Shallow Breathing in Older Dogs


Guest author, John Devlin and owner -of out of the UK, provided this educational post about Shallow Breathing in Seniors and when to worry. I was thrilled to partner with him on this piece for the blog since it’s a topic pet parents often ask themselves.

About John: Husband, father and avid dog lover. Currently the proud owner of George a pedigree Golden Retriever that barely leaves my side. However, cute this sounds a little break from the dog hairs every now and then would be nice!

Shallow Breathing and When to Worry

Changes in the breathing of your canine companion can be caused by various things, exertion, heat, anxiety. A dog’s normal respiration rate is between 15-50 breaths per minute but this can depend on the age and size of the dog, puppies breathe faster than older dogs and small dogs breathe faster than larger ones.

While shallow or fast breathing is usually nothing to worry about in younger dogs unless combined with other symptoms, difficulty breathing or (Dyspnea) is and a visit to the vet is essential.

Older dogs often pant and although it is generally nothing to be alarmed about, it can be a symptom of a serious medical condition. Here we look at why your senior dog may be panting and when to worry.

  • Heat – Old dogs are more sensitive to heat than their younger counterparts and are more likely to suffer heat stroke so it is important not to walk your senior dog in the middle of the day when the sun is at its peak. Make sure Fido has plenty of shade if relaxing in the garden and a ready supply of cold water to drink. Older dogs often have respiratory or heart conditions making them even more intolerable to the heat and this is especially true for short-nosed breeds such as pugs or bulldogs.
  • Anxiety – Even the most confident dog can suffer from anxiety as they age and this has both psychological and physical causes, like us humans they find security in a routine as they get older and any changes in their environment or physical abilities can cause stress. Aging is a degenerative process and things like deteriorating eyesight, lack of bladder control, loss of hearing etc, all make life more difficult. Senior dogs also produce less of the hormone needed for coping with stress and all these things combine to make him more anxious. Around 50% of canines over the age 8 suffer from “Old Dog Syndrome” similar to Alzheimer’s disease, Canine Dysfunction Syndrome can cause extreme confusion and anxiety to our older four-legged friends which will make them pant more.



  • Medication – Some medications can cause excessive panting in dogs especially the synthetic steroid Prednisone which is used to treat conditions such as arthritis, skin irritations due to allergies, cancer especially lymphoma and Addison’s disease. If you think your elderly dog’s heavy panting is caused by drugs your vet has prescribed discuss your options and if an alternative can’t be prescribed – at least you will know why your dog is breathing fast.
  • Pain – Often dogs pant as a result of physical pain. This could be due to a physical injury or underlying medical condition such as bloat which is a life-threatening condition and needs immediate veterinary treatment. Also on the list is trauma, poisoning and internal injuries which can cause shallow breathing. Most owners are familiar with their canine companion’s behavior and if you think panting could be a sign of pain seek medical attention immediately.
  • Respiratory Problems – Dogs that suffer from respiratory problems tend to pant a lot especially the Brachycephalic breeds such as Boxers, Pugs, and Bulldogs as upper airway problems occur in these short-nosed dogs, resulting in them not panting efficiently and they are more susceptible to heatstroke. If you own one of these breeds it is essential to familiarize yourself with their normal breathing pattern so you know straight away if anything is amiss.


  • Metabolic acidosis– This condition occurs when there is an increased level of acid in the blood, numerous things cause this to occur including severe shock, chronic kidney disease, and Diabetes. It is usually accompanied by other symptoms including depression, fever, confusion, and diarrhea. If you suspect your pooch is suffering from Metabolic acidosis a trip to the vet is needed where they will conduct blood tests to determine the problem along with stabilizing the acid levels
  • Cardiovascular disorders – An elderly dog that suddenly develops abnormal breathing or excessive panting could be suffering from cardiovascular problems, for example an infestation of heartworms, cardiomyopathy or congested heart failure which is common in older dogs, other symptoms you may notice include a dry cough worsening at night or after activity, lethargy, fainting spells and weight loss. A senior dog suffering these symptoms must be taken to see a vet as soon as possible to establish the cause.
  • Obesity – This is extremely common and can be the cause of shallow breathing and panting in dogs. A fat dog is much more likely to overheat and therefore will pant more to cool himself down and will find physical activity more difficult resulting in being out of breath. Obesity can also lead to many serious health problems like heart disease, liver disease, pancreatitis, joint issues and more.


  • Thyroid problems – An over-active thyroid speeds up a dog’s metabolism and results in them becoming over-heated which leads to excessive panting. Dogs that suffer from thyroid disease usually have the opposite which is an under-active thyroid but if there is a tumor on the gland or your pet is taking a high dose of thyroid supplement, hyperthyroidism can occur.

The bottom-line is; your senior dog’s excessive panting is telling you something while it may be simple like they are too warm or nervous about something, it could also be the sign of an underlying medical issue, especially if it is combined with other symptoms or goes on for prolonged periods. Most medical causes of shallow breathing are treatable so if you think your pooch’s panting is abnormal take them in for a visit to the vet. It will give you peace of mind and could save their life.


Thank you John & George!

Tips on when to worry about shallow breathing in senior dogs- signs & symptoms


There are 4 Comments

  1. Denise says:

    Great information. We always need to be prudent about our dog’s health but all the more important as they become Seniors.

    • Thank you so much: it’s so hard with seniors since there can be a lot of factors – above and beyond what it “used” to be… ugh. Thank you for commenting –I was happy John could contribute a piece on this topic.

  2. Excellent article! As a pawrent of a senior Golden Retriever (13th Birthday is next month), I am hypervigilant about her health. I check her lumps and bumps constantly for even the slightest change; I watch her breathing and sleeping; I make sure she gets at least 5 minutes on the treadmill per day; 6 days a week (1.5 mph); and when she’s having any difficulty with any “natural process”, I at least call/talk to the vet if not bring her in to see him. (Our vet has seen us all through many doggie issues over these past 17 years, so he knows Shadow almost as well as I do.)

    • Thank you! I appreciated the detail the guest contributor included in the piece as this is such a complicated topic. It’s also nice you have a close relationship with your vet – that is SO important! I look for those lumps and bumps too!