Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Dog panting in a vintage car

The essentials

  • Dogs pant to help regulate their body temperature — Dogs only have a small number of sweat glands on the pads of their paws, which means they need to pant to stay cool.
  • Some dogs are more likely to pant than others — Older dogs and brachycephalic breeds like French bulldogs, English bulldogs, Boston terriers, and pugs are more likely to pant due to respiratory problems.
  • Excessive panting should be brought to your vet’s attention — Heavy panting can be signs of underlying conditions like heart problems, heat stroke, anxiety, and other medical conditions.

While some dogs take well to car rides, others can find it very stressful, causing an increased likelihood of accidents, excessive barking, and panting. But exactly why do dogs pant in the car?

Panting can be due to a few factors — they could be too hot from a lack of air conditioning or they could feel nervous and anxious. However, some dogs will pant because they’re excited for the ride. It all depends on each dog’s personality. Additionally, some dog breeds have short snouts, making it harder to breathe in excessive heat, like French bulldogs, English bulldogs, shih tzus, and pugs.

Dog stressed in a car

Understanding dog behaviors 

A dog’s reaction to a car ride will often come from what they have been trained to associate the car with, purposely or accidentally. Dogs that only take car rides to vet appointments twice a year may not do well with car rides. They could associate the car with the possibly painful experience at the other end of the trip.

Dogs who are often taken on car rides for fun are more likely to enjoy a road trip. They’ll associate it with a  great experience and won’t fight the idea of going on a ride. However, no matter how often you take your dog on a fun ride, they could become very stressed if they suffer from generalized anxiety.

The phenomenon of dogs panting in cars

When a dog is panting, it is not just breathing quickly. Rather than increasing the amount of air in the lungs, panting from anxiety, stressful situations, or being hot are short and quick respirations. They mainly involve the upper airways to move air over the tongue and mouth to evaporate and cool, much like an evaporative cooler for a house.

German shepherd looking out of a car window

Reasons why dogs pant in cars

While the most common reason a dog pants is to regulate its temperature on a hot day, other causes could range from excitement to more serious medical issues.

  • Excitement. More common in young puppies than adult dogs, some of our pets will get overly excited and start to pant to catch their breath.
  • Anxiety. Overly anxious dogs are more likely to pant more if they associate the car with going somewhere they don’t like. Positive association training is important to help with this.
  • Heat. Characterized by excessive panting or difficulty breathing, a dog that is left in a hot car can run the risk of heatstroke. If you notice your dog panting alone in the car, please ensure the air conditioner is on or that a window is cracked. Hot cars can be very dangerous for dogs.
  • Motion sickness. Some pups suffer from car sickness , so their panting is a sign that they might vomit. This is usually associated with increased drooling and licking. It’s very important to have water to avoid the risk of dehydration. This is also prevalent in puppies under a year old as portions of their inner ear responsible for balance may not be fully developed.
  • Stress or fear. Heavy panting is one of many signs of stress in your dog, so it is important to identify the cause of your dog’s fear. Fear could stem from being afraid of going to a dog park or being around strangers.

Signs of abnormal panting

While panting is known to be a cooling mechanism for your four-legged friend, it’s important to keep an eye out for strange behaviors. Please contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent panting. If someone is suffering from anxiety or stress, they are often told that a smart way of calming down is to take deep breaths. Similarly, dogs that are suffering from chronic panting without any exercise could be having issues with anxiety, too.
  • Heavy panting. Sometimes dogs are struggling to get enough oxygen in their body. This can be caused by obesity, heart disease, or diabetes.
  • Panting coupled with other symptoms. Panting can be a sign of conditions like Cushing’s disease, heart failure, and laryngeal paralysis, so it’s important to bring changes in your dog’s panting to your vet’s attention.
Small dog panting in front car seat

How to differentiate between normal and abnormal panting 

When the weather hits high temperatures, it is common to see your dog lounging in the shade with an open mouth. Panting is their natural way of cooling off since their fur coat traps heat. The evaporation of water off a dog’s tongue and lungs has a cooling effect similar to when humans sweat.

However, there may be cause for concern if it’s not a warm day or if your dog hasn’t been engaging in physical activity. This could be a sign of stress from hiding a physical injury or a side effect of a health issue. Thankfully, this isn’t always the case.

Brachiocephalic or short muzzled dogs have some serious malformations like a narrowed windpipe, excess soft tissue surrounding the throat and windpipe, and what is part of upper airway changes that can easily contribute to dyspnea or difficulty breathing. It is like a constricted throat. Excitement and excessive heat are common reasons for these problems. However, keeping them cool and responding quickly if you suspect a problem can help avoid tragedy, and immediate veterinary care and supervision may be necessary.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

Managing panting in dogs during car rides 

There are plenty of different reasons that your dog might be panting in the car — from sudden, loud noises on the road to having a hard time moving around. It’s important to try to reduce the possible causes to make it an enjoyable experience for all parties involved.

Train and acclimate before traveling — Creating positive associations between your dog and the car and their travel crate can help them stay calm during travel. If the tight space is not scary to them, they will not feel stressed or worried in their new surroundings. Short trips around town to get them used to the car can help.

Manage the heat — On particularly warm days, make sure that you have given your dog plenty of water to help keep them hydrated. Additionally, don’t be afraid to turn on the AC or lower a window to get some cool air circulating.

Use calming techniques to ease anxiety — If your dog is having a difficult time staying calm in the car, it might be a good idea to take them for a long walk before car rides. This will help reduce excessive energy and increase their chance of sleeping through the ride.

When to seek professional help

If you notice a drastic change in your dog’s respiratory habits, it’s imperative to notify your vet as soon as possible. This change in their body language may not seem like much to you, but it could have a different meaning to a medical professional. Also, if you are worried your dog isn’t comfortable, it could help to contact a dog behaviorist.

Dog panting outside car window

While not every dog will breathe the same way, it’s good to keep an eye out for changes. Some short-muzzled dogs will have shallow breathing due to a shortened upper respiratory tract, so they will pant to try to get the air they need. Sometimes, you just have an excited dog on your hands that wants to keep playing. Observation is key, and don’t be afraid to ask your vet questions.

Frequently asked questions

How do you calm a dog from panting in the car?

While it is not an immediate solution, training sessions can help your dog become more comfortable with the idea of getting in the car.

Why is my dog panting while in the car?

Dogs pant for various reasons like cooling down, coping with motion sickness, or because they are stressed and need an outlet.

How do I know if my dog has car anxiety?

If your dog seems afraid or distressed at the idea of getting in the car, they likely have car anxiety. Medications and showing them that the car is nothing to fear might help. This includes showing them that the car doesn’t always take them to places that they don’t enjoy.

What can I give my dog for travel anxiety?

There are different medications that your veterinarian might prescribe for your furry friend, including antidepressants and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.