Why Do Dogs Pant?

Reasons for Panting in Dogs and When You Need to Take Action

panting labrador retriever dogs
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Why do dogs pant? Panting is a normal behavior in dogs that can mean a few different things. Panting in dogs can sometimes be misinterpreted by humans.

Should you ever be concerned about your dog's panting? As your dog's caregiver, it's important to be able to tell the difference between normal panting and panting that is a sign of distress. Learn some of the reasons dogs pant and when you should do something to address your dog's panting.

Dogs Pant to Cool Off

Even if they are not overheating, dogs will pant from exercise. This is much like the way humans breathe heavily when doing aerobic exercise. However, panting is also the primary way for dogs to cool themselves off. This is because dogs do not sweat the same way humans do. Though dogs sweat a small amount from their paw pads, this alone cannot sufficiently cool them off. Instead, dogs cool themselves through their mouths.

Panting allows dogs to release heat and exchange it for cooler air. As you may imagine, this is not a very efficient process for cooling. And it's even less efficient for short-faced dogs like Bulldogs or Pugs. That's why most dogs will start to pant even when they get even a little bit warm. The hotter a dog becomes, the more intense the panting becomes. Sometimes, heavy panting is accompanied by drooling and redness of the tongue and gums.

Extreme, intense panting could be a sign of heat stroke or exhaustion. Along with profound panting, warning signs include a bright red tongue and gums, wide eyes, and elongated appearance of the tongue. Take steps to prevent overheating by keeping your dog cool and minimizing exposure to heat. Always take careful steps to keep your dog safe in hot weather. When in doubt, take your dog to the vet for medical attention.

Dogs Pant When Anxious or Stressed

In some cases, panting may have little to do with body temperature. Many dogs will pant when they experience fear, anxiety, or stress. It's much like the way our heart rate and breathing becomes rapid when we are nervous or stressed.

Examples of potentially stressful events for dogs include car rides, fireworks, separation anxiety, vet visits, and other unfamiliar or frightening situations. Look at your dog's body language to help you determine if your dog is showing signs of fear or any other type of distress. Understanding the cause of fear or anxiety in your dog can help you minimize these incidents.

If your dog's panting seems to be related to fear, anxiety or stress, it's best to remove your dog from the stressful situation as soon as you can. In the meantime, do not coddle or appease your dog. However, you may be able to calm your dog somewhat by giving easy commands like "sit" or "down" and rewarding for compliance.

Dogs Pant When Excited or Happy

Panting may simply be a sign of happiness or excitement in your dog. If this is the case, the rest of your dog's body language will reflect this happy mood. The tail will usually be wagging in a happy way. Your dog's body and facial features will be somewhat relaxed. The eyes will appear bright and happy. Once things calm down, the panting will likely slow down and may eventually stop. Continued mild panting with an open mouth and bright eyes is normal in a relaxed, content dog. In fact, many people consider this to be a kind of doggie smile!

Dogs Pant When Painful or Sick

Panting may be a sign of pain or discomfort. Dogs are pretty good at hiding pain and illness from humans. Some dogs try harder than others to hide their discomfort. However, once they reach a certain level of discomfort they often cannot help but show signs such as panting. Look for other signs of illness or pain, such as vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, lethargy, limping, and behavior changes. Contact your veterinarian if you suspect that your dog is sick or injured. 

If at any time you see that panting is extremely intense and cannot be explained, you should get your dog to the nearest veterinarian immediately. It's always best to play it safe and let your vet check things out.