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15 Reasons Why Your Dog May Be Panting & Pacing

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Last Updated: February 23, 2024 | 12 min read | 2 Comments

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A Golden Retriever dog panting while walking outside.

Panting is a normal dog behavior, most often associated with helping a dog regulate body temperature. However, what if you notice your dog panting and pacing non-stop around the house or yard, unable to settle down? Is this also normal behavior, or is something wrong with your dog?

Panting and pacing are non-specific symptoms that may indicate several different medical or behavioral issues with your dog. Unfortunately, your pup cannot tell you what’s going on beyond the signs you’re already noticing. Deciphering those signs to determine what they mean will likely involve a trip to your veterinarian.

Observing your dog closely for any additional symptoms and noting when and how often the panting and pacing occur will help your veterinarian more accurately diagnose what’s wrong with your dog. Your veterinarian may recommend lab work or X-rays to rule out medical causes. Once any medical causes are ruled out, your veterinarian may then discuss possible behavioral causes and how to treat them. The following are 15 reasons why your dog may be panting and pacing.

1. Pain

A dog in pain may display many signs and symptoms, including panting and pacing restlessly. Your dog may be reluctant to lie down and rest or unable to get comfortable once he does settle.

To rule out pain as the cause of your dog’s panting and pacing, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and consider other factors such as your pup’s age, breed, and any history of possible injury or over-exertion.

Older dogs, like older humans, can develop arthritis. Other common areas of pain in dogs are the abdomen, spinal, and cervical regions. Dogs may also be in pain from dental disease, ear infection, or as a result of recent surgery.

X-rays, lab work, and sometimes more intensive diagnostics such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI may be needed to identify what’s causing your dog’s pain. Your veterinarian may recommend various treatments, including medications, acupuncture, or possibly surgery, depending on where and why your dog is in pain.

Diagnosing the cause of your dog’s pain and treating it can be an expensive expenditure. Pet insurance can help provide some relief. Read our pet insurance reviews to find a company to assist you in unexpected situations.

2. Exercise

Dogs pant after exercise as well as while they are actively exercising. They pant due to their internal temperatures rising. Panting may be heavier or more noticeable in hotter weather or if they are in an area with poor ventilation. Their muscles contract and generate heat, and they need to cool down.

Your dog may also be panting and restless after exercise due to being tired. Healthy dogs often pant for about 30 minutes after physical activity. Most dogs are satisfied and content after a good walk or play session and may let their tongues hang out as they cool down. A dog pacing after exercise may be overstimulated or want more playtime.

3. Separation Anxiety

Dogs express anxiety in various ways, including excessive panting and pacing. A common type of anxiety is separation anxiety or fear of being left alone. Dogs who suffer from this type of anxiety may become overly attached to you or another person they live with.

Since it’s not always possible to take your dog everywhere you go, separation anxiety can be a difficult behavior to manage. In addition to panting and pacing, dogs who suffer from separation anxiety may vocalize excessively, exhibit destructive behaviors, or have accidents in the house.

Your veterinarian will rule out any medical causes for your dogʻs behavior before diagnosing separation anxiety. There are many options for treating separation anxiety, including medications, behavioral modifications, and environmental changes. In severe cases, your veterinarian may refer you and your dog to a veterinary behavior specialist.

4. Storm Phobia

Does your dogʻs panting and pacing always seem to coincide with the advent of a seasonal storm? If so, your dog may suffer from a common condition known as storm phobia or fear of thunderstorms.

Some dogs will grow anxious before the first rumble reaches their owners’ ears, not only because of their superior hearing but also because storm-phobic dogs react to thunder and other signs of approaching storms, such as darkening skies, lightning, and barometric changes.

Your veterinarian can help you make a plan to manage your dogʻs storm phobia. Common management methods during a storm include distracting your dog with toys or treats, closing curtains, using a white noise machine, and giving prescribed anti-anxiety medications. A ThunderShirt may also help calm their fears.

5. Cushing’s Disease

A dog with cushings disease.
Cushing’s disease could be the result of your dog panting or pacing.

Cushing’s disease, or hyperadrenocorticism, is caused by excess production of cortisol in your dogʻs adrenal glands. Sometimes, the adrenal glands overproduce because they are stimulated by a pituitary gland tumor.

In addition to panting, other signs of Cushingʻs disease include excess drinking and urinating, weight gain, hair loss, and behavioral changes. Your dog may pant and pace due to discomfort caused by these clinical signs. Increased water consumption may also contribute to these signs, as your dog will need to go outside to urinate more often than usual and may become anxious as a result.

Your veterinarian will diagnose Cushingʻs disease by performing specialized lab tests and possibly diagnostic imaging such as an ultrasound or CT scan. Cushingʻs disease is usually controlled with medication or sometimes radiation and surgery if a pituitary tumor is involved.

6. Cognitive Dysfunction

Is your dog pacing at night? If your dog is older, the panting and pacing could signify canine cognitive dysfunction, mainly if the pacing tends to occur most commonly at night. Cognitive dysfunction is a result of aging changes in the brain. Senior dogs may display other signs, including confusion, loss of housetraining, abnormal vocalizing, less interest in day-to-day activities, and decreased interaction with you and other household members.

Your veterinarian may recommend diagnostics such as an MRI to rule out other neurologic conditions before confirming your dog’s signs are due to cognitive dysfunction. While cognitive dysfunction cannot be cured, your veterinarian can help you manage the condition by suggesting dietary changes, supplements, medications, or environmental enrichment, which may help give senior dogs a better quality of life.

7. Vision Loss

A close up of French Bulldog and veterinarian wiping dogs eye.
Vision loss can be an issue in all dogs, but especially senior dogs.

Unlike humans, dogs do not rely very heavily on their sense of sight to navigate through life. Smell and hearing are much more important to them, so it’s sometimes difficult to recognize that your dog is suffering from vision loss. In many cases, a dog’s night vision tends to diminish first.

If your dog is displaying signs of anxiety by panting and pacing when the lights go out, consider decreased vision as a possible cause. Dogs are very good at memorizing where familiar objects are located, but if your dog’s night vision is failing, you may notice him bumping into newly displaced furniture or tripping over toys left on the floor. You may also observe your dog avoiding going up or down stairs in the dark.

Your veterinarian will examine your dog’s eyes to see if a treatable ophthalmic condition is causing the issue. If not, your veterinarian can suggest ways to help your dog adapt to vision loss.

Our Personal Experience With Canine Vision Loss

Our 14 year-old-dog Lily’s hearing and sight functions have really declined in the past two years, causing her to pant in the night. To calm her nerves, we have started plugging a pheromone diffuser into our bedroom wall near her bed to help her sleep. On nights when it is really bad, we also give her a Composure treat, and she calms down in about 15 minutes.

Michelle Schenker, rescue dog parent

8. Medication Side Effects

Is your dog taking any prescribed medications? Several medications may cause panting, pacing, and restlessness as a side effect.

Glucocorticoids such as prednisone are one such medication. Just like humans, different dogs react differently to certain medications. If your dog was given sedatives or opioid pain medication for a surgical or medical procedure, they might pant and pace as the body metabolizes those drugs. It’s also possible for your dog to have an adverse reaction to medication even if it’s prescribed and administered correctly.

Contact your veterinarian if you notice your dog behaving abnormally, including panting and pacing, after giving them any medication, including flea and tick or heartworm preventatives.

9. Heat Stroke

Heat stroke, or hyperthermia, can be a life-threatening emergency. An early indicator of heat stroke is panting and pacing restlessly. Without treatment, these early warning signs can progress, and you may start to notice your dog appearing unsteady or having trouble breathing.

Dangerous heat stroke occurs when the dogʻs body temperature exceeds 105°F. This can happen when a dog is left in a vehicle, exercised in hot weather, or left out in hot weather without adequate shade. Extra caution should be taken with short-nosed or brachycephalic breeds such as Bulldogs and Pugs, which are predisposed to overheating because they cannot pant and cool themselves effectively. Additionally, dogs with certain health conditions, such as heart disease or obesity, can be more sensitive to the heat.

If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat stroke, begin cooling measures such as directing a fan at them and placing cool, wet compresses in key locations such as the groin and axial regions (rib cage and spine). Get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible for treatment.

10. Obesity

If you’ve noticed that your dog seems to be packing on the pounds recently, that extra weight could be responsible for the panting and pacing behavior. Obesity in dogs, just like in people, can cause a whole host of health problems.

Extra layers of fat can make it harder for your dog to breathe, contributing to excessive panting. Obesity also increases the strain on your dogʻs joints, which could cause discomfort and explain why your dog is pacing and has a hard time getting comfortable. If your dog is regularly panting and restless, it’s a good idea to schedule a vet exam.

Your veterinarian can perform lab work to rule out any underlying medical conditions and help you develop a weight loss plan for your dog.

11. Gastrointestinal Distress

A variety of different gastrointestinal (GI) issues could be causing your dog distress, leading to panting and pacing behavior. Diarrhea can be uncomfortable and cause your dog to constantly feel the need to go outside, leading to anxiety. Conditions such as pancreatitis can be excruciating, again leading your dog to display panting and pacing behaviors.

If your dog is showing signs of GI illness such as vomiting, diarrhea, or not eating, in addition to the panting and pacing, see a veterinarian as soon as possible. GI issues are not only uncomfortable and often messy but can quickly lead to more severe concerns, such as dehydration and lab work abnormalities, if left untreated.

12. Heart Disease

Dogs who develop heart disease exhibit several symptoms, including trouble breathing, coughing, abdominal swelling, and loss of appetite. If your dog is suffering from heart disease, you may notice panting and pacing as a side effect of trouble breathing as well as resulting anxiety from dealing with decreased oxygen and weakness.

To diagnose heart disease, your veterinarian will likely recommend tests that may include an EKG, blood pressure check, x-rays, or an echocardiogram. If one is available, your veterinarian may also refer your dog to a veterinary cardiologist. Treatment of heart disease will depend on your dog’s specific heart condition.

13. Neurological Disease

One of the reasons your veterinarian may recommend an MRI or CT scan if your dog is panting and pacing, especially at night, is to rule out any medical or neurological conditions such as encephalitis, an infection, or inflammation of the brain. Additional signs that neurologic disease may be causing your dogʻs panting and pacing include seizures, neck pain, “drunk walking,” and a head tilt. Another possible neurological cause of your dog’s behavior is a brain tumor.

Treatment of your dog’s neurological disease depends on what’s causing it. Medications are typically used to treat encephalitis, while surgery or radiation therapy may be recommended for a brain tumor.

14. Respiratory Disease

Panting and rapid breathing, as well as restlessness and pacing, may indicate that your dog is suffering from a respiratory condition. Other symptoms, such as coughing and the age and breed of your dog, may help your veterinarian determine if panting and pacing are due to respiratory disease.

All dogs can suffer from infectious respiratory diseases such as kennel cough. Flat-nosed breeds such as French Bulldogs and Pugs are prone to a condition called brachycephalic airway disease.

Your veterinarian may recommend diagnostics such as radiographs or even refer you to a specialist to diagnose and treat your dog’s respiratory disease.

15. Toxicity

If your dog tends to behave like a canine garbage disposal, eating anything and everything they can access, it’s possible that your dogʻs panting and pacing are due to the ingestion of a toxic substance. Some human foods and medications will cause symptoms such as panting and pacing or hyperactivity when ingested.

For example, chocolate and caffeine contain a toxic substance to dogs that causes these and more dangerous symptoms such as increased heart rate and seizures. Ingesting Adderall or other drugs containing amphetamines can also cause your dog to become agitated, panting, and pacing.

If you’re concerned your dog may have ingested something toxic, see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Treatment will depend on what your dog ingested.

15 reasons why dogs pant and pace graphic.

What The Vet Says

According to Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS, “Dogs can pant for lots of reasons – it could mean that they’re hot, breathless, anxious, excited, or in pain. On the other hand, pacing is less associated with heat, exhaustion, or being out of breath and is more likely a sign of anxiety, excitement, or pain. Working out whether your dog is panting and pacing because they’re excited or whether it’s something you should be concerned about isn’t always easy.”

She adds, “If it’s warm or your dog has been racing around, try calmly sitting with them somewhere cool to see if they return to normal. If you can’t settle your dog with a calm cuddle or distract them with a walk or toy, then something isn’t right. First, check their surroundings – many dogs will be fearful or distressed hearing fireworks, storms, or other loud noises nearby. If your dog regularly struggles in these situations, your vet can prescribe calming medications or sedation, depending on the circumstances.”

“If there’s no clear reason for your dog to be anxious, they might be disorientated, unwell, or in pain. Older dogs can also suffer from cognitive decline, vestibular syndrome, and other conditions affecting their balance, awareness, or brain function, and the disorientation caused by these conditions can sometimes cause panting and restlessness. So, if you’re unsure why your dog is panting or pacing and can’t calm them down, it’s best to get them checked by a vet.

When Is My Dog Panting And Pacing An Emergency?

There are some instances when panting and pacing can be a symptom or sign of a more significant, possibly emergency condition. It’s essential to pay close attention to what is happening around your pup and seek emergency treatment if you feel they are in trouble. Should you notice any of the following issues, it’s best to seek immediate treatment:

Respiratory Distress & Trouble Breathing

If your pup is having visible trouble breathing, you must seek emergency treatment as soon as possible. Several medical conditions can cause this, including disease, internal organ damage, poisoning, anaphylactic shock, cardiac disease, respiratory failure, and more.

Ingestion Of Poison Or Foreign Object

A dog panting and pacing, who seems uncomfortable, may be trying to tell you something. If you are suspicious or know that your pup ate something dangerous and is panting, pacing, and acting in a way that isn’t normal, it’s best to have them checked out. Sometimes, even just sharing a bit of your snack can cause your pup some trouble, as not all human foods are safe for dogs. Some foods like grapes, raisins, and onions are very toxic and must always be avoided. (Call the vet immediately if your dog ate grapes, raisins, or a big chunk of onion.)

Abdominal Swelling

If your pup is pacing or panting and has a swollen or distended abdomen, go to the nearest emergency vet as soon as possible. It can be a sign of an internal organ issue and could mean they have an issue with the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, or pancreas. Take extra caution with a pup that has an underlying medical problem.

Poisonous Bite Or Sting

Insects, snakes, and other animals can bite and sting our dogs. Some of these animals, like snakes, spiders, and insects, can be poisonous, and if your pup has been bitten or stung, they may pant and pace. If you suspect this, it’s best to take them to get checked out right away. You may notice swelling or signs of shock, such as a rapid heart rate, respiratory distress, and a fever.

Excessive Drooling & Whining

If your pup is pacing, panting, drooling a lot, and whining or crying, something else may be happening. It’s best to have them looked at or call the vet for advice to be sure something serious isn’t going on. Ingesting poison, internal injury, stress, or even severe separation anxiety can cause your pup great distress. Excessive drooling is always something to note, and while it may not be an emergency every time, it’s not something to brush off.

Find A Vet You Like And Trust

Determining the cause of your dog’s symptoms, especially ones as ambiguous as panting and pacing can be a long and involved process. Finding a veterinarian you trust is a key step. At the end of the day, you know your dog best, and your veterinarian will take your observations and reports into consideration when determining a diagnosis. Panting and pacing are your dog’s way of telling you something is wrong, and it’s up to you to help find a solution for your canine best friend.

Why Trust Canine Journal?

Kimberly has written about many dog health issues and has first-hand experience with her dog panting and pacing. Fortunately, her dog’s panting is always due to exercise or getting too hot, which are both easily treatable by giving her a rest and a cool down. Her pacing is typically due to separation anxiety, which Kimberly has found sticking to a routine helps her dog. However, there are many other reasons for panting and pacing, which is why Kimberly consulted with multiple vets to provide many reasons why your dog may be panting and pacing.

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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