Is your dog having trouble settling down at night? If it’s a one-time or rare occurrence, it’s likely nothing serious. In fact, excessive panting tends to point to anxiety more often than not. It’s the accumulation, however, of a variety of signs and symptoms that help determine the actual cause of the problem.
If these things are only happening at night, and you have a senior dog, it could be a sign of cognitive decline.
Canine Cognitive Disorder (CCD) is like dementia, but for dogs. Dogs and people go through a series of chemical changes in the brain that can affect behavior. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this.
A dog is considered to be senior around the age of 7.
If none of this resonates with you, it’s possible you have a younger dog who appears and acts normal most of the time. The question is, why is he panting and restless at night?
These questions will be answered in this post. It’s vital to understand what’s happening and to get to the root of the problem. There are temporary solutions, like sedatives, that may help. Ultimately, you’ll want to know whether your dog is experiencing pain or a health condition.
If the behavior doesn’t stop no matter what you try, it’s likely to time to visit the veterinarian.
Why Do Some Dogs Pant More Than Others?
Panting is normal behavior for any dog. In a healthy dog, panting is usually caused by heat, anxiety, or being overly excited. Dogs need to pant to regulate body temperature. They don’t have sweat glands. As a result, they pant to keep cool.
The only other way a dog has of trying to keep cool is through the paws where they are able to sweat a little.
Dogs prone to anxiety tend to pant a little faster than calmer dogs. Let’s face it, dogs have different personalities just like we do. Some are more excitable than others and the best way to express that is through panting (and jumping, barking, etc.).
Excessive panting on a regular basis, however, can be a sign of something else. Most of the time, it’s likely nothing serious. You can’t really be sure, however, without a wellness check by a licensed veterinarian.
Common Reasons for Dog Panting and Restlessness
If your otherwise healthy dog starts randomly panting and pacing at night, it’s probably due to anxiety. The trick is to determine what’s causing the anxiety.
It may take a little detect work to figure this out, especially if it only happens at night. Is there a trigger that’s waking everyone up at night (not just your dog)? Depending on where you live, it could be as simple as the sound of garbage truck early in the morning or a train going by.
Some reasons for dog panting and restlessness at night are listed below (and described in detail further in the post):
- Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
- Heart Disease
- Respiratory Issues
- Cushing’s Disease
- Other Underlying Conditions/Disease
Anxiety in Dogs
Many dogs have noise sensitivities. A noise sensitivity could be from just about anything in the home. My dog, for example, is terrified of the little “beep” the dishwasher makes when you open the door.
Dogs, like mine, will cower and either run out of the room or look for a place to hide. For some dogs, that might mean hiding under the bed, in a closet, or even in the bathtub. They love the feeling of being enclosed. It makes them feel safe. This is why crate training is often a very useful tool for dogs with anxiety.
A Personal Story of My Dog’s Experience with Anxiety
My dog normally sleeps comfortably through the whole night. One night, however, he woke me up trying to push the bed away from the wall. He was trying to get in behind the bed and he was frantic!
Keep in mind that he is a 70 pound pitbull mix. It’s hard to say why he didn’t just jump up on the bed….that’s just the way my dog is I guess.
This is my Dog, Coco. He was hiding behind the bathroom door because the smoke detector accidentally went off. 🙁
I ended up coaxing him onto the bed and he finally settled down. The next night the same thing happened. The night after that? Same thing. This went on for days and I couldn’t figure out what was happening.
Rather than sit up all night trying to figure it out, I setup a doggy cam before going to bed. I aimed it in the general area where he usually sleeps. The next day, I sat down and watched to see what was happening.
The reason for my dog’s absolute panic in the night was because of a noise coming from the bar fridge. It wasn’t loud – definitely not loud enough to wake the family – but it was enough to frighten my dog.
We moved the bar fridge to another part of the house where the dog wouldn’t hear the noise. It was an older model and the auto-defrost was a bit clunky. The point is that dogs can be terrified of weird noises.
The things you wouldn’t normally think twice about can be the one thing that sets off your dog.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs At Night
You normally think of separation anxiety happening when you actually leave the house. However, really sensitive dogs might interpret you going to bed as somehow “leaving”. The house gets dark. Everything is quiet.
When you think about it, there are some similarities to leaving the house completely versus going to bed for the night.
Unfortunately, you can’t explain that to your dog. Medications like gabapentin may work over the short-term, but you need a long-term solution.
It’s possible the house is just to big and overwhelming for your dog. Once everyone has gone to bed, your dog might be overcome with anxiety, loneliness, or boredom.
How to Address the Problem
Make sure your dog is getting plenty of outdoor exercise during the day. All dogs, young and old, need to get exercise. The activity helps stimulate brain activity and physical fitness. The result is a dog who is sufficiently tired at night.
Exercise is important, but it might not solve the problem on its own. Consider crating your dog at night, even if he/she has never been crated before. You don’t necessarily have to close the crate door.
The first thing to do is get a crate, put a comfy bed or blanket in it and add a few of your dog’s favorite toys. Encourage your dog to rest and play in the crate during the daytime.
The idea is that at night, if your dog feels nervous, he/she will remember the crate and head to it for comfort. Crate training can go a long way in comforting a dog sensitive to weird noises.
If loud noises are bothering your dog at night, there’s a pretty good chance they’re bothering you too. In that case, you’re going to find a solution to the problem on your own.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
If you have a dog who is suddenly acting out of sorts, pacing at night, crying and whining, he/she may have what’s known as Sundowner’s Syndrome.
Senior dogs, like people, can develop cognitive dysfunction as they age. There’s no cure, but there are ways to potentially slow the progression.
A lot of symptoms like using the bathroom in the house, bumping into walls, getting stuck in corners, and suddenly losing interest in previously fun things can happen day or night.
If your dog is aging and experiencing some of these issues, it might be time to talk to the veterinarian. Consider changing your dog’s diet to a more senior friendly option. Food specially formulated for older dogs may have additional supplements and nutritional qualities to support brain health.
Symptoms of heart disease in dogs range from a mild cough to exercise intolerance. It’s normal for aging dogs to lose stamina over time, but could you tell the difference between a little fatigue and the absolute lethargy that comes with heart disease?
Generally, there are a few things you want to look for: persistent cough, chronic lack of energy, and possible breathing problems. When the heart can’t pump blood around the body efficiently, the tissues become deprived of oxygen. A dog’s natural instinct to correct this problem is through panting.
Cushing’s Disease occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease include:
- Excessive panting
- Hair Loss
- Frequent Urination
- Enlarged abdomen (looks like a potbelly)
- Thinning of the skin
- Excessive thirst
Heat Stroke in Dogs
Heat stroke can cause higher breathing rates or panting in dogs. In addition, their gums may be dry or sticky. The thing is, if it’s the middle of winter and your dog hasn’t been out that much, the problem likely isn’t heat stroke.
That said, if you’ve been outside with your dog in the hot sun all day, a change in behavior at night could signify a serious problem. Heat exhausting can be life threatening if not treated right away.
Signs of heat stroke in dogs include:
- Elevated Body Temperature
- Dog seems “dazed” or confused
- Weak and wobbly appearance
- Possible seizures or convulsions
Heat exhaustion can cause your dog to seem uncoordinated. Look at the color of his/her gums. Reddened gums or gums that are sticky and dry can be signs of heat stroke.
If you believe your dog is suffering from heat exhaustion, you need to contact the emergency veterinarian clinic ASAP. This cannot wait until morning.
Pain in dogs is something they cannot vocalize. In fact, dogs are really good at hiding their pain. Signs may come out when you’re settled in for the night. Panting, howling, barking, and pacing could be your dog’s way of communicating his/her pain to you.
Dogs can suffer all types of pain including:
- Muscle Pain (a torn CCL for example)
- Glaucoma – a painful condition of the eye
- Dental issues can cause pain
- Ear infection
- Bladder infection
- Broken or fractured bone
- Slipped Disc
Respiratory Disorders in Dogs
You know what it’s like to have the worst cold of your life, right? Unfortunately, many people have suffered through the trauma of trying to breath through Covid-19. Dogs can suffer from a variety of problems that affect how they breath.
A sick dog doesn’t understand what’s happening. All he/she knows is that it’s hard to breath. That feeling alone is enough to cause pacing and anxiety. Couple that with breathing problems and you’ve got yourself a dog who is up all night.
Some of the main causes of respiratory tract distress include:
- Kennel Cough
- Tracheal Collapse
- Chronic Bronchitis
- Lung disease
Prescription Medication Side Effects
Has your dog recently been put on a new medication? All medications have side-effects. Luckily, most side-effects are mild and disappear quickly. Some dogs, however, may have allergic reactions.
The two biggest culprits that can increase panting include prednisone and other steroids.
Abnormal or excessive panting could be a sign that your dog has ingested something he shouldn’t have. Poisonings are commonly seen in veterinarian clinics and are often the result of swallowing chocolate, raisins, chewing on dangerous plants, licking antifreeze, rat poison, or pesticides.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
Once you’ve ruled out any obvious/fixable causes for your dog’s restlessness, panting, and pacing during the night, it’s time to see a veterinarian.
In order for the doctor to detect any underlying conditions, he/she may want to perform a physical examination. This may also include blood tests, urinalysis, and potentially x-rays.
The veterinarian will probably ask you a variety of questions concerning your dog’s health history. He/she will want to rule out disease or pain.
Solutions to The Problem & A Better Night’s Sleep
Some things are easy to fix. Prescription medications can be lowered or changed. White noise can substitute unwanted sounds. Regular exercise can help your dog settle more easily at night. The trick is to find the right solution for your dog.
Once the veterinarian rules out any underlying condition, you may need to perk your ears and eyes to what’s happening at night.
Set up a night camera or doggy cam for example, There may be a simple thing happening that you didn’t realize. Maybe the furnace is clicking on at a certain time, the pipes are rattling, or there’s sound coming from outside that is scaring your dog.
Once you pinpoint the problem, you can take steps to get rid of it. If that’s not possible, you may want to consider alternatives. If your dog normally roams the house at night, he/she might feel calmer and safer in a crate. Dogs search for comfort and safety wherever they can. It might be in your closet, in the clothes basket, or even in the tub!
The feeling of being surrounded by something and enclosed is reassuring to your dog.
If anxiety is getting your dog down, ask the veterinarian for an occasional sedative. Gabapentin, although not designed to work as a sedative, actually provides relief for some dogs with anxiety. It can be used on an as-needed basis, but it must be prescribed by the veterinarian.
Younger dogs may just want your attention at night or they may be trying to tell you that they need to go out.
WHAT’S UP NEXT?
Finding out the cause of your dog’s panting and restlessness is no easy feat. It can be done, however. A little common sense and basic sleuthing will usually give you your answer.
Remember to take your vet for regular wellness checks (annually) and remember that aging dogs have different needs than younger puppies. Nutrition needs and exercise requirements tend to change.
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