Some nights Ginny wakes me up with heavy panting. Occasionally she gets to her feet and wanders in to the kitchen to gulp water and then returns to bed. But last night she lay there for hours, panting. Maybe she’s just feeling too lazy to get up, I thought. I grabbed a bowl of water and offered it to her. She drank a bit then turned her head away. A little later, the panting began again and she drank a little more water. But the panting continued. This is unusual; her nighttime panting is usually brief and easily quelled.
Panting is normal in dogs and usually comes after exercise or in excessive heat. Panting is also a common sign of stress and it can indicate chronic illness such as congestive heart failure, Cushing’s Disease, or respiratory disorders. Franny, my beautiful fospice dog who passed away with cancer in November, had Cushing’s. She would pant at night, too, but Franny drank ridiculous amounts of water, Ginny doesn’t. She also doesn’t display any of the other common symptoms like hair loss (on the contrary, Ginny just keeps getting fluffier) or a pot-bellied appearance. While heart failure is always a possibility, Ginny had a series of blood tests done a little over a month ago and there was nothing unusual. Respiratory failure often leads to heavy breathing throughout the day and Ginny rarely pants at unexpected times other than over night.
Heavy panting may also accompany an injury or pain. This is what concerns me. Since Ginny arrived in my home, she has dragged her back leg. It’s a stiffness that doesn’t seem to bother her – she limps a bit but enjoys walks – and manipulating her leg doesn’t cause her to flinch. But the last week or two I have noticed that Ginny’s leg has become more stiff. She has more trouble getting up and takes longer to get a “normal” gait. This change, combined with last night’s panting, may indicate that Ginny’s pain has increased. Ginny topples over quite a bit and has lately missed a occassional stair and slid backward down a couple of steps. Whether she does this because of pain or she has inadvertently increased pain, I’m not sure, but I do know that sudden behavior changes often indicate a health problem. So what next? A visit to our friendly vet!