Q. We aren’t sure if we have a problem or not, but our 6-year-old westie/poodle mix Heather has had several episodes of really heavy panting this winter.
She isn’t coughing or anything like that, but it’s enough that we try to hold her until it stops. We gave her some Benadryl the last time it happened and after about 30 minutes, she stopped breathing so fast.
We do feed her canned food, but she gets lots of exercise and plays with her toys every day. Should we have her checked over or wait to see if she continues to have this problem?
A. Dogs AND cats pant for several obvious reasons including the heavy breathing from playing, or when simply trying to cool off when the environment is too warm. You should be able to determine easily if these two factors are the reasons Heather is panting. More serious concerns that could result in panting may take some investigative work on your part or that of your veterinarian.
All pet owners should have a rectal thermometer dedicated to their pet. Checking to see if a fever is present could provide a valuable cue. Remember that temperatures over 102.5 would be considered elevated and may require your pet's respiratory system to crank up to help them cool off.
Overweight: Is Heather overweight? Obese pets pant more, although this is easily reversible by a good weight-loss program. Make sure you check with your veterinarian before starting a diet to determine the best food and optimal target weight for your pet.
Pain: Does she appear to be in pain? Is there a subtle limp or does she have difficulty getting up from a lying-down position that demonstrates that arthritis or some other problem is causing pain? Intervention with some type of physical therapy or pain medications may her feel better.
Anxiety: Anxiousness or stress can also cause Heather to pant. Are there changes in her routine or your routine that have led her to being upset? Separation anxiety in which a pet actually suffers when its owners leave it alone is a classic example of this. Since you are at home when Heather has her episodes makes this behavioral problem less likely, but many other situations can cause similar symptoms.
Seizures, disease: More unusual causes of panting such as seizures or brain, hormonal or endocrine diseases can also result in panting episodes. Fortunately, these issues are rare but may need to be investigated if more obvious causes of panting can’t be identified.
Warm temps, treats: Heather’s issue may be solved by simply turning down the thermostat or decreasing the treat count during the day. If you don’t have a simple fix, however, make sure you consult with your veterinarian to make sure she doesn’t have a more significant problem.
Questions? Send them to Dr. Sandeman, Home & Garden, Quad-City Times, 500 E. 3rd St., Davenport, IA 52801. Or, email to email@example.com. Dr. Sandeman cannot answer letters or email personally, but questions of general interest will be answered in this column.