Dog panting

Key takeaway

 Dogs pant. It’s one of the things that makes them dogs, along with barking and fascination with balls and squirrels. Sometimes dog panting is nothing to worry about, but other times it’s your dog’s way of telling you they need something.

It’s normal for dogs to pant, and to be expected if your dog is exercising, excited, or feeling hot. However, heavy panting is something else entirely, and absolutely cause for concern. If you’ve noticed your dog is excessively panting, it could signal that they’re dangerously overheated, have incurred trauma, or may be suffering from a health condition. 

We’ll cover why dogs pants, what indicates excessive panting, and how you can help your dog get the appropriate treatment if needed.

Why Do Dogs Pant?

People sweat. We perspire over almost all of our body, and it helps us dispel excess heat through evaporation of water. Dogs are different. They sweat only through the pads of their feet. It’s panting that helps them cool themselves by getting rid of excess moisture.

When dogs pant, water and heat evaporate from the moist surfaces of the lungs, tongue, and other oral surfaces, cooling them down. If they didn’t pant, they’d become dangerously overheated.

How Do I Know If My Dog Is Panting Too Much?

On average, dogs take up to 30 breaths per minute, depending on their size. Small dogs generally have a higher respiratory rate. Some dog breeds such as bulldogs and pugs breathe more heavily because they have shorter snouts. Also, all dogs breathe faster when they’ve been exerting themselves.

On average, dogs take up to 30 breaths per minute

If you want to know if your dog is breathing too fast, the first step is to baseline what normal breathing is. Make a point of recognizing your dog’s everyday breathing and panting. Then you’ll be better able to detect a sign that something is wrong.

Most dog panting is normal, but sometimes excessive panting in dogs is a sign of a chronic health problem or even a medical emergency. If you’re concerned about the way your dog is panting, their body language may provide the answer. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they not only panting but also restless?
  • Is the panting louder or harsher than it was in the past?
  • Is the dog panting for no apparent reason?
  • Are they shaking as well as panting?
  • Do they look uncomfortable?
  • Did the panting start suddenly?
  • Does the dog appear to be in pain?
  • Is the dog chewing paws?
  • Are the tongue and gums blue, purple, or white?

Yes” to the last question indicates that the animal isn’t getting enough oxygen. “Yes” to any of the questions suggests that the dog is dangerously overheated, has experienced severe trauma, or is dealing with a chronic health problem.

If any of these are true while your dog is panting heavily, call your veterinarian as soon as you can. They can help diagnose the cause of the panting and tell you what to do next.

Reasons Dogs May Pant Heavily

There are lots of reasons for abnormal panting in a dog, and about as many recommended courses of action as there are reasons.

Anxiety or Fear

You may see your dog panting a lot because they’re anxious about something. It could be anything from Fourth of July fireworks to a change in the household environment. If the dog is fearful or anxious, they may also be pacing, hiding, walking low to the ground in a submissive position or refusing eye contact.

Sometimes behavioral training can reduce dog anxiety while other times medication is necessary. Ask your veterinarian about next steps if you are concerned your dog is suffering from anxiety or stress.

Trauma or Pain

Dogs can’t tell us in words that they’re in pain, but body language can help. In addition to increased panting, your dog may have enlarged pupils, loss of appetite, general restlessness, unwillingness to lie down, and licking the site of pain. Sometimes an injury is visible, but a dog who has been hit by something may only have internal injuries. Dogs may hide their pain with normal behavior such as tail wagging.

Contact a vet immediately if you suspect pain or trauma. Remember, there’s not only the primary injury to worry about but also the threat of infection.

Lung Disease

Respiratory disorders such as pneumonia and lung tumors can make a dog pant or breathe more heavily than normal. Your vet can recommend treatment depending on the severity of the condition and how far it has progressed.

Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease results from a dog’s adrenal glands producing too much of the stress hormone called cortisol. Additional symptoms include excessive drinking and urination, hair loss, bruising easily, and a pot-bellied appearance. It happens primarily to dogs six years and older and is more prevalent in certain breeds. There’s no definitive test, so your vet will run tests to eliminate other possibilities. It’s treated with adrenal suppressive medications and surgery.

Anemia

If your dog has trouble exercising, you might assume they’re just out of shape. However, the problem could be anemia, a shortage of red blood cells. Anemic dogs may pant in situations that don’t seem to require much effort, such as merely getting up and walking around. Anemia can be detected with blood tests and is treated with medication and surgery.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a problem in humans, and it can happen to dogs as well. A lot of the symptoms are the same, including respiratory difficulty, reduced ability to exercise, and coughing. Treatments vary depending on the cause and often include prescription medications.

Laryngeal Paralysis

The larynx is the voice box, and dogs with laryngeal paralysis find it hard to breathe without panting. The animal may sound like it’s trying to clear the throat. It occurs mostly in older dogs and large breeds such as Newfoundlands and Labrador retrievers. A vet can test for the condition, and most often it’s treated with surgery to open the airways.

Medication

There are drugs that sometimes lead to excessive panting. An example is prednisone. Your veterinarian can help you determine if any of your animal’s meds are causing a problem.

Chronic Illnesses

If the dog has ongoing episodes of heavy panting, it can be due to some variety of chronic illness. Examples are diabetes in dogs and congestive heart failure.

Heatstroke

If a dog’s heavy panting is due to heatstroke, immediate action is necessary. It’s a life-threatening medical emergency where the dog’s temperature rises dangerously. Besides panting, signs of heatstroke include rapid heart rate, glassy eyes, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and a body temperature of over 104 degrees measured with a rectal thermometer. If you suspect heatstroke, call your veterinarian or an emergency vet right now.

The vet may advise you to give the pet small drinks of cool water (not cold!) on your way to the clinic. Other procedures are to move the dog into the shade, submerge them in cool water (water that’s too cold constricts blood vessels), and give them small drinks or ice cubes to lick. You may be tempted to spray them with the hose, but don’t do it. Hose water is often near boiling on a hot day.

Signs of heatstroke in dogs

The best way to treat heatstroke is to prevent it by keeping the dog cool. Always provide shade and water in hot weather and never leave a dog in a parked car.

Dog Panting Heavily: Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my dog is panting too much?

It’s easiest to determine excessive panting if you know your dog’s normal breathing rate. Also, most of the time, panting is a concern if it occurs suddenly or for no apparent reason, is unusually harsh, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as shaking, discolored tongue or gums, or the appearance of being in pain.

dog panting

Is dog panting an emergency?

Not usually, but heavy panting can be indicative of an emergency. The most common emergency reason for heavy panting is heatstroke, which is a life-threatening condition that needs to be dealt with immediately. If you’re not sure whether your pet is in serious trouble, call your vet.

Why is my dog panting so much when doing nothing?

Dogs dispel heat by sweating through their paw pads and by panting. A certain amount of panting is normal, even for a dog at rest. Just as you might sweat while doing nothing, your dog may pant. This is especially true on a hot day.

How do you calm a dog from panting?

If a dog is panting because they’re fearful or anxious (for example, if they’re exposed to loud noises that they don’t like), there are techniques for calming them down. Sometimes just holding and petting the animal helps. Massage is another choice, starting at the neck and working downward.

There are also calming coats and shirts that produce mild and constant pressure. It’s similar to swaddling a human baby. These garments can work for anxiety about noise, separation, or the presence of strangers.

Summary

  • Panting is normal for dogs. Since they sweat only through their paw pads, they need to pant to dispel excess heat.
  • Panting that starts suddenly, occurs for no apparent reason, sounds unusually harsh, or is accompanied by symptoms such as shaking and pain is not normal. If you observe this kind of panting, call a vet.
  • Heavy panting has a number of causes including anxiety, trauma, and a variety of diseases and conditions. Treatment is different for different causes.
  • Heavy panting caused by heatstroke is a medical emergency and must be addressed immediately.

Final Notes

Sometimes an animal needs immediate hands-on treatment and requires a visit to a local veterinary clinic. However, much of your pet’s routine care doesn’t require a live face-to-face meeting with a doctor. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was  a way to maintain pet health without taking time off work or waiting weeks for an appointment?

Well, there is. Dutch is a veterinary company that provides online care for your animals. It’s becoming more commonplace for people to consult their human doctors over the internet, and now Dutch makes it possible to do the same thing for pets. Just as tele-medicine connects people with actual doctors, Dutch maintains board-certified veterinarians who are experienced in animal health care.

To work with Dutch, you start with an online visit. A veterinarian determines if your animal is a good fit for the program. If they are, Dutch vets customize a treatment plan and send drugs and even prescription medications right to your front door. Dutch maintains a relationship with local vets across the country and will recommend that you see one for issues that can’t be dealt with remotely.

While those occasions will arise where you need to take your pet into a clinic, you can work with Dutch for the ongoing management of your companion’s health. They have qualified veterinarians and science-based practices to keep your special friend in tip-top shape.

References

  1. Landsberg, Gary M., and Sagi Denenberg. “Behavioral Problems of Dogs - Behavior.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 26 Oct. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/behavior/normal-social-behavior-and-behavioral-problems-of-domestic-animals/behavioral-problems-of-dogs?query=separation+anxiety

  2. Ned F. Kuehn , DVM, MS, DACVIM, Michigan Veterinary Specialists. “Introduction to Lung and Airway Disorders of Dogs. Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 26 Oct. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/lung-and-airway-disorders-of-dogs/introduction-to-lung-and-airway-disorders-of-dogs