Panting is a perfectly natural behaviour in dogs. Here we look at the reasons they do it, and when you shouldn’t ignore it, with the help of Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner.
You probably know your dog pants more after a long walk, or on a warm summer’s day. But do you know about other causes of panting in dogs? And when is it a sign that something is wrong?
In this article and video, we’ll take a closer look at the reasons why dogs pant, and how to tell the difference between normal breathlessness and excessive panting that could indicate your dog needs veterinary help.
Why do dogs pant?
Dogs don’t sweat in the same way as we humans do to cool down. Instead, they rely more on panting to regulate their body temperature when they get hot. As dogs pant, hot, moist air is transferred across the mucous membranes in their nose, mouth and lungs. As this moisture evaporates, it creates a cooling effect. It’s natural to see dogs panting more on warm days, or after heavy physical exertion. Their panting will usually slow down as they recover from exercise and their body temperature returns to normal.
To keep dogs safe in the warmer months, however, avoid walking them during the heat of the day and be vigilant for signs of heatstroke – continuing rapid or laboured panting accompanied by lethargy, lack of coordination, very red gums, vomiting or even seizures.
Heatstroke should always be treated as an emergency. Move your dog somewhere cool, pour cool (but not shockingly cold) water over them or apply wet towels, give them small amounts of water to drink and take them to the vet as soon as possible.
Dogs don’t only pant when they’re hot. It’s common for dogs to pant when they become excited – so you may notice your dog does it more while you’re preparing for a walk, or when they meet new people or dogs. Excited panting is usually shallower and more rapid than panting due to heat or exercise, and you may notice your dog whining at the same time.
Stress and anxiety can be another trigger for increased panting. Things like a trip to the vet, changes within household dynamics or an encounter with a strange dog can all make your dog feel stressed. Watch out to see if your dog’s increased panting is accompanied by other signs of stress. If you notice these symptoms regularly, you may want to think about how to reduce stressful situations for your dog, or ask your vet for advice.
Pain or illness
Panting can sometimes give you a clue that your dog is in pain. If your dog keeps panting for no apparent reason, and this is accompanied by other signs of discomfort, such as excessive self-licking, enlarged pupils, restlessness or whimpering, talk to your vet.
Certain illnesses, like Cushing’s disease or heart problems, can make your dog pant more than normal. If increased panting is combined with other symptoms like lethargy, coughing or increased urination, then book your dog into the vet for a check-up as soon as possible.
The sudden onset of unexplained, heavy panting can also be a sign that your dog has eaten something poisonous. In mother dogs that are nursing, heavy panting can be a sign of milk fever, also known as eclampsia. As with any abrupt and acute deterioration in their health, seek veterinary advice immediately.
Some medications, including steroids like prednisone, can cause excessive panting in dogs. Your vet will be able to advise you if any medication your dog is on may cause them to pant more than normal, and how to manage this.
Should you worry about your dog’s panting?
Most of the time, panting isn’t anything to worry about in dogs. Usually, you’ll be able to pinpoint an obvious reason for your dog’s panting – whether the pair of you just finished a long, brisk walk, or they were excited to meet a new friend! In most cases, your dog will stop panting naturally. Make sure they have fresh, cool water, and some time and space to relax.
In some situations, you may be concerned that your dog is panting more than normal, or their breathing seems out of the ordinary. Things to look out for include:
- Your dog suddenly starts panting for no reason
- They are panting constantly
- Their gums are blue, white, purple, or very red
- They are showing other signs of pain, discomfort or illness
You know your dog better than anyone, so if you’re concerned about their panting, it’s always safest to seek urgent advice from your vet.
Do some dog breeds pant more than others?
Brachycephalic or flat-faced breeds like French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boxers have shortened muzzles that make it harder for them to cool their bodies down. These breeds usually pant a lot more than other breeds, and may make snorting noises while they’re panting. They’re also particularly vulnerable to heatstroke, so extra care should be taken to keep them cool during summer. And make sure you’re always giving your dog the right amount of exercise for their breed.