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Help! My Senior Dog is Breathing Heavy

Golden retriever panting heavily with owner kneeling behind it

The term ‘heavy breathing’ is categorically used for rapid or labored breathing. Some breeds, like French bulldogs, pugs, and boxers, are more susceptible to heavy breathing. However, canines of other breeds can also suffer from this problem. Likewise, dogs of all ages can experience labored breathing. Read on to know why your senior dog is breathing heavy and learn what you can do about it.

Why is My Senior Dog Breathing Heavy?

The underlying cause of rapid breathing can be as normal as running and as critical as lung cancer. Therefore, you should never take this symptom lightly and consult your vet for professional help. Below are some common causes that can make your senior dog breathe heavily.


Brindle colored dog with graying face laying on a deck

Dogs can’t sweat as we do after a rigorous session of exercise. Instead, they can only cool themselves down by panting. Hence, it is normal for pups to experience heavy breathing after running, and there is nothing to worry about.


Older dogs are more vulnerable to heat as compared to puppies. They are more likely to get a heatstroke, which is accompanied by throbbing, panting, gasping, and dehydration. Your dog can also have a complete blackout in extreme cases. Senior canines can also develop heart and respiratory problems, which will make them even more vulnerable to heat.


Pug under a fuzzy blanket

Anxiety is a massive problem for dogs because it can lead to impatience, annoyance, and aggression. Panting and gasping are symptoms of anxiety as the heart starts throbbing quickly and the breathing rate increases.


Asthma makes breathing hard and can even prove fatal because it suffocates your canine friend. Some common symptoms of this medical condition include heavy breathing, rapid panting, loss of appetite, and lethargy.

Congestive Heart Diseases and COPD

Bassett hound in front of a red barn wall

This ailment results in the accumulation of fluid around the lungs. It happens due to a leakage in one of the heart’s valves. Your dog may develop symptoms, like wheezing and coughing (alongside labored breathing).

COPD is the abbreviation for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is a family of diseases that cause blockage in the air canal and lead to labored breathing. These diseases are chronic and progressive. COPD includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Laryngeal Paralysis

It is linked to nerves around the vocal cord. Due to this disease, the muscles around the vocal cord (inside the larynx) stop working properly. Hence, breathing is hampered because the glottis doesn’t open fully. Symptoms include labored breathing, change in tone of barking, coughing, and suffocation.

Lung Tumors

Tan dog laying in grass

Pulmonary Adenocarcinoma is one of the most common types of lung tumor. Dogs develop it around the age of 11. This tumor can either develop in the lungs or can get transmitted from some other part of the body. In either case, it can prove equally damaging. Symptoms include coughing, weight loss, lethargy, and labored breathing.


Some medicines can also be the culprit behind rapid breathing in older dogs. If you have been using prednisone (a steroid used to treat swelling caused by arthritis), your dog is likely to experience heavy breathing.

Blood Acidity

Close up portrait of a black great dane.

It happens when a canine is eating too many acidic foods in his/her meals. Items, like fish, certain dairy products, corned beef, and turkey are all examples of such foods. The change in the pH of blood can also cause heart problems and depletion of minerals in the body. Rapid breathing is a common symptom of all these diseases.


Excess of body fat can put stress on your dog’s heart and respiratory system. Obese dogs can also get exhausted very quickly as they start losing stamina. You will see your pooch gasping more intensely when he/she becomes fat.

What to Do if My Senior Dog is Breathing Heavy?

Portrait of a boxer living in a field

Once you have successfully identified the cause, it’s time to employ an appropriate solution. Some of the methods that you can try are as follows.

Ensure your Pup’s Comfort

You need to design a proper exercise schedule for your senior dog to avoid over-exertion. Dividing the daily training into several, short sessions with breaks (instead of a single long session) is an effective solution. It will keep the training hassle-free and your dog will enjoy it even more.

Hydration and Heat protection

Cane Corso drinking from a water bottle.

Don’t take your pooch on walks on scorching days. You can also install a shade in your backyard to keep your dog cool during play sessions. Similarly, make sure that an ample supply of drinking water is available for your pup to keep them hydrated.

Give Your Dog Company

Separation and fear are two factors that cause anxiety syndrome in dogs. Spend enough time playing and cuddling with your pup so that he can find asylum in your presence. Loud noises caused by thunderstorms or firecrackers can be startling for dogs. Try to save your dog from such noises to keep them calm.

Proper Medication

Brown and white long haired dog being given a red pill

Proper medication is the only way to fight against all health issues that cause heavy breathing in dogs. This can only be achieved after ample consultation with your veterinarian. If you find your pup suffering, you should immediately take him/her to the vet and get the treatment started.

Healthy Diet

You should be considerate while choosing food for your pup. You can easily find low-fat, healthy dry food for dogs that are healthy for senior pooches. You should draft a diet schedule that compliments the exercise routine of your canine friend. You should always discuss the diet of your dog with your vet because he/she can guide you.

Monitor your Dog for Medicinal Side Effects

Man hugging his golden retriever

It is a good practice to closely observe your dog while he/she is under the dosage of a particular medicine. This helps you to figure out whether the medicine is proving wholly beneficial for your dog or not. This is because some medicines can induce other health issues while curing one. If that’s the case, you will need to change the existing medication.

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