Why Is My Senior Dog Panting At Night?

As your dog ages, you may begin to notice subtle changes in their routine. Ranging from changes in their personality to decreased energy levels, our senior pups will adopt new habits as the years go by. So what about a sudden onset of panting at night?

In this article we will discuss the details of panting in senior dogs, and help you better understand this canine behavior going forward.

Do Senior Dogs Pant More Than Younger Dogs?

Why is My Senior Dog Panting At Night

Senior dogs can pant more than younger dogs for multiple reasons. Similar to you and I, simple tasks become more challenging for a dog as they reach their golden years. Panting is a dog’s way of regulating their body heat, which is often raised during physical activity. Due to a dog’s decreased physical capabilities as they age, simple tasks such as walking up the stairs or going outside can be more strenuous.

Don’t want to read this entire article? Watch our short video on Why your senior dog is panting at night.

While some senior dogs will pant more than younger dogs due to their decreased stamina, others may pant more due to an onset of medical complications of chronic illness. Panting will often be accompanied by other changes in behavior if this is the case, but should always be in the back of your mind when having a senior dog.

Senior dogs may pant more than younger dogs in general, but it does not mean this behavior should be ignored. To help you understand why your senior dog may be panting at night, let’s discuss the many potential causes below.

Why Would An Old Dog Pant At Night?

If your senior dog is suddenly panting at night, you may be searching for any possible explanation. To help you better understand your grey faced friend, let’s list some of the most common factors.

Pain

Panting is a common sign of pain in our canine friends. Senior dogs can struggle with pain due to degenerative joint disease, dental disease, chronic illness, and more. A painful pup may become even more restless at night, as there are fewer distractions to alleviate their discomfort.

If your senior dog is truly in pain, you may notice other symptoms such as lethargy, lack of appetite, restlessness, and any other changes in their normal behavior. If you think your dog is panting at night due to being in pain, it’s best to contact your vet for further advice.

Anxiety

Older dogs can begin to experience more anxiety as they age. Changes in their overall health and cognition can be very confusing for a dog, as well as the additional anxiety that comes along with uncomfortable medical conditions. Each of these factors have the potential to cause canine stress, much of which can be exacerbated at night.

Some senior dogs struggle with their anxiety at night due to sleeping on their own, being in dark areas, and having less distractions available to them. This is even more stressful for senior dogs that struggle with separation anxiety, as time sent away from their owners can be upsetting to them.

If you think your senior dog is panting due to anxiety, it’s best to speak with your vet about ways to offer them comfort. You can also attempt to change up their sleeping arrangements, as old dogs may find comfort in sleeping near their owners.

Chronic Illness

Just like in humans, chronic illness can have a massive impact on our canine friends. Chronic illness may bring an onset of discomfort, new medications, changes in routine, and other drastic shifts in their life. All of this can be challenging for a senior dog to adjust to, leading to canine anxiety.

Just as we mentioned above, things like pain and anxiety can seem much more prevalent at night, causing a senior dog to pant. If your senior dog is suddenly panting at night after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, it’s best to speak with your vet about if this is a normal occurrence for their situation.

Cognitive Dysfunction or Sundowner Syndrome

Canine cognitive dysfunction is a condition that impacts our older canine friends. Similar to a decline in cognitive function in senior humans, our dogs can experience similar symptoms as they age. Cognitive dysfunction, or sundowner syndrome, can cause a dog to experience disorientation, altered behaviors, changes in personality, and more.

This condition is often referred to as ‘dog dementia’, as it often mimics the signs of this degenerative brain condition in humans. This confusion can be extremely stressful for a senior dog, causing them to pant and pace at all hours of the night.

If you think your dog is experiencing canine cognitive dysfunction, it’s best to speak with your vet about ways to improve their quality of life. Your vet can perform a neurological exam and routine diagnostics to rule out any other complications, and offer a solution that works best for your pup.

Panting & Senior Dog Anxiety At Night

Though we briefly touched on anxiety in senior dogs above, let’s break down the details of how this can cause an older dog to pant more at night. There are a few changes in health and cognitive function that are exclusive to senior dogs, causing additional stress as the sun goes down.

  • Vision loss: Nighttime can be much scarier for an older dog that has lost their vision. Dogs with vision loss often rely on shadows and blurry visions of structures throughout their home, all of which becomes much more challenging to identify at night. This can be extremely stressful for a senior dog that has free reign of the house at night. 
  • Hearing loss: While dogs seem to adjust fairly easily to deafness as they age, it does not mean that it does not cause some initial anxiety. Nighttime may be scarier than other parts of the day, especially if they are left alone while adapting to their new hearing loss. 
  • Geriatric separation anxiety: Geriatric separation anxiety is a fairly common behavior in senior dogs. This condition often manifests at night, almost as if the dog takes your sleeping as a form of separation. Many owners state that this causes their old dog to pant and pace at night, even pawing at their owners as they sleep.

When Is Panting A Concern In Senior Dogs?

Panting may be a normal behavior in our canine companions, but it should always warrant a concern in our senior dogs. A sudden onset of panting can be due to a developing illness, ranging from minor discomfort to serious medical complications.

If your senior dog suddenly begins to pant at night, we always suggest contacting your vet for advice. Once your vet rules out any medical causes, you can begin to examine their behavior for any signs of anxiety or stress.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, our senior dogs may be more at risk of panting at night than other dogs. Be sure to review the information we discussed above, and you can better help your senior pup going forward!

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