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Breathing Problems in Older Dogs [11 Warning Signs You Should Be Alarming]

Updated by Sheryl on Jan 10, 2022

Dogs of any breed can develop trouble breathing at any stage of their life. However, brachycephalic breeds, including boxers, pugs, French bulldogs, are more vulnerable to breathing problems that cause labored breathing. Usually, an increased heart rate in pet canines is due to heat, anxiety and, exertion. But infections caused by bacteria and viruses are mostly responsible for abnormal breathing at old age.

Unfortunately, these problems can be life-threatening if left untreated. In addition, early diagnosis is crucial for the treatment of respiratory issues in canine pets. To care for a senior dog with breathing issues and to help it breathe better, you should consult a veterinarian as soon as possible.

dog and vet
  • Breathing Problems in Older Dogs
  • Causes Of Labored Breathing in Senior Dogs
  • Signs Of Labored Breathing in Dogs
  • How To Care for a Senior Dog with Breathing Problems

Dogs of age 8 years and more are senior dogs. At this age, these canines pant more than usual. You can consider it normal unless it is not associated with a serious medical condition.

Typically, healthy dogs breathe 20 to 34 times per minute. It can be a maximum of 50 times in normal conditions. In addition, they respire rapidly in response to excitement, anxiety, heat and, exercise. But, if your pet is breathing heavily while at rest or gets faint after vigorous activity, it is an alarming situation. The main problem is, you can't identify the difference between trouble and normal breathing easily.

Have a look at these possible causes for labored breathing in senior dogs.

Abnormal Panting

Dogs can't produce sweat like humans. Therefore, they rapidly breathe in the air, humidify it and then exhale in the warm weather. This process is called panting, which evaporates water vapors from the lung and nose in canines.

Senior dogs are more heat sensitive and pant rapidly in hot weather. But, if they experience abnormal panting even without a high temperature or exercise, it may be a serious condition.

The causes of abnormal panting are:

  • Stress
  • Pain
  • Fever
  • High levels of thyroid hormone
  • High levels of acid in the blood (metabolic acidosis)
  • Medication
dog's nose

Age-related Stress

Just like humans, dogs breathing problems in old age can be caused by psychological issues such as stress and anxiety. They become sensitive to changes in the environment and their physical abilities. In addition, they suffer hearing loss, weak eyesight, mobility issues, and many other problems.

Consequently, any change in their routine makes them more secure, and they pant heavily to cope with that situation. The other common old age problems include Old Dog's Syndrome and Canine Dysfunction Syndrome.

Over Weight

Dogs of 8 years or more are prone to weight gain due to bones and joint issues. Consequently, they pant more to cool themselves. Moreover, they can get out of breath even after a small activity. An overweight old dog with breathing problems is vulnerable to serious health issues such as diabetes, thyroid, heart diseases, etc.

Congestive Heart Disease

Senior dogs are more likely to develop breathing problems due to cardiovascular diseases such as congestive heart failure. The symptoms include fluid build-up around the lungs due to heart valves leakage.

Unfortunately, the medicines for the treatment of this problem have kidney side effects. Therefore, your vet will also monitor kidney functioning during treatment. Moreover, the infestation of heartworms also causes excessive panting in old dogs.

first aid attention for dog

Respiratory tract Infections

Old dogs have a weak immune system which makes them fall prey to bacterial and viral infections quickly. As a result, senior dogs may suffer from breathing problems such as pneumonia, canine distemper, Influenza, cold and cough, kennel cough and, allergies. All of these conditions cause labored breathing in senior dogs.

Short-nosed breeds can't pant effectively. For that reason, they are more prone to heatstroke and upper respiratory problems. Other respiratory conditions that cause trouble breathing in dogs include foreign objects in the lungs, allergens, inhalation of toxic gases, etc.

Trauma and Pain

Sometimes, old dogs experience excessive breathing as a result of traumatic pain and physical injuries. Shallow breathing is common in older dogs due to internal injuries. Your furry friend might also pant heavily after surgery because of pain.

Pulmonary Adenocarcinoma

Pulmonary adenocarcinoma is a malignant lung tumor that originates in the lungs. Senior dogs over 11 are more vulnerable to this carcinoma which may cause them breathing heavily. Unfortunately, it is hard to treat, and surgery is required. But if the carcinoma has spread, surgery will not be effective.

old dog

Labored breathing or dyspnea is a condition in which your dog feels difficulty during inhalation (inspiratory dyspnea) and exhalation (expiratory dyspnea).

In addition to heavy breathing, there are other signs you need to look out for:

  • Abnormal inward and outward movement of chest wall and belly during breathing
  • Gagging after cough
  • Difficulty breathing with a wide mouth open (not panting)
  • Wheezing and noisy breathing
  • Nostrils are wide open when exhaling
  • Rapid breathing rate than usual (Tachypnea)
  • Cough and nasal congestion
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Breathing with head and neck low and extended forward

Often these signs are accompanied by fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, anxiety, stress, etc. Besides, depending on the actual reason behind the situation, pet owners may also notice other symptoms.

Dogs wear ventilator
  • Go to Vet: If you notice any changes in the breathing of a senior dog, make a vet appointment as soon as possible. It is a medical emergency, and your vet might recommend additional procedures depending on the particular case.
  • Get Your Dog Fully Vaccinated: Several severe breathing problems in old dogs are hard to treat. Therefore, ensure that your dog is fully vaccinated against canine distemper, kennel cough, and influenza. Follow the vaccination schedule as recommended by your vet.
  • Reduce Activity Level: The symptoms of an old dog with breathing problems can get better by reducing its activity levels. Make sure that your four-legged friend gets enough rest once it becomes fully stable again.
  • Set Low-temperature environment: If your senior dog suffers excessive panting, make sure to provide a good shade and cold water in the garden. In addition, limit its outdoor activity during the full sun hours of the day.
  • Behavior therapy: If your aged dog experiences trouble to breathe during excitement, stress and, anxiety, behavior therapy can help to solve the issue. Contact a pet behaviorist for advice.
  • Provide a healthy diet: While caring for a senior dog with breathing problems, make sure that it eats a well-balanced, healthy diet. Good nutrition will not only help your pet canine to stay healthy but also increase immunity.
Sheryl is an editor from iPetor, owns extensive pet care experience. As a professional writer, she can provide useful pet care tips for all "parents".
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