By Sophia Catalano, DVM as send in PetMD
Panting can be a normal behavior for a dog, but it can also signal an underlying medical issue.
So how do you know when your dog’s panting is a sign that something’s wrong? Here’s what you need to know about dog panting.
What Causes Dog Panting?
Here are some common reasons why dogs pant.
Panting is a normal behavior for happy and active dogs. It helps dogs cool themselves down because they can’t sweat like humans do.
Panting allows a dog to rapidly inhale, humidify, then exhale the air, which increases the evaporation of water from your dog’s nose and lungs. The evaporation of water cools the body from the inside out.
A large amount of water can be evaporated in a short amount of time when a dog’s panting, so always make sure that your dog has access to plenty of fresh water on hot days.
This type of normal panting can be quite heavy, but the level of heavy breathing should correlate with the air temperature or amount of activity your dog is doing.
Dogs also pant when they are excited. Panting is a normal behavioral response when something exciting happens, like meeting new people or getting a treat. This type of panting can be rapid and shallow, and it’s often accompanied by whining.
Similar to dog panting that’s brought on by excitement, dogs also commonly pant and whine when they are stressed.
If you see your dog panting, take note of their body language. Are their eyes wide and weary? Are they looking away and yawning? These are some common body language cues that indicate your panting dog is stressed.
Assess the situation to determine how you can make your dog more comfortable to prevent them from becoming fearful or more stressed.
It is important to know that dog panting can indicate nausea, discomfort, and pain. Your veterinarian can assess whether your dog is panting because they are in pain by conducting a thorough examination and possibly diagnostic tests.
Medications, especially prednisone or other steroids, may cause increased panting even when your dog is not hot, excited, or stressed. This is a common side effect, and if your dog’s panting is excessive, you should talk with your vet.
Overheating, or heatstroke, will cause heavy panting in dogs, which can quickly lead to dehydration and death if untreated. Treating heatstroke requires emergency veterinary care.
Dogs that are overheated pant very heavily and will likely appear uncomfortable in some way. They could be restless, laid out flat, and/or not responding to you because they are so focused on cooling themselves.
You can prevent heatstroke on hot summer days or while hiking and spending time outdoors by taking frequent breaks, seeking shade, and offering your dog plenty of water. Do not have your dog out in high temperatures or for long periods of time. Dogs with short snouts should stay cool and hydrated on warm days as they are more prone to heatstroke.
NEVER leave your dog in a hot car. The interior of a car can reach scorching temperatures and threaten your dog’s life in as little as 10-15 minutes, even on mild days. Run the air conditioner or leave your friend at home when running errands.
How Can You Tell Normal Dog Panting From Excessive Panting?
Use these tips to help determine whether your dog’s panting is normal or a sign that something is wrong. If you have any feeling that your dog is panting excessively or abnormally, call your vet.
Take Note of What Your Dog Is Doing
Panting should correlate with the outside temperature or activity. Healthy dogs usually don’t need to pant in the absence of exercise or excitement.
Could your dog be stressed, excited, or hot? If so, this is probably normal dog panting. If your dog is panting or breathing rapidly during rest or sleep, however, this is often abnormal panting.
Look for Other Symptoms
Is your dog lethargic or not eating well? Have they been coughing? Other symptoms are clues that can help distinguish normal panting from abnormal panting. These clues will help your vet diagnose the cause of your dog’s panting.
Pay Attention to Changes in Your Dog’s Panting Sounds
Changes in the sound of your dog’s panting shouldn’t be ignored. Some dogs, particularly Labradors and Golden Retrievers, are predisposed to a condition called laryngeal paralysis. This is a dysfunction of the vocal cords that causes the airway to not open as wide as it should. The result is a characteristic abrasive sound when these dogs pant.
Similarly, dogs with short snouts like Pugs and English Bulldogs can make abnormal snorting sounds while panting due to a long soft palate or excessive tissue in the throat that causes obstruction of the airway.
Dogs with either of these conditions are more predisposed to heatstroke because they cannot efficiently pant to cool themselves. Keep them cool and watch for these sounds when they pant.
When in Doubt, Call Your Vet
How do you know when to call your vet? Short answer: Whenever you are concerned. Don’t wait and worry about your dog’s panting needlessly. Leave it to your veterinarian to determine if your dog is experiencing abnormal panting.
What to Do if Your Dog Is Panting Heavily
If you think something is wrong, take these steps to help your dog immediately.
If your dog is overheating:
Act quickly, but don’t panic:
- Cool your dog by wetting them with a hose, and move them indoors or at least to the shade.
- Offer them water to drink.
- Call your veterinarian or a local emergency hospital for guidance.
- If you have to bring your dog to the hospital, run the air conditioner in your car.
Your dog may be hospitalized to receive treatment with fluids and to have blood work done to make sure their organs were not damaged.
If your dog’s panting is accompanied by any other symptoms:
Consult a veterinarian right away to schedule an appointment.
Your pet may need blood work or x-rays to rule out many concerning diseases. Treating the various other causes of excessive panting can range from giving your dog medication at home to hospitalizing your dog for advanced treatment.
You know your dog’s behavior best, so if you’re concerned, call your veterinarian. You may be saving your pet’s life.