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“Why is my old dog panting and pacing at night? She was restless and wouldn’t settle down for the last three nights!” Exhausted dog owners call their veterinarian in desperation, looking for help so they and their dog can get some sleep.

Panting is a normal dog behavior under some circumstances but it can also be a sign that something is wrong. Causes for excessive panting and restlessness in dogs include pain, illness, anxiety and changes in brain function. There are many ways to help them, but first, you must identify the underlying cause of the symptoms.

Definition of Panting and Why Do Dogs Pant?

Let’s define what panting is before we go on to talk about solutions for excessive panting. Panting in dogs is a way of breathing that helps a dog cool off through evaporation. When a dog pants, his mouth is open and his tongue protrudes. And the hotter a dog is, the wider his mouth opens. 

Typically consisting of 200 to 400 breaths per minute, panting is a lot faster than normal breathing (10-30 breaths per minute). Panting breaths are also shallower than normal breaths so the chest wall moves faster but doesn’t expand or contract fully. 

It’s normal and expected for a dog to pant in response to hot environmental conditions, stress, exercise and excitement. Normal panting usually stops soon after the causative event is over and the dog relaxes into normal respiration. 

What Is Tachypnea in Dogs?

Tachypnea is the medical term we use to describe fast breathing that is different from panting. This type of breathing is also faster than normal at 40 to 90 breaths per minute. But the mouth is usually closed and the tongue doesn’t protrude in tachypneic dogs. 

Tachypnea can appear similar to excessive panting but subtle symptoms are different:

  • Corners of mouth may be stretched back
  • Neck is stretched out
  • Nostrils are flared
  • Holds elbows out when standing
  • May be accompanied by a cough or noisy breathing
  • Can’t breathe well when lying on their side
  • Breathes fast even when not panting
  • Breathes fast even while asleep or very relaxed

Tachypnea is often caused by decreased oxygen in the blood. A medical condition affecting a dog’s heart or lungs, as well as anemia, can cause a decreased oxygen supply. 

  • Congestive heart failure 
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Pneumonia
  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Fluid in the chest cavity
  • Anemia
Senior Viszla dog
Is your old dog panting and pacing at night so you can’t sleep?

9 Causes of an Old Dog Panting & Pacing at Night

Increased Body Temperature

A dog’s body temperature can increase due to external or internal causes. External causes would be hot weather, a closed car in warm weather or lying next to a fireplace. It’s normal for a dog to pant to cool themselves under these circumstances. 

An internal cause of increased body temperature is fever. Fever is the body’s response to inflammation and infection. It is a normal response, but a high fever over an extended period of time can harm a dog’s body. That’s why vets try to find the cause of the fever and treat it with antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs. 


A dog is considered to be obese when their body weight is __% higher than ideal. So many dogs are so extremely obese these days that we dog lovers barely bat an eye when we see a dog who is “just obese.” 

Obese dogs pant more than dogs of an ideal body size due to excessive internal and external fat stores. When dogs gain fat, some of it is stored on their belly and hips, but you might not have realized fat is stored in the chest and abdominal cavities, too. These internal fat pads become so large they restrict lung expansion.

Endocrine Disease

The endocrine system produces hormones that regulate metabolism. There are several endocrine system diseases that cause hormone imbalances that cause heavy panting. 

Cushing’s disease is one of the most common endocrine diseases in dogs. It is usually caused by a small, non-cancerous tumor on the pituitary gland that leads to excessive natural steroid production.

The effect is the same as when a dog is medicated for a long time with a synthetic steroid like prednisone. Panting, increased drinking and urination, increased appetite and weight gain are present in almost every dog with Cushing’s disease.


You probably don’t need an explanation of what pain is, but I’m going to give it to you anyway. Pain is an unpleasant physical sensation caused by injury or disease. It can also cause emotional distress and chemical changes in the body. 

In short, pain causes stress and in dogs, stress causes panting. Pain often causes a dog to feel restless. That’s why a senior dog with pain is often seen panting and pacing. They’re stressed, possibly yelping in pain and can’t relax enough to settle down and sleep!

Practically any body system can cause a dog pain, but the most common sources are the gastrointestinal system, the urinary system and of course the musculoskeletal system. 

Many elderly dogs have some degree of degenerative joint disease which is commonly referred to as arthritis. Canine arthritis can cause acute and chronic pain that may be obvious or hidden by the dog.  

Chronic gastrointestinal disease is also common and may come in the form of pancreatitic inflammation, acute diarrhea or even excessive gas production. 

Urinary tract disease in older dogs may affect the kidneys, the urinary bladder or both. Bladder infections and bladder stones are the most common causes of urinary tract pain I’ve seen in clinical practice.

Central Nervous System Disease

A dog’s central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain and the spinal cord. Inflammation, infection and cancerous disease.  

CNS disease can cause panting in a few different ways. It can affect the area of the brain that controls breathing, it can cause pain and it can cause fever.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome commonly referred to as “Doggy Dementia,” is caused by changes in the brain that decreases a dog’s ability to interact with their environment normally. Dogs with cognitive dysfunction exhibit behavior changes that often include panting and pacing from the stress of being disoriented. Dogs with dementia may also get their day and night routines mixed up, keeping their owners awake with their restless confusion.

Finally, panting and pacing behavior is often seen after a dog has a seizure. A seizure is caused by sudden, uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain. In younger dogs, epilepsy (unknown cause) is the most common cause of recurrent seizures. In older dogs, underlying causes may include toxins, including chocolate, cancer, inflammation and infection. 

Behavioral Issue

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines anxiety as “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate).” Dogs experience anxiety, too.

The most common causes of anxiety in dogs are:

  • Changes in the household (new people, new furniture, new home location)
  • Noise (fireworks, beeping smoke alarms, thunderstorms, etc.)
  • Other animals (usually dogs or cats but any animal can cause anxiety)

Drug Side Effects

Prescription drugs are wonderful tools to treat disease and improve a dog’s quality of life. But they come with side effects that range from mild to severe. There are a few common veterinary drugs that have panting as a side effect. 

  • Narcotics–hydromorphone, morphine
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • L-thyroxine in excessive doses (synthetic thyroid hormone)

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

High blood pressure is not as common in dogs as it is in humans, but we do see it occasionally. It can occur with no identifiable underlying cause, but hypertension is more common in dogs with kidney disease. 

You may not notice any symptoms other than your dog panting and perhaps experiencing restlessness. 


Acidosis is a physiological condition caused by excessive biological acids in a dog’s blood and body tissues. It can happen due to increased production of acids or from a decreased elimination of acids.

Diseases in dogs that lead to acidosis include

  • Renal failure
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Severe dehydration
  • Ethylene glycol toxicity (antifreeze)
  • Salicylate toxicity (aspirin products)

Dogs with acidosis pant excessively because their body is trying to get rid of the biological acid carbon dioxide. By hyperventilating, more carbon dioxide is breathed out and can lower the overall acid level in the body.

Figuring Out WHY Your Old Dog Is Panting and Pacing

Making a diagnosis starts with you relaying your observations of your restless dog to the veterinarian. They will want to know about any changes in your pup’s eating, drinking, urinating and defecating habits. Take note of whether your dog’s appetite has increased or decreased. 

Tell the vet about ALL medications or supplements you give your dog. Think about whether your pup has been less active lately or might have sustained an injury. 

After the vet gets all the historical information from you, they’ll do a complete physical exam. They’re looking for lumps, bumps, sores, neurological abnormalities, painful spots, weight loss, etc. 

Unless there is an obvious cause of panting and pacing found during the physical exam, your vet will likely recommend running diagnostic tests. A “minimum database” is a set of data vets run on most sick dogs to check for common abnormalities and can include:

  • Radiographs (x-rays)
  • Complete blood count
  • Blood chemistry panel
  • Blood electrolyte panel
  • Urinalysis
  • Thyroid panel
  • Blood test for pancreatitis

What Can I Give My Painful Senior Dog to Sleep Through the Night?

The best way to stop your senior dog’s excessive panting and pacing is to identify and treat the underlying cause. That means you need to work closely with your vet and go through all the testing they recommend. Once they home in on the most likely cause, your vet can recommend medication or other treatment to help your pup feel better. 

But maybe you’re reading this in the middle of the night, desperately looking for some way to help your dog right now. Or perhaps you’re working with your vet to treat your dog but want to do more. Here are a few things you can try at home…

Prescription Medication for Dogs in Pain

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work well for many painful conditions in dogs. It’s best to use NSAIDs made especially for dogs because human NSAIDs are too harsh for a dog’s stomach.

Popular dog NSAIDs include Rimadyl®, Previcox®, Metacam® and Deramaxx®. These are quite effective at controlling pain in dogs. 

Canine NSAIDs can be given as needed or long-term in some cases. Your vet will want to monitor blood tests to make sure your dog doesn’t have liver or kidney problems before, during and after starting the medications. 

Dogs with severe pain may need more than prescription NSAIDs. Veterinarians often prescribe gabapentin, tramadol, hydrocodone and other opioids for these dogs.

Natural Anti-inflammatories and Joint Supplements

Speak to your vet before you try nutritional supplements to help with your dog’s arthritis pain. You want to make sure they won’t interfere with any prescription medication your dog is taking. 

Natural anti-inflammatories like turmeric and Boswellia can help quell the pain of age-related arthritis. Glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM are popular nutraceuticals that may improve joint health and decrease pain. Here are a couple of products to check out:

  • Zesty Paws Curcumin Bites® Contains curcumin from turmeric, coconut oil and a black pepper extract to increase absorption.
  • GlycoFlex 3® Perna canaliculus (green-lipped mussel), DMG, glucosamine and MSM lubricate joints and decrease soreness.

You should also ask your vet if your dog could benefit from Adequan® injections. Adequan is similar to glucosamine but it often has a better effect. 

Anxious old dog on bed
An anxious old dog who can’t sleep at night

How to Stop an Anxious Dog from Pacing at Night

Anxiety is a common problem in dogs. There are many things you can do to calm your dog’s anxiety. After consulting with your veterinarian, check out some of the following options…

Calming Supplements

Most calming supplements contain l-theanine, an amino acid shown to decrease anxiety in noise-phobic dogs (5). The brand I recommend is Composure®.


Adaptil is a pheromone-based compound that comes in the form of a diffuser, a spray or a collar. Pheromone therapy has shown promise in reducing symptoms of stress in dogs (8).

Pressure Wrap/Thundershirt®

Animal behavior researcher Temple Grandin discovered that pressure over an animal’s body relieves anxiety. A Thundershirt is like a body wrap on your dog. They are clinically proven to decrease behaviors associated with anxiousness in dogs (3).

Calming Music

Don’t scoff at this suggestion! It actually works.

Sound researcher Joshua Leeds developed a line of CDs called “Through a Dog’s Ear” with music to calm dogs. 

I’ve played this music for many dogs and it seems to have a beneficial effect. The music is also nice for humans to listen to. When humans are more relaxed, their dogs usually follow suit!

Sedatives/Anti-Anxiety Meds

Veterinarians can prescribe safe and effective sedatives for restless dogs. Sedatives are for short-term use but anti-anxiety medication may be added for long-term treatment. 

Drugs alone are almost never the full solution. You’ll probably have to make some changes in your home environment, start a dog training program and consult a dog behaviorist to make significant improvements in the behavior of a highly anxious dog. 

But drugs can calm a dog enough that the other interventions have a better chance of helping. 

Treating Dog Restlessness Caused by Brain Changes

If you and your vet determine your dog has symptoms of CDS, there are many things you can try to make your life with your dog more peaceful. Some of the following recommendations are more proven than others. Discuss supplements with your dog’s veterinarian, especially if your dog has other health problems.


Melatonin is an over-the-counter hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. It’s generally regarded as safe for use in dogs but ask your vet first. 

Melatonin given 30 minutes before bedtime may be just the thing to help your restless older dog relax enough at night to get some sleep.

You can try these convenient chewable melatonin tablets made especially for dogs on Amazon.com.


SAM-e stands for S-Adenosyl-L-methionine. SAM-e is a chemical made naturally in the body from the amino acid methionine. SAM-e is beneficial in improving age-related mental decline (6). 

Denosyl® is a canine supplement that contains the right amount of SAM-e for dogs (click the link to view on Amazon.com). I’ve had hundreds of client dogs take SAM-e and recommend it for dogs with cognitive dysfunction.

Senilife supplement for dogs


Senilife is a supplement that contains phosphatidylserine and pyridoxine to regulate and restore neurotransmission. It also has resveratrol, Ginkgo biloba and vitamin E to provide neuronal antioxidant protection.

Some of my clients and veterinary colleagues swear by Senilife (click to view on Amazon.com) for senior dogs who aren’t as sharp as they used to be. It’s worth a try for a senior dog panting at night..

Tips to Keep Elderly Dogs Feeling Well

Boredom and inactivity are contributing factors to many old dog’s nighttime panting and pacing. Keep your senior dog engaged mentally and physically. 

Make sure to continue daily exercise walks even if you have to make them slower and shorter. I’ve noticed geriatric dogs might act like they don’t want to go for a walk, but once they get warmed up they’re happy they did. 

Feed your dog the highest quality food you can fit in your budget. You can add small amounts of human food on top to keep things interesting. Lean meats and cooked veggies are a good option.

You can also take your dog for a ride in the car for extra mental stimulation. Why not take a field trip to a new park or hiking trail? Senior dogs might not run and jump, but they still appreciate outings!


The causes of an old dog panting and pacing at night fall into three categories: 

  • Anxiety
  • Pain/Illness
  • Brain Changes

Work with your veterinarian to identify any underlying diseases that might contribute to your dog’s restlessness. Use prescription medication as directed but also make sure to keep your dog engaged in life with regular exercise, fun experiences and high-quality food. 

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  2. de Bruin, C., Meij, B. P., Kooistra, H. S., Hanson, J. M., Lamberts, S. W. J., & Hofland, L. J. (2009). Cushing’s disease in dogs and humans. Hormone Research in Paediatrics, 71(Suppl. 1), 140–143.
  3. King, C., Buffington, L., Smith, T. J., & Grandin, T. (2014). The effect of a pressure wrap (ThunderShirt®) on heart rate and behavior in canines diagnosed with anxiety disorder. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 9(5), 215–221.
  4. Pan, Y., Larson, B., Araujo, J. A., Lau, W., De Rivera, C., Santana, R., … & Milgram, N. W. (2010). Dietary supplementation with medium-chain TAG has long-lasting cognition-enhancing effects in aged dogs. British journal of nutrition, 103(12), 1746–1754.
  5. Pike, A. L., Horwitz, D. F., & Lobprise, H. (2015). An open-label prospective study of the use of l-theanine (Anxitane) in storm-sensitive client-owned dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 10(4), 324–331.
  6. Rème, C. A., Dramard, V., Kern, L., Hofmans, J., Halsberghe, C., & Mombiela, D. V. (2008). Effect of S-adenosylmethionine tablets on the reduction of age-related mental decline in dogs: a double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Veterinary Therapeutics, 9(2), 69.
  7. SHIMADA, A., EBISU, M., MORITA, T., TAKEUCHI, T., & UMEMURA, T. (1998). Age-related changes in the cochlea and cochlear nuclei of dogs. Journal of veterinary medical science, 60(1), 41–48.