What could be behind your dog's recent panting and shaking? Does it indicate a health problem? This article will let you in on some answers.
Has your generally healthy dog been panting and shaking recently?
Naturally, this worries you, as you want nothing but the best for your dog. Furthermore, it’s worse when you don’t know what’s causing something, right?
So, what could be behind this behavior?
Just like people, dogs too can suddenly change behavior due to many reasons. This is especially concerning for a dog owner when the behavior is new and there doesn’t seem to be any apparent reason. Not knowing why something occurred or what to do next isn’t an ideal situation, we know!
As always, we’re here to help you. Read further and find out more about panting and shaking in combination and what could be behind it.
What Can Panting And Shaking Indicate?
Considering each one separately, the reason behind panting or shaking is usually pretty clear. Panting, or fast breathing, is normal and helps the dog cool off and get back to a normal temperature. (1, 2) Shaking can also be a way of regulating the temperature. Shaking can also be a common way of regulating temperature, but may also occur if the dog is stressed, anxious or sick. But what does it mean when they’re combined?
Unfortunately, panting and shaking in combination can indicate various health conditions, so we’re going to take a look at some of the most common reasons behind this.
Panting or shaking can be the result of body regulating its temperature. But, when combined, panting and shaking can indicate more serious health problems.
Heat stroke occurs when the dog’s body has become overheated. Common causes include partaking in high energy exercise on a hot day without cooling down properly, or if a dog is left in a car on a hot day. This condition is typically associated with a temperature of 106°F (41°C) or higher and it can lead to multiple organ dysfunction. (3)
Panting and shaking are the most common symptoms of heat stroke. This is also the most common reason behind panting and shaking. Other symptoms include excessive salivation, difficulty breathing, acting confused and dull, sudden collapse or even seizures.
This is a very serious emergency condition and should be treated as such. If you suspect your dog has heat stroke, you should take him to the vet clinic right away as this condition may lead to death. (4) Some breeds tend to get hot easier than others, which makes them more prone to heat stroke.
Read more on how to treat heat stroke and how to prevent it them in this article and check out the video below.
The most common reason behind panting and shaking is a heat stroke.
Fever And Infection
Sometimes, a dog can have a high fever with an infection. As a result, this hyperthermia can cause panting and shaking. (5, 6) This is the body’s way of lowering its temperature and a sign for you to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. If the infection has gotten to the stage where it’s causing shaking and panting, it shouldn’t be ignored.
High temperature that is causing your dog to pant and shake, doesn’t have to be necessarily a result of a heat stroke. An infection may be behind it.
A heart problem could be behind this combination of panting and shaking. Dogs, just like humans, can experience various heart problems. For instance, Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a common heart disease in dogs, when the heart becomes enlarged and presses on the lungs and windpipe. (7)
As a result, the breathing becomes difficult and leads to panting and sometimes a cough. Additionally, the dog can also begin shaking, as there is not enough oxygen entering the blood and being transported to the vital organs.
Heart problems might lead to panting and shaking too. In this case, your dog might cough too.
Imbalance In Blood Sugar
Another possible reason behind panting and shaking is low blood sugar, known as hypoglycemia.(8) These symptoms are one of the main signs of low blood sugar in diabetic dogs. However, this doesn’t mean that only diabetic dogs can have low blood sugar. Some breeds are particularly prone to it, for instance the Chihuahua and the Italian greyhound – both small, delicate breeds.
Fortunately, this problem can be quickly solved by giving the dog a small amount of honey or maple syrup. If you place one of these sugar syrups under the dog’s tongue, it will get to the blood flow rapidly. Giving 1 tablespoon every 4 hours is enough, while keeping the dog warm. Make sure the dog is eating his normal meals so he is getting enough energy from his diet.
If the dog doesn’t seem to respond to the sugar syrup, hypoglycaemia can be a serious condition leading to collapse or seizures. Take your dog to the vet clinic right away.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can be a reason behind panting and shaking too. If you have a senior dog, check if he has diabetes.
If your dog has ingested something toxic, for example a toxic mushroom, the early symptoms can be panting and shaking.(9) This is the body’s way of dealing with the toxic attack. Other symptoms can be vomiting, seizures or collapse.
As you know, a lot of materials and food are bad for dogs and may even be poisonous. Common examples include chocolate, onions, grapes, various plants etc.. If you suspect or know that your dog has ingested something toxic, take him or her to the vet at once – don’t wait for all the symptoms to appear.
Often symptoms of intoxication might be very similar to the ones of a heat stroke. Make sure to act immediately if they show, as both of the conditions can lead to death.
Sometimes, the reason behind the panting and shaking could be something happening on the inside. That means that internal injuries or an illness could be the reason why your dog suddenly started shivering and breathing heavily. Whatever it is, it’s causing pain and discomfort and a general weakness. Very pale gums or very dark pink gums could also be a symptom of something being wrong.
The only way to determine the exact cause is to take your pet to the vet who will run tests in order to discover what’s wrong.
Although it rarely happens, internal injuries could too be causing panting combined with shaking.
If your dog is experiencing severe pain, it could have various consequences on its behavior. Often severe pain will cause your dog to have panting and shaking. Some of them are panting and shaking. Try to discover if your dog is ill or injured, as well as look for other symptoms. Take your dog to the vet who will help you locate the source of pain.
Also, read more on what are the best pain medications for dogs.
A very strong pain could be also behind this behavior. Mild pain should not result in panting and trembling.
Fear, Stress Or Trauma
A frightened dog may experience all kinds of side-effects caused by the fear, including panting and shivering. Other signs are defensive aggression, hiding or running away.
Try to find out where the fear is coming from and eliminate it if possible. Is your dog afraid of fireworks or has something stressful happened recently? Once you’ve determined the cause, it will be easier to help your dog deal with the fear.
Shock can also lead to panting and tremors. Various reasons could be behind it, such as an accident or trauma of some kind. The same rule applies here – find out the cause and try fixing or eliminating it.
Extreme emotions can lead to trembling and panting such as fear, shock, stress or trauma.
The above reasons are some of the most common explanations behind panting and trembling. But something else could also be behind it – age.
Panting And Trembling In Senior Dogs
Many things change as dogs grow older, nothing new there. They may get arthritis, their hearing isn’t as sharp as before or they may urinate more frequently. They may also pant and shiver more while aging. But why is that?
Why Do Older Dogs Pant And Tremble More?
There is no simple answer to this question. However, the good news is that while these two symptoms usually indicate some health problems in younger dogs, they’re usually benign in older dogs, as long as it’s not excessive and there are no other symptoms. (10)
When it comes to panting, it can be explained by the fact that the diaphragm and intercostal muscles become weaker with age. As a result, the senior dog may find panting to be an easier solution, as it involves less use of the diaphragm and muscles. Their hearts may also not work as efficiently, compared to the heart of a younger dog. Therefore, older dogs may need to pant or breathe faster.
Trembling in older dogs seems to be linked to weakening of muscles and the mild degeneration of the nervous system. Something similar happens with elderly people as well – they tend to tremble more. This kind of shivering usually affects the limbs and jaw.
Additionally, older dogs are more sensitive to excitement and adrenaline. Therefore, it’s not surprising that older dogs tend to shiver and pant more in exciting or scary situations.
Finally, panting can occur due to obesity, which is more common in older dogs. Even though panting itself isn’t dangerous, obesity can lead to other, various health problems. Therefore, it is best to keep your dog at a healthy weight and in good shape.
Panting and trembling are more likely to occur in older dogs, and are considered as benign if the dog isn’t unhealthy.
Is Panting And Shaking In Older Dogs Dangerous?
Fortunately, this is commonly normal in older dogs. However, it some cases it may indicate different medical problems and can be serious. So, just because it’s usually harmless, don’t overlook other signs that could indicate something being wrong.
Older dogs too can have a heart problem, low blood sugar, heat stroke and other medical conditions. If you notice that something is wrong, take you dog to the vet at once and try dealing with the situation. Just because the reasons behind panting and shaking in older dogs are usually benign, it doesn’t exclude the possibility of a more serious underlying condition.
Unfortunately, panting and shaking in combination, usually indicate a health problem of some kind. They could also be a result of an emotional distress, a fear or shock. However, if you have a senior dog who recently started shaking and panting more than usual, it could just be a sign of him or her getting older.
The most common problem behind this behavior is heat stroke. The first signs of this condition are panting and shivering, which can be followed by more serious and sometimes fatal symptoms if not treated in time. Other medical conditions that could be the reason for panting and shaking, are low blood sugar, heart problems, intoxication, pain or internal injuries.
If your dog has been showing these symptoms lately, take your dog to the vet in order to establish the cause. Some conditions, like heat stroke, are usually easy to diagnose but require immediate veterinary action. Others, like some internal injuries, you can’t diagnose on your own and veterinary assistance is necessary when determining the cause.
To sum it up – don’t panic, try to remain calm and think about what could have lead to the panting and shaking your dog is experiencing. Together with your vet you will be able to get a diagnosis, and determine a proper treatment plan to make sure your best friend feels fine again.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Margarita Boyd, BVSc MRCVS.
Margarita graduated from the University of Liverpool, earning a Bachelor in Veterinary Science with distinction. She worked in small animal and equine practice for a few years, before choosing to focus solely on companion animals. She has developed a special interest in internal medicine and ophthalmology.