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Why Is My Dog Panting?

It is normal for dogs to pant! However, excessive or prolonged panting can be concerning. But how do you know if there is a problem? And what could be causing this abnormal panting?

 

Why do dogs pant?

 

Unlike humans, dogs aren’t able to properly regulate their body temperature by sweating.  In fact, they can only sweat through their paws! One of the main ways that they cool themselves down is by panting. When a dog pants, water evaporates from the tongue and mouth, and cool air is circulated around the body. 

 

When should I worry about my dog panting?

 

You will often see dogs panting when they are excited, warm, or following exercise. This isn’t concerning and is actually a normal part of the cooling process. However, in some cases, panting can indicate that something more serious is going on. Excessive or ongoing panting can indicate that your dog is having difficulty circulating fresh oxygen around the body. 

 

Some other signs can give a clue about whether or not your dog’s panting is a concern. Here are some things to look out for:

 

  • Panting more heavily than normal, or if the panting is not stopping 

  • Hearing a wheeze or coughing 

  • Gums or tongue changing color to blue, purple, or white 

  • Restlessness or seeming uncomfortable

  • Shaking

  • Vomiting

  • Excess drooling

  • Signs of pain such as limping, whimpering, or not being able to get comfortable

  • Weakness and low energy

  • Signs of distress and struggling to breathe i.e. having the head and neck stretched out or seeming unable to lie in certain positions

 

What should I do if my dog is panting excessively?

 

It’s a good idea to get to know your dog’s normal breathing pattern and rate. Most dogs will breathe between 10 and 30 breaths per minute. Dogs should breathe slowly and calmly when they are sleeping or resting. If your dog seems to be panting too much, or if the panting continues after he has stopped exercising or has cooled down, then it is always important to contact your veterinarian as there may be an underlying health problem going on. There are lots of reasons why dogs can pant, and your veterinarian will be able to help you work out if there is an underlying cause.

 

What can cause panting? Ten possible reasons

 

  1. Heatstroke 

 

Dogs can become overheated in warm weather. This is a potentially life-threatening condition and is considered a medical emergency. Often heatstroke will be accompanied by foaming, shaking, confusion, vomiting, diarrhea, bright red gums and collapse. If you think your dog may be becoming too warm, make sure he is offered water and has the time and space to cool down. However, if your dog has signs of heatstroke you should immediately contact a veterinarian who will be able to provide emergency treatment. 

 

  1. Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS)

 

This is a group of conditions resulting from the abnormal conformation of breeds with short noses. These breeds are called ‘brachycephalic’ and include Pugs, English Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, and French Bulldogs. This means that these dogs often have small nostrils, narrowed airways, and excess soft tissue which can obstruct the airways. As a result, these dogs can struggle to breathe and will often make snoring sounds as they breathe, pant heavily, and if severe, collapse. Treatment for BOAS includes surgical correction which aims to widen the nostrils and remove excess tissue from the soft palate inside the mouth. BOAS LINK

 

  1. Heart failure

 

When dogs suffer from heart failure, it means that the heart isn’t able to pump blood around the body properly. As a result, organs don’t get enough oxygen and blood backs up in the body. In addition to panting, common signs of heart failure include coughing, fatigue, collapse, a poor appetite, and weight loss. Your veterinarian will often be able to identify this based on a clinical examination, especially by listening to the heart with a stethoscope. 

 

  1. Obesity

 

Panting is often seen in overweight dogs because they are struggling to circulate enough oxygen around their body. Obese dogs will commonly suffer from problems with their heart and lungs, as well as being at increased risk from certain types of cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. 

 

  1. Cushing’s disease 

 

Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is a condition caused by excess steroids in the body. As a result, affected dogs will often pant excessively. Other signs which normally accompany Cushing’s disease include increased thirst and peeing, increased appetite, changes to the coat and skin such as baldness and thinning of the skin, and a pot-bellied appearance. Your veterinarian will be able to perform tests to diagnose Cushing’s disease if they think your dog has consistent signs. 

 

  1. Pain

 

It may seem surprising, but panting can actually be a sign that your pooch is in pain. Often you will see other signs too such as limping, stiffness, whimpering, an unwillingness to jump or climb stairs, or having difficulty getting comfortable. This could be caused by a variety of problems, ranging from trauma to arthritis. 

 

  1. Respiratory disease

 

Many problems can affect the respiratory system of dogs. For example, some breeds such as Labradors or Golden Retrievers can suffer from a problem called laryngeal paralysis. This is where the vocal cords don’t open normally, so dogs can struggle to breathe, often suffer from coughing, and may have a change in their bark. Dogs can also have problems with their lungs, including pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) and sadly, lung tumors. 

 

  1. Poisoning and allergic reactions

 

There are many hazardous substances that inquisitive dogs can sneakily get a hold of! Panting can sometimes be an indication that a dog has been poisoned. Common toxins include chocolate, raisins, rat poison, and anti-freeze. So, if your dog seems to be panting abnormally it is a good idea to think about whether she may have had access to any dangerous substances. 

 

  1. Fever

 

Just like humans, dogs can suffer from a high temperature. This can signify that there may be an infection, or potentially that a poisonous substance has been ingested i.e. a human medication or toxic plant. Dogs with a high temperature will usually also be lethargic (have a lack of energy), feel warm to the touch, do not want to eat, and shiver. 

 

  1. Stress and anxiety 

 

Panting can be a sign that your pooch is feeling stressed or anxious. It is a good idea to take note of your dog’s body language if he is panting because there may be other tell-tale signs that he is feeling tense. Is she pacing and shaking? Is he barking or whining? Are her eyes wide and is she yawning? All of these subtle signs can indicate she is actually feeling fearful. 

 

Summary

 

Panting is a normal behavior in dogs and helps dogs to cool themselves down. The level of panting should seem appropriate for the air temperature and the amount of exercise your dog has been doing. A healthy dog shouldn’t pant at rest or if he isn’t warm or excited. If he seems to be panting excessively, or the panting isn’t stopping, then it can indicate that your dog is having difficulty breathing. It is a good idea to keep an eye out for any other symptoms such as coughing, lethargy, or changes in his appetite. If you notice a sudden change in your dog’s breathing, or if there are other signs as well as just panting, then always contact your veterinarian for advice in case there is an underlying problem.