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Why Is My Dog Panting? Why Do Dogs Pant?

Why Is My Dog Panting? Why Do Dogs Pant?

Alpha Paw Sale

Jul 14, 2021
AUTHOR Dr. Christina Vulpe, DVM

Reviewed by Dr. Christina Vulpe, DVM

Dr. Cristina Vulpe is a board-certified small animal veterinarian. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 2011 and her PhD in veterinary oncology in 2015.


Why Is My Dog Panting Too Much?

When you see your dog panting, don’t panic. There are many reasons why a dog would start to pant.  The normal respiratory rate for dogs is 15 to 30 breaths per minute. Lower and higher rates are possible, and they shouldn’t necessarily be a cause for concern. Middle-aged and senior dogs tend to pant more than perfectly healthy adults.

Panting can be entirely normal in some situations. If you see no other physical changes in your dog, such as lethargy, fever, anxiety, an unusual body temperature, and even more unusual colors of their visible mucous membranes (such as blue or purple), it’s probably nothing worth worrying about.

Excessive panting can happen for several common causes, such as the following:

Stress or anxiety

You can see your canine friend panting whenever you bring them to the vet clinic. Some dogs can be extremely stressed when they are being examined by a veterinary professional, and if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. It all happens in an unknown environment, with unknown people and animals around, and it sometimes can be quite painful.

Panting excessively is also common in highly anxious dogs that can quickly become fearful if they are exposed to strange situations or human or animal friends.

While panting is one symptom of anxiety or stress, these two are usually associated with other symptoms, such as hiding, whining, or pacing.

image credit: Canva

Their anatomy

Panting heavily is normal for certain breeds, such as Pugs, Boxers, or French Bulldogs. All of these dogs have a unique anatomy, with shorter noses and flatter faces than normal. This makes them more likely to suffer from Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome, a condition they have to live with for all of their life. In other words, these dogs pant more often than other breeds.

Excitement

If you haven’t been a dog owner before, you might tend to think that excitement is more common in puppies rather than in adult dogs. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

All dogs become excited for a number of reasons. Sometimes, dogs may be over the moon as their pet parents have just come home from work, so they anticipate some playtime or just some quality family time. Some dogs pant when they’re excited, but it’s nothing to worry about.

Heat

Your dog may pant simply because they’ve been outdoors, spent time in the sun, and engaged in strenuous physical activity.

What some people might not know about dogs is that they do not have the same cooling down mechanisms that people are equipped with. They have to pant in order for the evaporation of water in their body to happen.

Also, dogs don’t sweat similarly to their human counterparts. In their case, the evaporation of water takes place through the tongue, the nasal passages, as well as their lungs. In other words, heavy panting is necessary for your dog to be able to lower their body temperature. A dog may also sweat through their paws in some cases.

image credit: Canva

What Is Abnormal Panting?

How can you make the difference between normal panting and abnormal panting?

The first tip that we have for you is to measure your dog’s respiratory rate. For example, if the normal rate is between 15 and 30 breaths per minute and you see that your dog takes 150 to 300 breaths per minute, something is definitely wrong.

If a dog is panting for no apparent reason, such as being out in the sun or engaging in exercise, it’s time to get to the vet hospital just to be on the safe side of things.

Panting in dogs can also be a sign of disease or poisoning. If you see your dog shaking, pacing, or just being extremely restless, you should be a little worried.

You could also notice abnormal panting if your dog is in pain and trying to calm themselves down. Typically, when some of the following symptoms are discernible, you should call your veterinarian rather than waiting for the issue to resolve by itself.

  • Dilated pupils
  • Yawning
  • Excess drooling
  • Lip licking
  • Harsh, raspy breathing
  • Inappropriate timing – when heavy panting appears for no explicable reason
  • Abdominal breathing, which could be a sign of lung disease
  • Food refusal
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Pain
  • Withdrawal or refusal to be touched
  • Health Issues That Cause Abnormal Panting
  • Cardiovascular health problems

While heart disease can definitely cause panting, so can other conditions like blood pressure issues, such as hypertension. Hypertension is more common in a senior dog, for example, as their body isn’t as capable of managing a variety of conditions and stress as well as a healthy adult dog’s body would.

Hypertension can be a sign of diabetes, but also kidney disease. While it is manageable, your vet will have to prescribe the right medications, which you could give your pet for the remainder of their life.

Cushing’s disease

Respiratory distress and heavy panting can be signs of hormonal imbalances, such as Cushing’s disease. This condition is caused by a malfunctioning of a dog’s adrenal glands or a benign tumor of the pituitary gland located in a dog’s brain.

Panting heavily is not the only sign that pet owners can notice if their canine friends have this disease. Other symptoms can be easy to spot, too, such as drinking and urinating excessively, a pot-bellied appearance, or significant hair shedding and thinning. The condition is relatively uncommon in young dogs and tends to affect middle-aged and geriatric patients.

Respiratory disease

Your dog doesn’t necessarily have to have lung cancer in order for them to show abnormal breathing. In fact, a pet can show a number of other symptoms in many respiratory illnesses, whether pneumonia or laryngeal paralysis.

Anemia

Panting in dogs can also be a sign of anemia, although it’s not exactly the most specific one.

In fact, if a dog is anemic, their blood is incapable of transporting the right amount of oxygen to and from their internal organs, which means that they will try to compensate and solve their oxygen deprivation through excessive panting.

There are different types of anemia that can affect dogs. In some cases, a dog can become anemic due to the destruction of blood cells — which can happen in some conditions transmitted by ticks, such as Babesiosis.

On the other hand, dogs that have spleen health issues can have low blood oxygen too, since the spleen is the organ that produces red blood cells and might not produce enough.

Bloat

Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation or volvulus, can be a potentially life-threatening condition in dogs. It can occur when dogs have ingested a lot of food or water very fast which can make their stomachs expand and accumulate gas.

Bloat is dangerous and extremely uncomfortable, so with panting, dogs will try to soothe themselves and lower their pain levels.

A dog that has developed gastric dilatation with have a higher body temperature than normal, will whine, be restless, and exhibit anything but normal panting.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke can affect dogs in a very short amount of time, particularly if they are left in the car without any windows open and the sun is shining brightly in the sky. What’s worse, heatstroke can be a life-threatening condition, especially if a dog finds no way of cooling down right away.

Most vets agree that heatstroke can be so dangerous that it can kill an animal in as little as fifteen to twenty minutes. Geriatric patients have a higher risk of dying because of heatstroke compared to healthy, young dogs.

Obesity

Unfortunately, obesity has become a rather common health issue of dogs (and cats) in the past several years. Besides making them prone to developing a number of health complications, obesity can often be associated with debilitating conditions such as arthritis.

An obese animal’s body has a much harder time transporting oxygen from the lungs to their organs. Also, obese and overweight dogs can struggle and pant heavily after taking a brisk walk or being out in the sun.

Poisoning

While panting due to poisoning is perhaps less common compared to other intoxication signs, it could be one that you might notice in your pet if they’ve ingested chocolate, raisins, antifreeze, or a number of other toxic substances.

Medications

Some medicines, such as prednisolone, but also other corticosteroids that are widely used to treat chronic pain and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis can cause a variety of clinical signs, including heavy panting.

Panting may also be associated with hypothyroidism medications or the administration of pain killers or sedatives, including opioids.

Panting due to the administration of anti-anxiety drugs like Fluoxetine or Paxil can also be common, but in this case, dogs may show other signs such as diarrhea and vomiting or fatigue.

How to Help Your Dog Cool Down

If you take your dog to the veterinarian once or twice a year and you know for sure that they aren’t suffering from any medical issue right now, chances are that your dog’s breathing fast and deep in an attempt to calm down or cool down. There are several ways to cool them down.

When a dog is panting, the worst possible idea is to give them a lot of cold water. As previously mentioned, dogs that are ravenous or extremely thirsty are not going to want to pace themselves. If you have a fur buddy from a small dog breed such as a Dachshund, it will need more care. 

If you know that your dog is panting as a result of being outdoors in the sun or after you’ve taken a long walk in hot weather or even a run, here are some tips that can help you deal with the problem.

Dealing with heat is one thing, but if you try any of the following techniques and none of them seems to work, you should call your vet or go to an emergency veterinarian near you.

Get your dog in the shade

This is by far the first piece of advice that we can give you. A cool and well-shaded spot will allow your dog to get back to its normal breathing rate without losing any more water from its body. Handle the heat by taking your dog indoors if they’ve been in the sun for too long and they’ll get their body temperature in check in no time.

Keep them away from distracting noise. A quiet place with soothing sounds in nature or even music, can help as well.

image credit: Canva

Put damp towels on your dog’s body

If your pooch doesn’t seem to be dangerously hot, you can use this indirect cooling method. Provided that your dog’s patient enough to sit in one place, you can also use frozen ice bottles or even ice cubes, but do keep in mind that when a hot dog is panting, they’ll try to lick ice or even eat it.

Due to the difference in temperature, eating ice is definitely not the best choice if you want your dog to cool down in a healthy manner. It could cause respiratory distress and in some cases, lung congestion.

If your dog has a cozy, calming blanket that they are emotionally attached to, why not freeze it or get it wet in the kitchen sink so that it can cool your pooch down?

Give your dog small amounts of water at a time

When a dog is panting, it can be very tempting for a pet owner to want to give them a lot of very cold water right away. Unfortunately, this is not the best solution and it could cause serious digestive distress, if not bloat.

Small quantities of water are better than large ones. Simply give your dog half a cup or a third of a cup of water at a time. Wait for ten to fifteen minutes and then repeat. Do this until the dog has had enough liquids. This allows your dog to cool down gradually, which is much healthier for them.

Give your dog a freezable toy

Not all toys can be frozen, and that’s because some might malfunction after being in the freezer for too long. For example, if your pooch has a Bouncy Fish Toy and it has to be recharged, it’s safe to assume that it’s not safe to be frozen.

But if your dog has a rubber toy that they love, why not freeze it and let them lick it after spending time in the heat?

Hose down your pet

It might seem messy and it might get your dog slightly dirty, but hosing down your canine buddy is actually very effective when it comes to cooling them down. Besides, your dog is not going to drink any water, so the risk of bloat will be minimal. Before you know it, your dog’s panting will have disappeared.

Plus, to get them clean afterward, you just have to use some antibacterial and antifungal medicated wipes, especially since vets don’t recommend using shampoo more often than once every couple of months.

Turn on the AC or use a fan to cool them down

If you get your dog out of the heat and put them in a well-ventilated and more importantly, cool room, they’ll stop being hot in a matter of fewer than 20 minutes. Of course, it depends on the dog breed, since long-haired ones have a harder time regulating their body temperature, but it also depends on your AC settings.

If you have any doubts whatsoever about using one of the methods that we have mentioned in this article, call your vet and ask them what the safest one for your dog might be.

Call Your Veterinarian Immediately When This Happens

If you see your dog panting and their breathing seems to be heavier and more constant than normal, you should get to the animal hospital as soon as possible. The same rule applies if you believe your dog is in pain or if the dog’s panting stops all of a sudden.

It’s important to ensure your dog is not suffering from Kennel Cough so any breathing issues should be monitored.

Call your vet immediately if you see any of your dog’s mucous membranes changing color, such as if their tongue or gums start to look white or blue. If this happens, there isn’t enough oxygen being transported from the lungs to the heart and the rest of the organs, so your dog could end up suffering from hypoxia.

Dogs can be in respiratory distress and develop laryngeal paralysis, especially if they have come in contact with a toxic substance. Rat poison, poisonous food (chocolate, slug pellets, raisins), and antifreeze, as well as several poisonous plants, can all cause excessive panting — and they are all emergencies that can lead to heart failure and even death.

If your dog’s heavy breathing doesn’t seem to be the result of hot weather or there aren’t any other explicable common reasons for your dog’s breathing changes, take your dog to the vet right away.

Final Thoughts

As pet parents, it is important to be aware of how our four-legged buddies are doing. Whether they are shaking, panting, or in pain. The sooner we understand what is happening to them, the sooner we can help. Learn more about other dog and cat health issues by visiting our vet expert corner!

Alpha Paw Sale
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Dr. Christina Vulpe, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Cristina Vulpe is a board-certified small animal veterinarian. She earned her veterinary degree in 2011 from USAMV in Iasi, Romania, and her PhD in Canine Oncology in 2015 from USAMV in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She is passionate about anything from animal nutrition & welfare to veterinary parasitology & infectious diseases. As a responsible pet parent herself, she enjoys giving reliable medical advice that pet owners can trust, which is why she joined Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts on our mission to help our readers give their pets the happy & healthy lives they deserve.

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