Why do dogs pant?

katy towle 13 July 2021

While panting can be a normal part of doggy life, it can also indicate an issue. In this article we’ll discuss when panting is something we need to be concerned about.


Physiological Panting


Dogs sweat a little from their paws and ears but are unable to sweat through their skin like we do. Due to this, they rely heavily on panting to help cool them down when warm. Warm air escapes the body while cooler air is inhaled. Water evaporation adds to the cooling effect. When it is warm, you’ll notice your dog pants. This is especially true if they’ve been exercising. This sort of panting is expected and will soon resolve once your dog is cool again. 


Over heating


It is important that owners can tell the difference between normal panting when warm and heat stroke. Dogs with heat stroke will pant excessively and may also have signs such as glazed eyes, red gums, drooling and wobbly walking. While the classic case of heat stroke occurs in those dogs locked in warm cars, dogs can develop heat stroke when outside too. Those most at risk are snub-nosed breeds who are over-weight.

Help keep your dog cool by avoiding the mid-day sun, offering plenty of water and using cool mats. Consider making your pooch a tasty ‘ice pop’ by freezing some wet Pooch & Mutt food inside a Kong. Remember, on a warm summer day you can keep your dog occupied with indoor games and training and don’t have to go on a walk.


Stress or Excitement


Panting can be a response to elevated cortisol (the ‘stress’ hormone) levels. Alongside panting, you may notice that your dog is restless, yawns and lips their lick. This sort of panting is something we see all too commonly at the vets. You may also find your dog does it at home if they suffer from separation anxiety or noise phobias. 

For anxious dogs, it is important we try to alleviate their symptoms. This usually means a combination of calming supplements, calming food (such as our Pooch & Mutt Calm and Relaxed) and behavioural modification. Consultation with a veterinary behaviourist is advised so they can address the underlying anxiety and help improve your dog’s quality of life. For very nervous dogs, discuss the possibility of a prescription anxiolytic medicine with your vet.


Medical issues


Sometimes, panting can be a sign of something more. Heart disease, lung disease, hormonal disorders and laryngeal paralysis can all result in dogs who pant at inappropriate times. Similarly, those in pain or who have a fever may also pant. You will notice that these dogs pant even when not warm or stressed. They may also have other signs such as a cough, lethargy or wheezy breathing. Generally, these dogs are less able to exercise and cope in the heat.

Any unexplained panting requires veterinary attention. The vet will examine your dog, focusing on their heart and lungs. They may advise some diagnostic tests are carried out, such as a blood test and chest x-ray.

 

From anxiety or excitement, to simply trying to cool down, there are lots of ‘normal’ reasons your dog may huff and puff. While every dog will pant from time to time, if you can’t figure out why your dog is panting, a check-up is a sensible next step.