It may seem like your dog is panting for no reason, but panting is a common dog behavior that always has a cause. Knowing why your dog is panting, perhaps excessively or maybe at night, will require you to consider what else might be happening for your dog at that moment. Are they anxious? Hot? Dehydrated? Learn the common reasons why dogs pant so you can react appropriately.
Why Do Dogs Pant?
Moderate to rapid open-mouthed respiration is a normal dog and puppy behavior that lowers body temperature and also gets oxygen into the dog's bloodstream. The panting dog breathes with its mouth open and tongue somewhat protruding. Panting should not be confused with labored breathing. Labored breathing is characterized by strained respiration and may be accompanied by sounds of distress like crying or whining, or whistles from the nostrils or windpipe due to blockage. These are a few common reasons why dogs pant.
To Cool Off
Panting as a cooling mechanism is necessary because dogs do not have an effective system of sweat glands like people do. Instead, dogs cool their bodies using the evaporation of moisture from the mouth and tongue, and by exchanging the hot air of their lungs with cooler external air.
Even if they are not overheating, dogs will pant from exercise. It's much like the way humans breathe heavily when doing aerobic exercise. However, panting is also the primary way for dogs to cool themselves off because they don't sweat the way humans do. Though dogs do sweat a little bit from their paw pads, this 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. It's even less efficient for short-faced dogs (like bulldogs or pugs). That's why dogs 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.
Along with profound panting, warning signs of overheating include a bright red tongue and gums, wide eyes, and weakness.
Excitement or Stress
Panting may have nothing to do with body temperature. Many dogs will pant when they experience fear, anxiety, or stress. Examples include car rides, fireworks, separation anxiety, vet visits, and other stressful events. 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 panting seems to be related to fear, anxiety, or stress, it's best to remove your dog from the situation as soon as you can.
Panting may simply be a sign of happiness in your dog. If so, 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 slow down and 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 doggie smile.
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, pacing, 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.
These are just a few of the possible reasons why your dog may be panting:
- Dogs with a high fever may pant to help lower their body temperature.
- Medications given by the veterinarian may increase respiration or prompt panting.
- A very full stomach or bloat may also cause your dog to pant, sometimes in preparation for vomiting. This can be an emergency and your pet should be evaluated immediately if they are vomiting or dry heaving.
- Cushing's disease, a condition caused by excessive production of the stress hormone, cortisol, can cause excessive panting.
- Laryngeal paralysis, a condition where the muscles that open and close the larynx at the back of the throat are weakened or paralyzed, is another cause of panting. This condition is more common in older medium to large breed dogs such as Labrador retrievers. The panting is often accompanied by a high-pitched wheezing noise known as stridor.
What to Do if Your Dog Is Panting
If the cause is immediately understood, such as play or anxiety, intervention is not needed. Offer water if they've been playing and may be hot, but if the cause is unclear or worrisome, such as from a physical problem, bring them to the vet to get checked out.
Treatment & Prevention for Dog Panting
Treatment will depend on the cause of the panting, but if it's due to heat, offer water or run the AC to help cool them down quicker. If due to an underlying condition or physical problem, your veterinarian will help determine an appropriate treatment.
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. Never leave a dog alone in a car, as cars can quickly get much hotter than the outside temperature. When in doubt, take your dog to the vet for medical attention.
How Can I Prevent Heatstroke in My Pet? American Animal Hospital Association
Lopes Fagundes, Ana Luisa et al. Noise Sensitivities In Dogs: An Exploration Of Signs In Dogs With And Without Musculoskeletal Pain Using Qualitative Content Analysis. Frontiers In Veterinary Science, vol 5, 2018. Frontiers Media SA, doi:10.3389/fvets.2018.00017
Treating Cushing's Disease in Dogs. U.S. Food & Drug Administration
Living With GOLPP. Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine