Understanding Why Your Old Dog is Breathing Heavy

Understanding Why Your Old Dog is Breathing Heavy

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It's a natural tendency for any dog parent to worry when they notice their old furry friend breathing heavy. During a walk or while lounging around the house, an older dog's labored breathing may be a cause for concern. It's crucial to understand why your old dog is breathing heavily and what you can do about it.

What is Heavy Breathing in Dogs?

We need to differentiate between panting and heavy breathing. Panting is a normal behavior for dogs and helps them cool down since they can't sweat like humans. This typically manifests as rapid, shallow breaths and is usually nothing to worry about.

On the other hand, heavy or labored breathing is characterized by longer, deeper breaths that may be accompanied by wheezing, coughing, or other unusual sounds. If this behavior is new and lasts for an extended period, it may be a sign of a medical condition that requires attention from your veterinarian.

Common Reasons for Heavy Breathing in Older Dogs


One common reason for heavy breathing in dogs, even older ones, could be overheating. Dogs primarily use panting to cool their bodies. However, in older dogs with existing health conditions, the distinction between panting and heavy breathing may be less obvious. Ensure your dog has access to fresh water and shaded areas, particularly in hot weather.

To manage overheating, you can invest in a cooling mat or provide outdoor shade for your pet. If your dog enjoys water, consider setting up a small pool for them to splash in during hot days. Moreover, try to schedule walks during cooler parts of the day, like early mornings or late evenings.


Obesity can make breathing difficult for dogs. Excess weight can put pressure on their respiratory system, resulting in heavy breathing. Regular exercise and a balanced diet are key to maintaining a healthy weight in older dogs.

Consult your vet for a recommended diet plan and exercise regimen suitable for your dog. It's essential to balance caloric intake with energy expenditure. Certain pet food brands offer formulations specially designed for weight control in dogs.

Respiratory Conditions

Respiratory disorders like pneumonia, bronchitis, or laryngeal disorders can cause heavy breathing in older dogs. Accompanying signs such as coughing, a runny nose, or other symptoms of illness indicate it's time to visit the vet.

Treatment for these conditions often involves medication to control the symptoms and address the root cause. Keeping your dog's living area clean, limiting exposure to irritants like smoke or dust, and ensuring they get regular exercise can also help manage respiratory conditions.

Heart Disease

One of the more serious causes of heavy breathing in older dogs is heart disease. Conditions such as congestive heart failure can lead to fluid accumulation in and around the lungs, making breathing difficult. Other symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, and a swollen abdomen.

Management of heart disease in dogs generally involves medication to improve heart function, reduce fluid build-up, and manage symptoms. Regular vet visits for monitoring your dog's condition, dietary changes for reduced sodium intake, and maintaining a calm environment can also help manage heart disease in older dogs.

Pain or Stress

Dogs may also breathe heavily when they're in pain or stressed. Pain could stem from arthritis, common in older dogs, or other age-related ailments. Meanwhile, stress could result from changes in their environment.

Pain management in dogs often involves a combination of medications, dietary supplements, physiotherapy, and sometimes, acupuncture. For stress, creating a calm, secure environment, regular gentle exercise, and sometimes, pheromone diffusers can help soothe an anxious dog.

What Should You Do if Your Old Dog is Breathing Heavy?

In cases where the heavy breathing is accompanied by other symptoms such as fainting, blue gums, or extreme fatigue, it's vital to immediately seek immediate veterinary attention. These could be signs of a life-threatening condition.

If the heavy breathing is occasional and there are no other severe symptoms, monitor your dog closely. Make a note of when the heavy breathing occurs, its duration, and any potential triggers. This information can be helpful for your vet to diagnose any underlying issues.

Lastly, make sure your dog is comfortable. If they seem to be struggling with the heat, move them to a cooler place. If they appear to be anxious, try to soothe them and provide a calming environment.

Is your dog's problem not explored here? Check out our article on Dog Breathing Problems for more potential causes and remedies.

How to Prevent Heavy Breathing in Old Dogs

Prevention is always better than cure, and this holds true for heavy breathing in old dogs too. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and annual vet check-ups can go a long way in preventing many of the conditions that cause heavy breathing.

Moreover, if your dog is diagnosed with a condition that causes heavy breathing, work with your vet to manage the condition. This could involve medication, changes in diet, or alterations to their environment.


Understanding why your older dog is breathing heavy can help ease your worries and guide you in taking the right steps to support their health. Our four-legged friends depend on us to help them live out their golden years in comfort and health.


Biscuit's Story

I was unprepared for what would happen to my dog, Biscuit. 

Ever since she was a puppy, she’d spend her days running and playing. I’d take her on walks, to the beach, and dog parks.

Unfortunately, at age 10, she started to limp after trips to the beach. It broke my heart to see her in pain doing what she loved the most. I started feeding her a raw food diet and added high-quality supplements to ensure her nutritional needs were met. Unfortunately, while she loved the food, the limping persisted.

I went to the vet, who looked over Biscuit and said she was likely limping due to joint inflammation. She gave us something to help. This worked well at first. Biscuit was moving around more freely, and was limping less. 

However, a few days later, It was to my absolute shock that she…

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