Why Does My Dog Wake Up Panting At Night?

Photo by odanielgp on Flickr

When the dog wakes up panting at night, no one in the house will be able to get a good night’s sleep.

Shouting at the dog to go back to sleep won’t solve anything as this is not a behavioral issue.

If the dog is restless and keeps panting, there’s always a reason.

Something is bothering him.

It might have a physical cause or a psychological one.

The only way to stop him from waking at night is to find the cause and deal with whatever is bothering him.

Let’s have a look at the main reasons dogs wake up panting in the middle of the night.

Why does my dog wake up panting?

In order to understand why, we need to discuss panting. 

What is panting?

Panting is a cooling mechanism.

Dogs do not eliminate heat through sweating.

They cannot get rid of excessive heat through the skin, as they only sweat through the paws, and that’s not nearly enough, especially for a dog that sleeps in a nice warm house.

After all, your dog’s ancestors spent their nights out in the open and needed to conserve heat. 

When they pant, dogs inhale cool air that absorbs heat from the mouth and upper airways. The saliva evaporates fast and this has a cooling effect, helping them lower their internal temperature.

Since the dog wakes up at night panting, it’s safe to assume that, in most cases, he’s too hot.

Cooling down / Heat Exhaustion

If it’s an isolated incident and the dog happens to wake up panting one hot summer night, it’s just that he cannot sleep in that heat. Just like you probably.

You need to be careful during the hot season as the dog’s panting might be a sign of a heat stroke. If, besides panting, your pet seems restless and starts shaking, those are clear symptoms of heat exhaustion.

He is unable to regulate his body temperature, so you need to help him cool down. Make sure to give him plenty of water, cool, but not ice cold. Also, wet his head and ears and let him dry in front of a fan. 

On the other hand, the waking up panting thing might also happen on a more pleasant night, if the dog exerted himself too much during the evening walk or playtime. 

Dreaming

A random incident when the dog wakes panting up during the night may be related to a particularly vivid dream. If the dog dreams of playing catch or chasing the neighbor’s cat, he’ll be panting in the dream… and in real life. 

Just like humans, dogs have a Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase in their sleep cycle and it’s during that stage that they dream. 

If the dog has an agitated dream, he might also twitch his legs, whimper, or bark. 

If that’s the reason he woke up panting, he’ll probably go back to sleep soon enough.

Stress and anxiety

Panting at night might also be a sign of stress and anxiety. Such cases are common among puppies and dogs moving to a new home, but there are many other reasons why a dog might be anxious. Young dogs often suffer from separation anxiety and take it very badly when their favorite human is away for many hours.

At the same time, any change in the family dynamics might affect the dog without you realizing it. A sensitive dog might become anxious if you’re redecorating or changing the carpet. Anything unfamiliar can trigger a bout of anxiety. 

Or he might be stressed following a loud storm or a firework display.

When a dog is stressed or anxious, the body responds by releasing cortisol, a hormone that is supposed to help him cope with such situations. If the body produces too much cortisol, this may send the dog’s metabolism into overdrive. His internal temperature rises and this explains the need to pant and cool down. 

When is the dog’s panting at night the sign of a disease?

If a dog that used to sleep like an angel starts waking up at night panting it might be the sign of a disease, and this warrants a trip to the vet. Here are the main health issues that might keep your dog awake.

Pain

Your dog might be in some kind of pain, caused by a disease or a physical trauma you may or may not be aware of. In older dogs, it might be pain in the joints, but you need to consider any type of condition that may cause pain.

Just as with stress, the body deals with pain by releasing cortisol and this can lead to a higher body temperature, the dog needs to reduce through panting. Monitor the dog’s behavior during the day as well, and take him to the doctor if you notice worrying symptoms.

Respiratory issues

When the dog has a respiratory disease, such as pneumonia, he’ll have trouble getting enough oxygen. If he has a fever, then panting would be the normal response if he is too hot.

If the dog doesn’t get enough oxygen, it might be that he’s not actually panting, but breathing rapidly to take in more air.

Brachycephalic dogs, such as Pugs or Bulldogs, are prone to respiratory issues so don’t be surprised if they wake up at night for lack of air.

Cushing’s disease

This disease causes the adrenal glands to produce too much cortisol, which makes the dog get overheated. Panting is a common symptom of Cushing’s disease, but you might not notice it during daytime or you might put it down to the dog running a lot too much. 

Other common symptoms of Cushing’s disease include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Putting on weight and getting a pot belly
  • Skin infections
  • Hair loss
  • Tiredness

If you notice such symptoms, you need to see a vet, as your dog might have a tumor. Surgery to remove the tumor will solve the problem, but in some cases surgery is not an option and your dog will need medication to keep the condition under control.

Heart disease

Many types of heart conditions, including heart failure, may cause respiratory issues. This can lead to rapid breathing, which can be mistaken for panting.

Why is my senior dog waking up panting at night?

As mentioned before, panting might be associated with some type of pain, and senior dogs have many ailments, such as arthritis or cancer, that usually cause pain. 

On the other hand, an old dog may wake up at night because he needs to go potty. If the dog has kidney disease, urinary tract infections, diabetes, or an upset stomach, he will wake up frequently because he needs to go. He might get restless if you don’t take him out and, in some cases, he might pant.

Another common problem with senior pets is cognitive dysfunction. This is a progressive condition, sometimes referred to as canine dementia. 

Cognitive dysfunction makes the dog confused and the day-night cycle becomes upset, so he’s no longer aware it’s the middle of the night and he should be sleeping. Also, their declining health and the loss of senses make elderly dogs anxious.

There is no cure for cognitive dysfunction. All you can do is try to keep the dog comfortable and give him meds to alleviate the symptoms.

How do you stop a dog from panting at night?

The answer to this question depends on what’s causing this behavior. Often enough you can figure it out by yourself, but if you cannot find any particular reason for the nighttime panting take him to the vet for a full check-up.

If your dog is young and healthy, it’s probably the heat. Maybe you can move his bed to a cooler spot or you can leave the window open at night so he gets enough fresh air. You should also check his bedding and remove blankets or other materials that might make him warm.

If your dog has trouble sleeping after playing too much in the sun, he’s obviously sensitive to heat. Change his schedule and take him for a walk after sundown, keep him in the shade and provide lots of water.

As for dogs suffering from stress or anxiety, try to understand what’s causing them. You might want to make other arrangements so the dog doesn’t feel lonely. Find someone who can drop by during daytime to keep him company or take him for a walk. If that’s not an option, buy him some intelligent toys or make some yourself to keep him busy, leave the radio on or put some soothing music in the background while you’re away.

When you do get home, show him a lot of love, pet him, give him a nice treat and play with him. You can also create a bedtime ritual, like spending a little time with your dog and giving him a good belly scratch. This will help him sleep better and maybe he won’t wake up until daybreak. 

Closing thoughts

If a dog wakes up panting at night, look past your frustration and try to see what’s the problem with him. It might be a physical problem or a psychological thing. Either way, you have to deal with the root cause if you want to enjoy a good night’s sleep. 

In most cases, the dog is too hot and you need to help him cool down. If your dog has anxiety, figure out what’s bothering him and give him more attention.

With senior dogs, there’s not much you can do other than help him cope with the health issue he has. See a vet and get him meds that can help him keep whatever pain he’s in under control. And give him some extra love!