Older Lab Struggling on Summertime Walks

Disorder of the Larynx may be at Fault


How can I tell when my black lab, 12 years old, is becoming overheated on our walks?  We walk about 20 minutes daily, about 9:00 AM.  He seems to pant even during the cool of the morning, and heavy panting after our walk.  I don’t want to stress him if we need to adjust our walk.


Dr. Nichol:

Your dog is having a tough time. The danger signs to watch for: heavy/labored panting, gums that are darker red or have a purple tinge, and thick, stringy saliva.


Labs are a working breed. They love their people and would never refuse a jaunt in the wide wide world. They rarely complain but by age 12 most, if not all, suffer from moderate to severe arthritis, making even short walks a challenge. If your canine senior is overweight he’s working really hard. Even moderate exercise can turn dangerous if he also struggles with heart disease or if his cooling system is falling behind.


Dogs don’t have sweat glands so they dissipate excess body heat by moisture evaporation from the tongue, mouth, and throat. They can speed this up by panting faster. Anything that slows air flow, like laryngeal paralysis, can spell disaster. It’s an insidious problem, common in older labs, that causes louder than normal panting. It doesn’t take a lot of exertion in the hot sun to put a dog like this at risk.


Dogs who even begin to show signs of hyperthermia (overheating) need treatment fast-before heading for the nearest veterinary hospital. Spray him with water or immerse him in a tub and then direct a fan at him. Apply rubbing alcohol to the foot pads, armpits, and groin. Avoid ice because it will constrict blood vessels in the skin and actually slow the cooling process.


Your fine lab should see his doctor for a thorough exam of his larynx, joints, and heart. A prescription weight loss diet like r/d and medications to reduce pain and inflammation could make a very big difference for him.


Arthritic dogs still need exercise. It’s too late for him to climb Mount Everest but he has no business embarking on a career as a canine couch potato either. He’ll feel better and live longer if he gets a couple of 10-20 minute brisk walks every day. Carry a collapsible bowl (available at pet supply stores) and a bottle of water. You’re a caring dog owner. I like the way you think.