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17 Reasons Your Dog May Be Pacing, Panting, and Restless

If your dog is panting and pacing, you might be curious as to why. While we always recommend you call your vet, here's 17 common reasons for restless pups.

Amber LaRock

Last Updated: January 12, 2021 | 13 min read

Restless Dog Panting and Pacing

This article was written by a veterinary technician, but it should not substitute as contact with your veterinarian. If your dog appears more restless than normal, contact your local vet immediately.

Have you noticed your dog pacing around your home while panting? Perhaps your pup just appears restless, or anxious? While occasional panting may be nothing of concern, panting and pacing with no end may cause you to think twice. So what can this behavior mean? When is it time to call the vet?

In most cases, panting and pacing is just a common reaction to your dog being a little unsure of their environment. If there’s been a recent routine change, this can cause them to appear restless, and take on other physical symptoms, like excessive shedding. It can also be something a little more serious that requires a call to your vet.

In this article, we’ll dive into the 17 most common reasons why your dog may be panting and pacing. Again, these could be totally normal behaviors depending on their overall health, breed, and other environmental factors. We’ll do our best in the article below to help you identify when it’s time to call your vet, and when it might just be some nerves or anxiety. Let’s jump in!

Exercise

Terrier Dog Running
Physical exercise is the most common reason a dog may be restless.

The most common reason behind panting and restlessness in dogs is heavy exercise. Vigorous activity can cause a dog to pant, similar to humans being winded after strenuous exercise. While extended panting times can be decreased in active dogs, they still may experience panting after a tough workout.

If your furry friend is panting after a game of fetch, this is usually pretty normal. They may continue to pant for a while, especially if it’s hot outside. If your pup is still panting excessively for some time after their play session has ended, it’s best to contact your veterinarian.

Anxiety

Labrador Panting Heavily
Some dogs are just anxious, which leads to panting and restlessness.

Just like us, our pups can struggle with anxiety. With being unable to voice their feelings, we will often see anxiety in dogs in the form of panting, pacing, shaking, whining, pawing, and more. In fact, this is one of the more common reasons that dogs will pant, pace, and just look a little unsure about what’s going on.

Dogs can experience anxiety from any change in their normal routine or environment and can become extremely restless as a result. If your furry friend is exposed to changes within your home or routine, their panting may be due to anxiety. You’ll also notice them start to follow you places, which can also be a little unwelcome.

Nerves

Nervous Dog
Some dogs are just more nervous than others.

Some dogs will pant and pace when they are nervous about an upcoming event or a new surrounding. This is why so many pups pant on the way to the vet’s office, or when they step into an unfamiliar setting. A nervous dog may pace back and forth, pant, shake, whine, and any other behavior that indicates canine stress.

If there is a change in your routine that can cause your furry friend to become nervous, this is likely the reason behind their panting. If nerves are truly the cause behind their panting, it should resolve once they are back in their normal environment. It’s worth noting that some breeds are just more nervous, which is part of their personality.

Heat Exhaustion

Dog that is overheated
Heat exhaustion is serious in dogs. Do all you can to sure your dog remains cool in hot weather.

Panting is a dog’s main method of attempting to cool off. Our canine companions don’t sweat, leaving them with only panting to help regulate their body temperature. Because of this, a dog experiencing heat exhaustion or heat stroke may excessively pant or pace. This is why it’s extremely important to make sure your dog has other ways of keeping cool in hot weather.

If canine companion is panting for long periods, appears weak, is drooling, or any other concerning symptoms after being in the heat, it’s best to contact your veterinarian immediately. You should also remove them from the hot environment and bring them into a cool setting as soon as possible.

Obesity

Overweight Dog Outside
Canine obesity can cause your dog discomfort, as well as many other physical symptoms.

Extra weight on our furry friends can cause them to huff and puff after any type of exercise. Not only can obesity cause your canine companion to pant after physical activity, but it can make normal tasks much more challenging. Obesity in dogs can cause panting after exercise, a decrease in their overall activity, increased joint pain, and more.

There are plenty of ways you can help your canine companion lose weight. Healthy canine weight loss will likely include an increase of low impact physical activity, along with a strict lower calorie diet. If you think your pup has packed on a few extra pounds, it’s best to discuss a healthy weight loss plan with your veterinarian.

Bodily Injury

Dog Paw Injury
A dog that has a physical bodily injury may pace, or pant.

Sudden injury in our canine companions can cause them to become extremely restless. A dog that is in pain may pant or breathe rapidly, and even pace if they are still able to. Since our furry friends are unable to voice their current aches and pains, it’s up to us to be aware of the possible signs of injury.

If your pup is panting, pacing, limping, bleeding, appearing guarded, or any other abnormal behavior, they may have injured themselves. It could be a thorn or weed that’s been stuck in a paw pad or some other type of ligament tear that’s less visible. While usually not life-threatening, it’s worth looking your pup over to see any obvious physical signs of injury.

Respiratory Issues

Dog Heavy Breathing
Dogs with a respiratory illness may breathe heavier than normal.

Respiratory illness is another possible cause of panting, pacing, and restlessness in our canine companions. While respiratory issues will usually involve labored breathing or an increased respiratory rate as well, a dog may appear restless if they are having difficulties catching their breath.

Respiratory issues such as kennel cough and pneumonia can cause increased respiration. This can be confused with panting in some cases. We recommend speaking with your vet if your pup’s panting is accompanied by labored breathing, coughing, or any other respiratory symptoms.

Joint Pain

Older Black Labrador
As our canine companions age, joint pain usually follows.

Joint pain is another common cause of panting in our furry friends. As our dogs age, they can begin to develop aches and pains that come along with getting older. Not only can age impact our pups, but they can begin to suffer from canine arthritis and other painful joint conditions. Because panting is a sign of pain in dogs, this will often be seen when a dog is experiencing joint pain.

Other signs of joint pain in dogs include difficulty getting up and down, slowing down, limping, change in gait, stiffness, and any other change in physical activity. If your pup is displaying any of the signs we mentioned along with panting, they may be experiencing joint pain.

Back Pain

Old Chocolate Lab
Back pain usually accompanies dogs with age and can cause restlessness.

Unfortunately, back pain can be excruciating for our canine companions. Some dogs can experience acute injuries from exercise or accidents, while others may experience chronic pain due to spinal abnormalities and inflammation. No matter the cause, back pain can be severe enough to cause a dog to pant and pace. One of the most reported symptoms of back pain in dogs is excessive panting, and is a common reason owners know to bring their dog into the vet.

If your pup is experiencing panting, appearing tense, reluctant to participate in normal activities, crying out, or any other abnormal behaviors, they may be struggling with back pain. Because back injuries are so painful and can be serious, it’s best to see your vet if your dog is displaying any of the above symptoms.

Abdominal Pain

Dog with Abdominal Pain
Dogs with abdominal pain may display it by restlessness, or panting.

Our dogs can fall victim to many medical conditions that can cause abdominal pain. Whether your pup ate something they shouldn’t have or is struggling with an infectious disease, a painful belly can be the result.

Abdominal pain can also come from something as simple as the wrong dog food formula. If your pup exhibits abdominal pain after eating, it may be time to have them tested for a food allergy. Many dogs have an easier time eating a limited ingredient dog food.

Gastrointestinal complications can lead to serious stomach discomfort for our furry friends. It may cause panting and pacing as they try to work through their pain. If your dog is experiencing panting, pacing, diarrhea, vomiting, or any other abnormal behavior, abdominal pain may be the cause of their panting.

If you own a large breed that’s showing signs of bloat, this is a medical emergency. This typically happens after your pup has eaten, and has exercised hard, causing their stomach to flip. This is a fatal condition and will likely need surgery immediately. Again, if you think your pup has bloat, call your vet right away.

Tooth Pain

Dog with Tooth Pain
If your dog has tooth pain, they may express it through restlessness.

Dogs have a hard time expressing any type of pain. Tooth pain from an infected tooth, or poorly cared for teeth may cause your pup to appear more restless than normal. You may notice other behaviors, which include avoiding their favorite chew toys or even avoiding food.

While not serious, tooth pain is something that will likely need veterinary intervention. This may come in the form of doing a root canal or potentially removing a tooth. Your pup may even end up with a titanium or ceramic crown to cover their tooth, if a root canal was performed.

Infected teeth are important to solve in a timely fashion, as teeth infections can move into your dog’s jaw, causing long term health problems in the process. You can prevent tooth decay by brushing your dog’s teeth weekly, or utilizing several DIY methods to keep their teeth clean.

Other Pain

Old Chocolate Lab in Pain
If your pup has other serious illnesses, it can cause restlessness, pacing, and panting.

When we say “other pain,” this is basically a catch-all. This is any type of pain that could come from some other serious illness, including canine cancer. When dogs experience some type of internal pain that’s in their other organs, it can cause them to become restless.

While this can be common in older dogs, as more health impacts may show up, it can really manifest itself as a symptom for any dog that has a pain that’s not obvious to the naked eye. Usually diagnosing the cause of this pain is requires a trip to the vet, where they will do an ultrasound or an X-Ray, which will show any potential growths, or any internal irregularities.

Laryngeal Paralysis

Small Older Dog
Dogs with laryngeal Paralysis will often pant more heavily.

The larynx plays a huge role in canine vocalization and food intake. The larynx should open and close when a dog is breathing. This allows them to bark when they choose and prevent any food inhalation when they are eating. When a dog has laryngeal paralysis (also known as LAR PAR), the larynx is partially paralyzed from its normal function. This means that either one or both of the vocal cords do not open when they breathe, and they have a chance of aspirating their food during meals.

Because LAR PAR involves the larynx and the normal breathing process, you may notice excessive panting in this condition. Their panting may even be louder than usual and can be accompanied by a honking sound with each breath. Dogs with LAR PAR can even appear anxious due to the increased effort to breathe, and they may pace because of this.

If your dog is experiencing excessive panting, change in bark sound, loud breathing, honking sounds, shortness of breath, coughing, or any other abnormal behavior, LAR PAR may be the cause of their panting.

Seizures

Black Coated Senior Dog
Unfortunately, seizures have many side effects, including heavy panting.

Seizures are one of the most reported neurological conditions in our furry friends. Epilepsy is fairly common in young dogs, and can cause a long list of abnormal behaviors. Not only can our dogs struggle with epilepsy, but they can also fall victim to other seizure disorders as they age. These conditions can cause a dog a great deal of distress, resulting in restlessness.

One of the most common symptoms of canine seizures is altered behavior before or after the seizure itself. A seizure or neurological episode can cause serious confusion in our furry friends. This may lead them to experience anxiety in the moments following the episode. A seizure can also cause a dog to shake and convulse violently, resulting in heavy panting. If your pup is panting heavily and is experiencing altered behavior, they may be recovering from a seizure.

Seizures in dogs can also present in the form of facial twitching, chewing, drooling, jerking movements, disorientation, vocalizations, hallucinations, full-body convulsions, loss of consciousness, and more. If you see any of these symptoms in your furry friend, it’s best to contact your veterinarian for further care.

Toxicity

Dog with Toxicity Symptoms at Vet
Dogs with toxicity symptoms need to see a veterinarian immediately.

Dogs are often exposed to potential toxins in the world around them. Our pups are also known to get their paws on things they shouldn’t. This opens up the possibility of potential toxicities that can impact their health. Items ranging from normal food items to household cleaners can cause our dogs to become extremely ill when they are consumed, leading to an array of concerning symptoms.

Toxicities in dogs can cause symptoms ranging from panting, labored breathing, hyperactivity, pacing, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and more. If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms and has consumed something they shouldn’t have, it’s important to contact your veterinarian immediately for further care.

Cardiac Disease

Senior Golden Retriever
Cardiac issues can sometimes show up in restlessness, pacing, and panting.

Unfortunately, our canine companions are not immune to cardiac disease. Cardiac disease can develop in dogs when they reach their senior years, or even in young pups with cardiac abnormalities. No matter the source of their cardiac troubles, this diagnosis can have a drastic impact on the lungs.

Whenever a dog’s heart is not functioning properly, excess pressure will build up within the heart. This pressure will cause an accumulation of fluid in the lungs, making it extremely challenging to breathe. Because of this, you may see panting and other signs of respiratory distress in these furry friends.

Aside from panting, cardiac disease in dogs can cause other symptoms. Dogs with cardiac disease may experience coughing, labored breathing, coughing up foam, coughing up bloody foam, weakness, collapse, and more. If your dog is experiencing panting along with any of these other symptoms, contact your vet immediately for further care.

Neurological Issues

Old Dog with Canine Dementia
Canine dementia and other neurological issues more commonly arise in older canines.

Similar to humans, our dogs can fall victim to a number of neurological conditions that can impact their cognitive functions. Ranging from invasive brain tumors to canine dementia, each neurological disorder can cause a dog to experience a range of abnormal behaviors. These conditions can lead to disorientation and stress, often causing restlessness as a result.

For example, canine dementia is known for causing severe disorientation in dogs as the condition progresses. Dogs with this condition will often pace for hours on end, appear restless, pant excessively, wander aimlessly, and many other signs of impaired awareness. If your pup is panting tirelessly and experiencing other abnormal behaviors, they may be suffering from a neurological condition.

When To See Your Vet

So when should you see your veterinarian for your dog’s panting and pacing? Panting can be normal behavior in our furry friends, making it challenging to know when it’s time to seek out professional advice. To help you better understand your dog going forward, let’s list a few tips on when it may be time to contact your vet.

  • Your pup is still panting 30 minutes to 1 hour after physical activity.
  • You see excessive panting and restlessness after spending time in the heat.
  • If it seems like they are experiencing any respiratory distress
  • Your pup is panting and pacing without participating in any physical activity.
  • You notice signs of anxiety that are inhibiting their daily routine.
  • Their anxiety is causing severe behavioral issues or destructive behaviors.
  • If your pup appears winded after light physical activity.
  • Your pup appears weak or collapses during physical activity.
  • If your dog’s activity is labored due to their weight.
  • You’ve noticed signs of pain along with their panting and pacing.
  • You have noticed gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Your dog is displaying any signs of respiratory distress or labored breathing.
  • Your pup ingested a known toxin
  • You’ve noticed your dog disoriented, slow, or off-balance.

If your pup is experiencing any of the above symptoms along with their panting and pacing, it’s best to contact your veterinarian immediately for further care.

Helping Your Dog At Home

If your dog is panting and pacing at home without any of the concerning symptoms we mentioned above, we still recommend you call your vet. There are a few things you can do at home as well to help calm your dog before you call.

Step 1: Stop Physical Activity

First, it’s important to pull them away from any physical activity that is causing them to become worked up. If they have begun to pant and appear overworked, it’s time to call it quits. You can always resume the play session at a later time.

Step 2: Bring Your Pup to a Cooler Climate

The next factor to consider is the temperature in their current environment. If your dog is outdoors on a hot day and they begin to pant, it’s important to bring them into a cooler climate to help them cool down. You can also offer them cool water as well.

Step 3: Remove All Stimuli

Once you have pulled your pup from the activity and brought them into a cool environment, it’s best to remove any stimuli and allow them to calm down without any distractions. This will help them calm down at a faster rate. Hopefully, it will also stop their panting, pacing, and restlessness.

**If you have performed the above tasks and your dog is unable to stop panting after 30 minutes to 1 hour, contact your veterinarian. If your dog recently ate, and then exercised and is showing symptoms, do not wait. This could be bloat, which is a potentially fatal condition in dogs.**

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are many factors that could cause a dog to pant and pace. In most cases, panting, pacing and restlessness may just be your dog’s way of showing you they are concerned about their environment. It’s typically not something to be concerned about unless the behavior is consistent.

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