Pitbull terrier outside panting

Key takeaway

Many things can cause your dog to start panting at night, including anxiety, heatstroke, medical conditions, and genetics. Panting is a result of your dog’s body reacting to something, and it could be an indication that they need help.

Dogs pant for the same reasons humans sweat; it allows them to release body heat. Of course, dogs also sweat through their paw pads, just in a different way than humans do. Dogs pant for a number of reasons, ranging from being too hot to having anxiety. When your dog pants, they are ultimately cooling themselves down. However, if your dog is panting heavily in the middle of the night in a room that's not hot, it could be an indication of something else. Your dog might be panting at night for several reasons.

As a proud pet parent, you know everything about your dog, including when something just isn't right. Learn more about why dogs pant at night and how to tell if it’s something more serious by reading below.

Why Do Dogs Pant?

Panting is your dog's primary cooling mechanism.1 They open their mouths and breathe air in quickly to produce a cooling effect the same way human sweat reacts to air. However, there are many other reasons why dogs pant that are unrelated to cooling themselves down, such as certain health conditions, obesity. However, the top reasons dogs pant are to cool down or because they're stressed. In the sections below, we’ll explore more of the different reasons why your dog is panting at night.

Reasons Why Your Dog Is Panting at Night

There are many reasons why your dog might suddenly begin panting at night, even if it's a cool temperature in your home. Dogs pant for many reasons, so it's important for pet parents to know when it's time to worry about their dog's breathing. Here are common reasons why your dog is panting at night.

Reasons your dog is panting at night

1. Metabolic Disorders

Metabolic disorders such as diabetes and Cushing’s Disease are some of the most common reasons dogs pant at night. In fact, one of the most common symptoms of Cushing's disease in dogs is excessive panting no matter what time of day it is. Cushing's disease is triggered by a tumor on the pituitary or adrenal gland, which results in the overproduction of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), making your dog's body produce more cortisol (also known as the stress hormone).3

Other symptoms of Cushing's disease include:

  • Increased appetite and thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Lethargy
  • Hair loss
  • Skin infections
  • Abdomen enlargement3

Cushing's disease causes panting in dogs for a number of reasons, including stress because the dog doesn't feel well. If you notice excessive panting at night, it's always best to schedule a visit with your veterinarian.

2. Genetics

Some dog breeds have a genetic predisposition to breathing problems. If your dog is panting at night, it's possible that it isn't an emergency; instead, it just might be something to expect with their breed. For example, dogs with short heads typically have brachycephalic syndrome, which means they are prone to obstructive breathing because of the shape of their head, muzzle, and throat.4

Common breeds with breathing problems are:

Dog breeds prone to panting at night

  • French bulldog
  • English bulldog
  • Pug
  • Pekingese
  • Boston terrier

Because of their short muzzles, these breeds have shorter or flattened throats and breathing passages, which can make them have breathing problems, including excessive panting at night. While breathing issues may be a familiar problem with these breeds, it’s extremely important to keep an eye on your pet when you notice that they’re having trouble breathing. Check for signs of inadequate oxygen, like turning blue or purple (cyanosis) as this constitutes a veterinary emergency.

3. Anxiety

Panting at night is just one of the many signs of anxiety in dogs. This type of behavioral panting has nothing to do with feeling overheated; it's just how their body is reacting to a stressful situation if your dog has anxiety. These are the common causes of anxiety in dogs:

  • Noises: Dogs have much better hearing than you do. Something that's loud to you can be incredibly loud to your pet, so loud noises can give your dog anxiety. For example, if you've ever burned food in the oven and your smoke detector went off, your dog might get anxious every time you cook because they're afraid of the loud noise your cooking caused last time. Dogs also commonly are afraid of storms and fireworks because they're loud, and your dog doesn't know where the sound is coming from or how to get away from it. Luckily, there are products on the market that can help soothe your pet during times of stress. You may even choose to talk to your vet about anxiety medication for stressful situations.
  • Separation anxiety: Separation occurs when you leave your dog alone in the home after being used to you being around for a majority of the day. Many dogs get separation anxiety, but you can help train your pet to stay calm while you're gone with behavioral training, which can help them relax when you're not around. An in-home camera can help you check on your pet while you’re away and monitor for signals of separation anxiety, such as nighttime panting.
  • Changes to home environment: As we've discussed, a new environment can be stressful for dogs because they're creatures of habit. Changing your dog's environment can cause anxiety for a short period of time, but eventually, your pet should get used to your new home. Dogs that are adopted may be more anxious than dogs that have been raised in the same home since puppyhood. Dogs that have gone through multiple homes and shelters typically don't feel like they have a home until their new owner proves it to them. New dogs can be anxious because of a new environment and new people.
  • Generalized anxiety:
  • Panic attacks:

4. Anemia

Another common reason why your dog is panting at night is anemia. Anemia is when the number of red blood cells decreases either by destruction, loss, or lack of production. Anemia causes an increased heart rate, which can make your dog start panting. When you work out and increase your own heart rate, you begin breathing heavily; the same thing happens to your dog when their heart rate increases. Dogs with anemia typically have energy loss, weakness, and a loss of appetite, along with panting and an increased heart rate.5

5. Age

Many senior dogs pant at night for a number of reasons, which can include health conditions like anemia and Cushing's disease. Older dogs can also suffer from cognitive dysfunction, which disrupts their sleep-wake cycle, causing them to be restless at night. In turn, they may roam the house at night, get lost due to dementia, then get nervous or /anxious and start panting.6

Additionally, older dogs have weaker muscles, which may require them to put more effort into regular movements, which can cause panting at night. Older dogs may also be more anxious because they're not able to move around as much, or they may experience pain when walking or standing. Combined with changes to their daily life, dogs can become stressed more easily as they get older, which may result in panting.

6. Heart Disease

Dogs with heart disease and heart failure pant more because their heart is working harder to pump oxygen throughout the body. Rapid breathing is just one indication of heart failure in dogs because of fluid buildup in the lungs. Dogs can get heart disease from heartworms or heartworm disease, so it's important to keep your dog protected by getting heartworm prevention medication from your vet. Luckily, heartworm is both preventable and can be treated if it's caught early.

7. Obesity

Just like in humans, obesity can lead to a wide range of health complications for dogs, including heavier breathing at panting. Dogs with obesity typically suffer from arthritis, heart problems, and joint problems. Obesity causes excessive panting because your dog is working harder to do everyday activities, which means exerting more energy and increasing their heart rate.

It's important to feed your dog a well-balanced diet and exercise them daily. You can usually tell if your pet has gained a little weight, but many pet owners don't know how much their dogs should weigh. If you're not sure how much your pet should weigh, you can consult a vet who can help you find the right diet for your pet and help you maintain or lose their weight.

8. Pain

Dogs in pain have a higher heart rate, which can lead to faster, heavier breathing and panting at night. Pain can come from internal problems, such as a disease or illness, or external problems, like a hurt paw from jumping off the couch. If you notice your dog is in pain, seek the help of a veterinarian immediately. For example, if your dog is limping and panting, they may require a trip to the emergency vet for a potential sprain or broken bone. Unfortunately, you can't see every injury, but your dog can be in pain whether it's visible or not.

Clear indications your dog is in pain is panting accompanied by yelping or avoidance when you try to touch them in a certain area or reluctance to move.

How to Treat Your Dog Panting At Night

German Shepherd mix outside panting

You can help your dog stop panting at night by understanding the cause of their panting. For example, if your dog has allergies, your vet might prescribe them allergy medication, while if your pet has anxiety, they might benefit from behavioral training or behavioral medication to help them calm down. If your dog is panting because they're hot, you can cool them down with a wet cloth, offer them cold water or an ice cube, or turn the air conditioning up for a few minutes.

For more serious reasons why your dog is panting at night, you should always consult your vet. If your dog is panting due to heart disease or pain, your pet will benefit from medication and treatment.

Final Notes

Your dog could be panting at night for a variety of reasons. However, it's always best not to panic. Unless your dog has been diagnosed with a medical condition, they're likely panting because they're too warm or they have anxiety. In most cases, you'll be able to rule out whether your dog is panting due to heatstroke or their genetics easily. In other cases, panting at night might be an indicator of a serious physical health condition.

When it comes to your dog, remember you know them best. Always use your best judgment to help you determine when it's time to take them to the vet. For example, if your dog pants excessively every night and your home isn't warm, a vet might be able to tell you if they're suffering from a serious physicalmedical condition. Luckily, you don't have to leave your home to get quality advice from a professional.

Dutch offers non-emergency telemedicine for pets that can help you uncover the cause of your dog panting at night. Whether your dog is suffering from anxiety, allergies, or anything else, you can talk to a licensed veterinarian who can help you stop your dog's panting and make them happier and more comfortable.

As always, if you're worried about your pet and believe their panting at night is an emergency, take them to the nearest emergency vet as soon as possible.

References

  1. “Why Don't Dogs Sweat?” Science Questions with Surprising Answers, https://www.wtamu.edu/~cbaird/sq/2013/10/09/why-dont-dogs-sweat/.

  2. Schamble, Melody. “Why Do Dogs Pant?” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 23 May 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-do-dogs-pant/.

  3. Commissioner, Office of the. “Treating Cushing's Disease in Dogs.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/treating-cushings-disease-dogs.

  4. “Small Animal Topics.” ACVS, https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/brachycephalic-syndrome.

  5. Marks, Steven L. “Anemia in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 22 Mar. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/blood-disorders-of-dogs/anemia-in-dogs.

  6. Fast, R., et al. "An observational study with long‐term follow‐up of canine cognitive dysfunction: Clinical characteristics, survival, and risk factors." Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 27.4 (2013): 822-829.