugar Land, Texas.
While it’s normal for dogs to pant after a long walk or in sweltering temperatures, panting during rest (or in a temperature-controlled home) could be a sign of other issues such as discomfort or pain. Certain medications, including steroids, opioids and thyroid medications can cause increased panting; and overweight dogs are also more prone to rapid breathing. Anxiety is another common cause of panting.
“Just like we use breathing exercises [in yoga and meditation] to tap into our anti-fight or flight response, dogs do the same thing,” Haug says. “Panting can help dogs relax and distract them from discomfort.”
Haug looks for physical cues to determine why a dog won’t stop panting. A dog that is anxious tends to have his mouth open, lips pulled back and tongue in his mouth while a dog panting due to heat usually has his tongue hanging out of its mouth.
Dogs may pant for a combination of reasons, including pain and anxiety or weight issues and medication side effects.
Monitoring your dog’s behavior to determine whether it is related to temperature or only happens during certain situations (like thunderstorms) may help explain why your dog won’t stop panting. A physical exam can also help your veterinarian determine the root cause of chronic panting.
Why is My Dog Panting and Restless?
Panting may be accompanied by restlessness. Similar to panting, restlessness can be attributed to multiple potential causes.
“A significant portion of dogs start to pace when they become anxious,” Haug says. “Dogs might be restless because they are trying to escape a storm or feel agitated by something in their environment like an unfamiliar noise in the house or a dog barking down the street; pacing helps dissipate their arousal.”
If panting and pacing are caused by anxiety, dogs may also have other symptoms, including trembling, whining, barking, increased drooling and, in extreme cases, loss of bladder control. Anxious dogs can also be clingy, looking to their owners for extra comfort and attention.
Dogs with injuries or painful conditions such as arthritis are also prone to panting and restlessness: The struggle to find a comfortable position to rest leads to pacing and the pain causes panting.
In older dogs, King also cites cognitive issues as a key reason that dogs exhibit symptoms like panting and restlessness. Cognitive issues like Canine Cognitive Disorder or “doggie dementia” can lead dogs to become confused about their surroundings, causing anxiety.
Why is My Dog Panting All Night?
The incidence of Canine Cognitive Disorder increases with age. One study found that dogs over 16 years old experienced the highest rates of this dementia-like disease but symptoms started in dogs as young as 10 years old.
Dogs with canine cognitive disorder often experience disturbances in their sleep/wake cycles and may be up—and pacing around the house—all night. Calming dog beds and medications could help ease the symptoms.
Your house is also quieter at night, making it easier for your dog to tune into sounds in the environment that could trigger anxious behaviors like panting and restlessness.
What to Do if Your Dog is Panting and Restless
If you lie awake at night thinking, “Why is my dog panting and restless?” schedule an appointment with the vet to get a diagnosis. Determining the cause can help your veterinarian come up with the best treatment.
“Your veterinarian can help you manage the medical and behavioral issues and get your pet some relief,” King says.
Common treatments range from anxiety-reducing wraps and behavior modification exercises to supplements and prescription medications.
Wraps provide comforting pressure (similar to swaddling a baby) and they work for short-term anxiety-producing situations such as thunderstorms. Supplements with active ingredients such as L-theanine, chamomile, valerian and milk proteins can ease anxiety—but Haug advises purchasing veterinary-grade supplements to ensure their quality. In more serious cases, prescription medications may be required.
Hemp oil is also popular. Cannabidiol, the natural compound found in hemp has no psychoactive properties and is reported to have calming properties.
Seeking treatment is important, Haug says.
“Chronic anxiety can be detrimental to their health, and even if it’s episodic, it can shorten their lifespans,” she adds. “If left untreated, the severity can increase dramatically.”