By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
With Guest Author Emila Smith.
Imagine it’s the middle of summer and you’re wearing warm clothes that cover your entire body (apart from your palms and feet). You would be sweating and still feel hot. That is what your dog goes through on warm days.
Although dogs have sweat glands on their paws, this mechanism is too inefficient. So they keep cool by panting.
Naturally, you would expect your pup to pant for a few minutes until they’re cooled off or relaxed, then stop. But what if your pooch won’t stop panting? We’ll explain below what could be going on and what you can do about it. But first, let’s dig in a little deeper and learn more about panting in dogs.
What Is Panting, and Why Do Dogs Pant?
As mentioned earlier, panting is a cooling mechanism adopted by canines to compensate for less efficient paw sweating. Dogs are not the only animals that pant. Some birds have been known to engage in a behavior akin to panting, called gular fluttering (opening their mouths and fluttering their neck muscles to help release heat). Next time you visit a poultry farm in the summer, keenly observe the birds. If it’s really hot, they have their beaks open huffing and puffing to keep their bodies cool.
When your dog pants, they inhale cool air and expel heat through their breath, which evaporates to accelerate cooling. Imagine being sweaty and a breeze crosses your body – it would feel heavenly because the wind speeds up cooling!
Dogs pant for many other reasons other than cooling off. When your pup pants, it could be a sign of joy or an indicator that something is wrong.
Other Reasons Dogs Pant:
- Excitement – Pups that are easily excitable may start panting before doing something they love, like receiving a treat, meeting new people, going out to the park, and so on.
- Stress / anxiety can lead to your pup panting. It may look like she is excited. However, a closer look at her body language will tell you if she is scared or stressed.
- Pain – It causes stress, which triggers the release of cortisol in your dog’s body. Cortisol causes the body temperature to rise, thus your dog pants.
- Heat Stroke – Overheating in dogs could cause excessive panting. Your pup will appear very uncomfortable. You may notice they are unusually restless, laid out flat, or so focused on cooling down that they don’t respond to your calls. If your furry buddy experiences heat stroke, you should call a vet immediately or take her to the nearest vet emergency care center.
- Confusion – If you own a senior dog, you may have noticed some dementia-like symptoms. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction mainly affects older dogs. It could trigger anxiety and cause the dog to pant seemingly without a good reason.
- Medication – some medications, especially steroid-based medicines like Prednisone could cause your pooch to pant even when she is not hot, excited, or stressed.
- Medical Conditions – Obesity, respiratory issues, heart disease, endocrine disease, neurologic disease, and others can result in excessive panting.
How to Tell if Your Dog’s Panting Is Excessive and What to Do
Many pet owners have a hard time differentiating normal panting from excessive panting. If your dog pants at times other than after playing, exercising, or cooling down, something could be bothering them. The following tips will help you discover if your furry buddy is panting abnormally.
Your dog makes unusual breathing sounds – Know what your dog’s normal breathing sounds like. Dogs with short snouts, like Frenchies, often have anatomical abnormalities that make it more difficult for them to breathe normally. They are at an increased risk of respiratory obstruction as well as heat stroke, both of which are medical emergencies. If your dog is panting and makes more abrasive or snorting sounds than usual, there is cause for concern.
What to do: Call the vet immediately and have your pup checked.
There are other symptoms besides panting – If your furry buddy is not only panting but also coughing, lethargic, or lacks appetite, something could be bothering them. Panting is another sign that all is not well.
What to do: Schedule an appointment at the vet and have the pup examined.
Your dog’s body language is different – Are your dog’s eyes wide and weary? Is he turning away and yawning? How about the tail, is it tucked or immobile? These are body language signs that your pooch is panting because she is stressed.
What to do: Assess the situation and identify what could be causing the stress. Solutions range from removing your furry buddy from the stressful environment, or trying to relieve their anxiety through various strategies, including giving calming products.
The following first aid measures could also help save your dog’s life:
- Remove your pooch from the hot or stressful environment.
- Put your furry buddy in a cool room with an air conditioner or a fan running.
- If possible, take and record their temperature. Temperatures exceeding 103° F are considered abnormal and temperatures above 106° F are associated with excessive heat exposure, which can mean heat stroke.
- If your dog’s temperature is elevated, begin cooling your dog by applying cool wet cloths to their neck, armpits and groin or pouring water over these areas. Wetting the ears and paws can help too.
- Provide plenty of fresh cool water to drink if your dog is interested in drinking.
- Contact your nearest veterinary facility.
*This blog was developed with Veterinarian Dana Wilhite, DVM to help educate pet owners.
- Griffin C. How Birds Keep Their Cool. Audubon.org, August 1, 2012.
- Jacob J. Normal Behaviors of Chickens in Small and Backyard Poultry Flocks. Poultry.extension.org, last accessed March 28, 2022 at https://poultry.extension.org/articles/poultry-behavior/normal-behaviors-of-chickens-in-small-and-backyard-poultry-flocks/
- Denenberg S, Liebel FX, Rose J. Behavioural and Medical Differentials of Cognitive Decline and Dementia in Dogs and Cats. Canine and Feline Dementia. 2017;13-58. Published 2017 Sep 21. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-53219-6_2
- Swann JW, Garden OA, Fellman CL, et al. ACVIM consensus statement on the treatment of immune-mediated hemolytic anemia in dogs. J Vet Intern Med. 2019;33(3):1141-1172. doi:10.1111/jvim.15463
© Stephen Sinatra, Vervana, LLC and Emila Smith. All rights reserved.