Panting is a common behaviour in dogs that involves rapid, shallow breathing with their mouth open. Unlike humans, who primarily breathe through their noses and sweat, dogs use panting as a way to regulate their body temperature and release heat.
What is panting?
When your dog pants, they draw in air through their mouth and then exhale it rapidly, which causes moisture to evaporate from their tongue and the lining of their mouth.
While panting is a normal behaviour for dogs, it can also be a sign that your dog is happy or a sign of a more serious issue.
It's important to note that some breeds of dogs are more prone to heavy panting than others, particularly those with short snouts (brachycephalic breeds), such as Bulldogs and Pugs. These dogs may experience difficulty breathing and overheating, so monitoring their panting and providing adequate ventilation and cool water in hot weather is important.
Why do dogs pant?
Primarily, your dog will pant in order to cool themselves down. The process of panting cools the blood vessels in their head and helps regulate their overall body temperature.
Reasons for excessive panting in dogs
There are various reasons for your dog panting a lot. Here's a list of what could be causing your dog to pant a lot.
1. Anxiety, fear or stress
When your dog is stressed or anxious, their response to this stimuli is classically described as "fight or flight"; this is a dog's innate survival instinct. Dr. Ron Carsten explains that when this reaction occurs, "the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated.". The physiological changes are the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones. These hormones increase your dog's heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and more.
To identify whether your dog's panting is caused by them being anxious, stressed or fearful, watch your dog's body language for changes to the eyes, ears, tail and body posture. These may also be accompanied by whining or barking.
If your dog is panting a lot, this can be a sign that your dog is in pain. Dr. Jason Nicholas says your dog "may have a faster and more shallow breathing pattern than normal.".
Panting can be your dog's way of signalling that they are in distress and need help. Look at the abdominal muscles to better identify if your dog is in pain. Dr. Jason Nicholas says, "the movement of the abdominal muscles and/or those of the chest" may change.
If you suspect your dog is injured or in pain, consult your Veterinarian as soon as possible. Your vet can help determine the cause and develop the most appropriate treatment for your dog.
3. Lung disease
If your dog's lungs are affected by a disease or are damaged, your dog may start panting a lot to compensate and maintain adequate oxygen levels. Chronic Bronchitis, Pneumonia, Heartworm Disease, and Lung Cancer are some lung diseases in dogs that can cause excessive panting.
4. Cushing's disease
Cushing's disease is when your dog's body produces too much cortisol (a hormone). The excess cortisol in the body can cause your dog to feel anxious or stressed, leading to panting. As Dr. Ron Carsten states, "Stress activates nerve and hormone responses including the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.".
If you notice that your dog is panting a lot and exhibiting other symptoms of Cushing's disease, such as increased thirst and appetite, consult a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
Due to the decrease in red blood cells or haemoglobin in the blood, the dog's body tries to compensate by increasing the heart rate and respiratory rate to transport more oxygen to the organs and tissues. This increased respiratory rate can lead to your dog panting a lot.
6. Heart failure
If your dog's heart is not functioning properly, the body may try to compensate by increasing the respiratory rate to bring more oxygen to the organs and tissues. VCA says that "The most common clinical sign of congestive heart failure is persistent coughing accompanied by difficulty breathing."
Your dog's increased respiratory rate can cause excessive panting, particularly during physical activity or periods of stress.
7. Laryngeal Paralysis
If your dog has Laryngeal Paralysis, the muscles that control the larynx become weak or paralyzed. This makes it difficult for your dog to breathe properly, which can lead to excessive panting, particularly during exercise or in hot weather when your dog is trying to cool down.
Excessive panting in dogs can sometimes be a side effect of medication. Just like humans, dogs can experience adverse reactions to certain medications, including increased respiratory rate, which can result in your dog panting a lot.
If you notice excessive panting in your dog after starting a new medication, it is important to speak with your veterinarian. They may recommend adjusting the dosage or switching to a different medication to alleviate the panting.
9. Cortisone (steroid) therapy
VCA panting is a "Short-term" side effect that they "expect a dog to experience when initially placed on corticosteroids". Cortisone, also known as prednisone, is a commonly prescribed medication used to treat various medical conditions in dogs, including allergies, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders.
If your dog is on cortisone therapy and is panting a lot, discussing these symptoms with your veterinarian is important. They may adjust the dose of the medication or recommend alternative treatment options to help manage your dog's condition.
10. Respiratory disorders
If one of the organs from the respiratory system is affected, this can cause respiratory distress and panting in your dog.
Some common respiratory disorders in dogs include asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis. These conditions can cause inflammation and narrowing of the airways, making it difficult for the dog to breathe.
If your dog is experiencing respiratory distress, it is crucial to seek veterinary care immediately.
When a dog is overweight or obese, it puts extra strain on their respiratory system, making it harder for them to breathe. This can lead to excessive panting, especially during exercise or in hot weather.
According to Vets Now, "Excessive panting in an overweight dog is often a sign that they're struggling to get fresh, oxygenated blood to their vital systems.".
If you suspect that your dog's excessive panting may be related to their weight, it is important to speak with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help you develop a safe and effective weight loss plan for your dog, which may include changes to their diet and exercise routine.
RVC says that heatstroke is when a dog's "body temperature increases to a point where serious consequences, including organ failure and even death, can occur".
Dogs can not sweat through their skin; therefore "rely on panting and releasing heat through their paw pads and nose to regulate their body temperature and keep cool." says Blue Cross.
Heatstroke can become fatal within a matter of minutes and occur when a dog is left in a hot or humid environment for too long or when they are exposed to strenuous physical activity in the heat.
Knowing the various ways to cool your dog down significantly reduces the chance of your dog overheating.
It is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible if you suspect heatstroke in your dog. Your veterinarian can provide supportive care, such as IV fluids and cooling therapies, to help manage the condition and prevent complications.
As a dog owner, it is important to be aware of your dog's normal behaviour and habits, including their breathing patterns. While panting is a normal way for dogs to cool down and regulate their body temperature, excessive panting can be a sign of an underlying health issue.
Here are some signs to look out for to determine if your dog is panting too much:
1. Duration and frequency
If your dog is panting for extended periods of time or frequently panting throughout the day when they are not exercising or in a hot environment, this could be a sign of a problem.
Pay attention to the intensity of your dog's panting. If they are panting heavily and their breathing seems laboured, this could be a sign of a respiratory issue.
3. Body language
Observe your dog's body language while they are panting. Are they lying down and resting, or are they standing up and pacing? If your dog seems restless and uncomfortable, this could be a sign of pain or discomfort.
4. Other Symptoms
Excessive panting can be accompanied by other symptoms such as coughing, lethargy, loss of appetite, or vomiting. If your dog is displaying any of these symptoms, it is important to seek veterinary attention.
If you notice any of these signs in your dog, it is important to schedule a visit with your veterinarian. They can help determine the underlying cause of your dog's excessive panting and develop an appropriate treatment plan to improve their health and well-being.
What should I do if my dog is panting?
If you notice that your dog is panting excessively, taking action is important. Here are some steps you can take to help your furry friend:
1. Check their environment
Ensure your dog has access to clean, fresh water and a cool, well-ventilated area to rest. If your dog is outside, bring them indoors to a cool area.
2. Monitor their behaviour
Watch for other signs of distress, such as lethargy, lack of appetite, or vomiting. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately.
3. Assess their panting
If your dog's panting seems more intense than usual, or if they are panting even when they are not active, it's important to contact your veterinarian. They may need medical attention to address an underlying condition.
4. Introducing dog treats
Dog treats alone are not specifically designed to help with a dog's panting. However, certain types of treats can indirectly help reduce panting in dogs. For instance, treats high in protein and low in carbohydrates, like Skipper's Fish Skin Jerky, can help regulate a dog's blood sugar level and prevent energy crashes, reducing excessive panting caused by fatigue.
Other treats that contain natural calming ingredients, such as chamomile or lavender, may help to soothe a stressed or anxious dog.
5. Seek veterinary advice
If your dog is panting excessively or showing any signs of distress, it's important to contact your veterinarian for advice. They can help you determine the underlying cause of the panting and recommend the appropriate course of action.
Remember, excessive panting can indicate an underlying health condition, so it's important to seek veterinary advice if you notice any changes in your dog's behaviour.
When to see a vet
If you notice your dog panting excessively, it's important to pay attention to their behaviour and overall health. In some cases, excessive panting may be normal, such as after a long walk or during hot weather. However, if your dog's panting seems unusual or excessive, it's best to consult with your veterinarian.
Similarly, if your dog's panting is paired with other symptoms such as lethargy, coughing or loss of appetite, it is important to seek veterinary care and advice.
Does panting mean a dog is in pain?
Excessive panting in dogs can be a sign that your dog is in pain, and it can also be a sign of other issues, such as anxiety, stress, or overheating.
It is important for dog owners to pay attention to their dog's body language and behaviour as a whole rather than just focusing on one symptom like panting. Signs of pain in dogs can include whining, whimpering, and changes in appetite or activity level. If a dog is panting a lot and displaying other concerning symptoms, it is important to speak with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I worry about my dog panting?
It's important for dog owners to pay attention to their pet's behaviour and recognize when panting may be a cause for concern. If a dog is panting excessively without an obvious reason, such as after exercise or in a warm environment, it's important to monitor their behaviour and look for other symptoms that may indicate a more serious problem.
Why is my dog panting a lot for no reason?
If your dog is panting heavily for no apparent reason, it may be a sign of an underlying health issue such as heart or lung disease, anaemia, or even cancer. If a dog is experiencing excessive panting, it's important to observe any other symptoms, such as lethargy or loss of appetite, and seek veterinary care. In some cases, panting may be a side effect of medication or a result of obesity. If you notice your dog panting a lot, take note of any accompanying symptoms and consult a veterinarian to rule out any serious health concerns.
How do you calm a panting dog?
If your dog is panting a lot and showing signs of distress, there are some things you can do to help them calm down. Firstly, try to remove them from the situation causing distress, such as a loud or crowded environment. Next, offer them water to help cool them down and encourage them to drink. You can also wet their paws and the back of their neck with a damp cloth to help regulate their body temperature. Giving your dog a cool and quiet place to rest can also help them relax.
Always consult with your veterinarian if you are concerned about your dog's panting or behaviour.