Dog panting- pain or heat?
June 5, 2011 6:15 PM   Subscribe

Family Dog is a 14.5 year old Dalmatian/Blue Heeler mix. Last summer she was diagnosed with spinal stenosis- a narrowing of the spinal column- basically, she has a "bad back", which causes her pain, makes her sometimes get her back feet get crossed and mixed up. Currently, she's on 3 pain meds (Tramadol, Gabapentin and Metacam), plus glucosamine to help her mobility. I can't tell how well they're working.

Despite loosing most of her hearing and much of her sight, she's still slowly and guardedly mobile- she climbs up onto the couch when we're out, has the same voracious appetite as ever, wags when we come to her, and will bark out the window at any dog that walks by, just like her old self. My concern is her almost continuous panting, which might be a pain response, or it might just be her cooling down- we don't have AC, but we are in WI- it's summer, but not TX hot. She's never been a panting dog at rest, but she's never been this old before either- things can change. She has 2 new breathing modes- standing around actively panting and sounding distressed, or lying down with a breathing cycle that goes from quiet, through 4-5 increasingly deeper, more purposeful breaths, then ramping back down, through 4-5, then cycling that pattern.
She never yelps or flinches- no signs of acute pain. But is there any way to know how much chronic pain she's enduring? I can't tell if my old friend is in constant discomfort (and how intense it is), or just hot? I want to keep her comfortable in her old age, but I'm unsure if I'm succeeding.
posted by Steve3 to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From a friend: "Dear OPP, this sounds like my dog, similar age/heritage/symptoms - she has been successfully treated for congestive heart failure - totally maneagable for a price - please ask your vet to check for this as it sounds just like what our dog has gone through ;)"

From me: no matter what, talk to your Vet.
posted by coriolisdave at 7:00 PM on June 5, 2011

This doesn't sound good. CHF was the first thing that came to my mind also. THREE pain meds? That's hard on an old doggie's system. You need an impartial evaluation on how your poor pup is doing. Hopefully, your buddy will get an exam and a med tweek, and be good for a while longer. She's had a good run--14.5 years is getting up there. You've taken good care of her.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:44 PM on June 5, 2011

I think panting in digs is a discomfort response, but it's hard to know WHY the dog is uncomfortable. My senior dog with many pain etc issues started panting earlier this year, and it took us a couple of months to pinpoint hypothyroidism as the cause and get her on effective treatment. She had *just* had normal blood tests, so we tried more painkillers...we tried Pepcid...we tried different painkillers...tried a few more her blood tested again and this time it came up abnormal. With treatment the panting has vanished.

So hey. Even if your dog has known potential discomfort, there could be something ELSE going on too. And the bucket that holds the "possibilities for discomfort" for a 14-yr-old dog is a pretty wide and deep one. You vet should be able to help you work out if there's pain, or if there's something else--and what that something else might be.
posted by galadriel at 7:45 PM on June 5, 2011

THREE pain meds? That's hard on an old doggie's system

The number of pain meds is actually likely quite appropriate - combining different meds gives you better pain control (and this combination is very common and effective, it addresses a variety of areas of the pain pathway) and often means you can use lower doses of all of them. I work for a pain management specialist vet and I can't tell you how nice it is to see a vet actually using some of the wide range of meds available to help with chronic pain. The only one of those that has any real potential for side effects is the NSAID (Metacam). And animals only care about quality of life, so pain management is extremely important. Tramadol and especially gabapentin have wide safe dosage ranges, so it's entirely possible that your dog may just need a meds adjustment if this is pain related panting.

That said, pain management can be helped enormously with physical rehab therapy - it can help improve and maintain range of motion and improve muscle tone. Here is one place to look for a practitioner.

THAT said, panting could easily be discomfort OR heat or something else, the best thing to do is consult your vet.
posted by biscotti at 7:55 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Old girl has been seen by 2 of her regular vets and one PM visit to the emergency vet in the last month, so they're pretty up to date on her status. Both agree that her ticker sounded great, and there were no signs of hypoxia. She's had the Tramadol for many months, it was 2 weeks ago we upped that dose and added Metacam, and less than 1 week ago the Gabapentin. Vet told us that the Gabapentin takes about 2 weeks to be effective, so technically, she's probably not getting the effects of 3 pain meds yet.
The heat I can't control much. I can wait and see if the Gabapentin changes things.
@biscotti: Physical therapy for such an old dog? It was last fall that she started telling us that she didn't want to go for walks anymore, and now she shows the most distress when she's up and active- it feels very counter intuitive for me to think that more activity would benefit her.
posted by Steve3 at 8:25 PM on June 5, 2011

PRT can be passive range of motion exercises and very gentle activity, it doesn't have to be running or whatever you're thinking of. But activity and mental stimulation is important, even if it's just getting out to the front yard to lie on the porch and watch the world go by - it is especially important for an older dog.

One thing to keep in mind is that one of the temporary side effects of gabapentin is drowsiness, so if there's any correlation between the panting and the start of the gabapentin, it's possible it may be a side effect (this usually wears off within a week or two).
posted by biscotti at 6:15 AM on June 6, 2011

I have a 16 1/2 year old Dalmation/Lab mix. He's on Metacam liquid every few days.

He pants fairly continuously (for the past 1-2 years), but, like your pup, gets around, and actually wants to play now and again (gets a ball and wants you to put it down in front of him over and over. No chasing - he'll just look at you and walk away if you throw it too far).

He has two younger dogs in the house that I think keep him a bit younger. He doesn't play with them, but occassionally scolds them (barks) when they start wrestling in the same room he's trying to rest in.

Back legs are horrible.. he stumbles every now and then, but gets around the majority of the time. He's fallen twice, but after a day or so and some extra Metacam, was back to 'normal.' His day is basically lay down, get up, go to the other room, lay down. Get up, bark to go outside, bark to come back in, lay down. Bark to eat, lay down. Go outside, do his business, come back in, lay down.

We're honestly amazing he's still alive, but if he showed major distress, we'd have to consider doing something, but right now, he's just chugging along like a crotchety old man.
posted by rich at 8:07 AM on June 6, 2011

Nice to see that your Dal mix started panting like mine, but still chugs along. They sound alike- her back legs are real trouble: rising from reset is slow and purposeful, and we can't let her get near the stairs- she will trip down them. Maybe she's not feeling all that bad.... just can't be sure.
posted by Steve3 at 2:06 PM on June 6, 2011

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