I would like to know if you can tell me why my dog is panting at night time. I have a 9 1/2 yr old neutered mutt,Macky, that looks like a small Irish wolfhound. He started life with one ear ripped off by his mom and a staff infection on the back part of his body and tail. The hair grew back but needless to say the ear didn’t; He’s a very laid back gentle dog. He has been consistent at between 62-64 pounds all of his life and vets think he is at a good weight. He is eating, drinking and eliminating normally. He sleeps most of the day but always has for several years. He still has short play times with a toy and then a rawhide every night. He still runs after critters in the yard. He has been extremely healthy dog until a year ago when he developed allergies and was self mutilating himself to the point that he had big bleeding sores on his nose. The vet put him on 50 mg of Benadryl three times a day plus a spray for hot spots. This worked miracles. He still scratches under his chin and licks his paws on occasion but nothing obsessive. I had the generic Benadry I give checked by a vet to make sure it didn’t have any additives.
The problem: About 3 months ago when it was still very cold out he started panting really heavily when he was lying down. This was NOT after his daily walk, no thunderstorms(which he is NOT afraid of) or loud noises (he IS afraid of firecrackers but that’s still a few months away). There has been no coughing. I, also, think his breathing is labored sometimes while he is sleeping. He is panting at night.
I took him to the vet that did a very thorough wellness exam. He listened to his heart…no murmurs, no skipped beats and sounded great. He had clear lungs with no sounds of congestion. The vet manipulated his legs and spine and overall saw no signs of pain. He examined his eyes and ears. His gums were pink. He did an “old dog blood workup + Thyroid T4”. Everything on the blood work was “perfect” liver, blood etc except for a marginal hypothyroidism. He started him on 5 mg of Soloxine for 1 week and now 5 mg twice a day. He, also, reduced the Benadryl to 25 mg three times a day.
Still the panting seems to be getting worse every day. He doesn’t seem to be panting as much when he is standing or walking or on his daily walk. It’s really excessive when he is lying down! It seems to be worse in the evening.I can’t really tell if he’s sleeping more since he slept almost all day before the excessive panting starting.
I took him back to another vet who did the same wellness exam with the same results. He took his temperature-it was normal and he suggested:
High blood pressure test-this was only slightly elevated (I THINK 130) and he said it could be a result of the stress of being at the vet’s and the test
Chest x-rays- his heart looked normal, lungs looked great for his age.
The vet saw no signs of cancer but “You never can say no” I don’t have the results of the thyroid recheck yet. That vet said,”I’m sorry I have no answers for you.”
The bottom line seems to be: he’s not obese, under no sort of stress, doesn’t have signs of congestive heart failure, no signs of anemia, is not hyperthyroid, no pain etc. etc. He’s on heartworm medicine all year and that’s not it.
Help! Where do I go from here? I KNOW something is wrong with my dog. Is the panting dangerous? I’m really worried. Do you have any ideas what could be causing this? Other tests to run? Do I need to see some kind of specialist? I think there is a team of specialists(Aurora Veterinary Hospital-Aurora, ILH) about 50 miles away.
I was a puppy foster mom for the shelter for over twenty years, have had 4 dogs of my own, and babysit with many of my “puppies” and friend’s and neighbor’s dogs. As a result I’ve been around at least 100 dogs and puppies through my house. I know the signs of a sick dog. Macky is the best of all the dogs I’ve ever been around. Because of my age this is my last one….maybe I’m just overly anxious but this is driving me nuts to watch….
Dr. Marie replied:
Macky sounds like a cool dog. He reminds me of my dog Ralph who I had years ago.
I have had cases like this where you just know that something is not right, yet all of the tests come back normal.
There are a few reasons why dogs can pant at night including the following:
When you first mentioned that he had labored breathing when sleeping, I wondered if there could be some fluid in his chest. But this really should show up on xrays.
Another thing that can cause some labored breathing is something called cushing's disease. While many dogs with cushing's disease have an increase in the enzyme, ALP, not all dogs do. The way we test for cushing's is a test called a dexamethasone suppression test. It involves a stay in the hospital for a day but is not invasive at all.
Dogs with cushing's tend to have a really good appetite and will drink and urinate a lot.
Another possibility is something called Addison's. Addison's is sort of the opposite of Cushing's. But, the symptoms are really varied. Any time that I have a dog where I just know "something" is wrong but I can't pinpoint it I will test for Addison's.
Another route that I might take if this was my case would be to do a trial of some different medications. I might consider trying him on an anti-inflammatory drug for a couple of weeks. Sometimes dogs can have pain and not show us any obvious outward signs. So, if the symptoms go away after a few days of pain medication then we know there is pain there (possibly arthritis pain.)
It will be interesting to see what the new thyroid results are. Do you know if he had a thyroid panel done or was it just something called a free T4 (FT4)? Sometimes a free T4 will be low in a dog that does not have thyroid disease. If we put these dogs on thyroid medicine then they can have an increase in panting. But, it sounds like these symptoms were present before the thyroid medicine was started, so this is likely not the case.
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Macky had a "Thyroid Free T4". He was borderline. The 2nd vet agreed the panting was there before the thyroid medicine started.
I remember the first vet saying the "Complete Blood Profile" showed no signs of Cushings. His food,water and urination have not seemed to increase.
When the 2nd vet calls with the new thyroid results I'll ask again about the possibilty of doing the Cushings test, Addison's test and putting him on an anti-inflammatory for a couple of weeks.
Thanks, now I have something else to try. Right now he is lying next to me sleeping with no labored breathing but I KNOW something is wrong. By evening he will be panting heavily again. Do you think I should take him to some kind of specialist? The vet clinic I go to is highly regarded and I think I saw the best two vets they have. Is the panting dangerous? I keep thinking he will just drop dead like 2 dogs I've seen with Congestive Heat Failure.
Dr. Marie replied:
It is unlikely that the panting is dangerous. I understand your fears about CHF. However, most dogs with significant heart disease will have a heart murmur and also have significant changes that can be seen on xray.
I still wouldn't discount Cushing's or Addison's without doing the specific tests.
It would be great to ask your vet if they could do something called either a "Free T4 by equilibrium dialysis test" or a "2-step T4 test". These tests cost a little more than a Free T4 but they are more accurate when it comes to deciding whether a dog should be on thyroid medicine.
It does sound like your vet is doing all of the right things. However, if you are getting to a point where they can't figure out what is happening it's never a bad idea to have a specialist look at Macky.
I have had some cases though where we did every test in the book and could not find an issue and then they went to a specialist and they did a bunch of tests and still couldn't find a problem.
Thanks for the fast answer!!!! I've added the "Free T4 by equilibrium dialysis test" or a "2-step T4 test to my questions to the vet. I'm going to try and not worry about the panting until then.
Dr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.
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