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Why is my dog panting?

The essentials

  • Dogs pant to regulate their body temperature — They don’t sweat like humans do, and panting is a way for them to circulate air and lower their body temperature.
  • Excessive panting can mean something is wrong — It’s normal for dogs to pant when hot or excited, but incessant panting can be a sign of an underlying disease or other health issue.
  • Call your vet if you notice a change in your dog’s panting habits — Paying attention to your dog’s normal breathing and panting patterns can help with early detection of other health problems.

Panting is a normal part of dog life and helps them cool off. Whether your dog is excited for dinnertime, is hot, or just went for a walk, you’ll most likely see them pant. 

Heavy or excessive panting, or when accompanied by other symptoms, can signal that something more is going on.

Here’s what you need to know to determine if your dog’s panting is normal or not.

Why do dogs pant?

Like humans, a dog’s breathing rates vary depending on the dog, their breed, and their size. Most dogs breathe 10 to 30 times every minute, but more than this can be a sign of an underlying issue.

1. Cool down

Dogs don’t sweat through their skin like humans do. While their paws have sweat glands , they’re only minimally helpful at cooling. Instead, one of the main reasons dogs pant is as a way to “sweat” and evaporate water from their mouth and upper respiratory tract. 

Panting also helps circulate air throughout a dog’s body to regulate their temperature. It’s less effective in cooling them down in hot and humid weather, so be sure to offer them lots of water and avoid exercising them on hot days.

2. Excitement

Another common reason for panting is when dogs are excited. It can happen before mealtime, going in the car, when they’re getting a treat, or if meeting someone new. It’s often a shallow pant and can be accompanied by other excited behaviors, like grinning or tail wagging. 

3. Anxiety or stress

Have you ever noticed if your dog pants on the way to the vet or during a thunderstorm? This type of behavioral panting usually accompanies yawning, whining, and pacing. You may also notice they’ll have to go to the bathroom, hide, shake, or avoid the situation by focusing on something else.

Drooling, licking, or chewing excessively are other typical anxiety and stress behaviors. Some dogs also look stressed or anxious. They may look away or lick their lips, have wide eyes, and have a stressed face. 

4. Breed

The brachycephalic dog breeds (flat-faced) have short snouts. They also have narrowed and shortened windpipes, making it harder for them to breathe and regulate their temperature. 

Due to these features, they are prone to brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) , which can be an emergency situation. Symptoms of this include noisy breathing, exercise intolerance, labored breathing, and gagging when drinking or eating.

Susceptible breeds include French bulldogs, American bulldogs, pugs, boxers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, shih tzus, Boston terriers, and mastiffs

5. Pain

When dogs are in pain, the only way they can tell us is through their behavior. Heavy panting, along with restlessness or trembling, could be an indication your dog is in pain.

Look out for other signs of pain from trauma or injury including enlarged pupils, reduced appetite, abnormal restlessness, licking or biting a particular spot on the body, yelping, or breathing more shallowly.

Pay attention if your dog is excessively panting at random times, especially when not after exercise. If they were in an accident (like getting hit by a car), even if they seemed fine, they could have an internal injury. If you’re unsure or notice any changes in their personality, it’s probably a good time to call your vet.

6. Obesity

Obesity can cause a number of health issues. If your dog is overweight and excessively panting, it could be a sign that they aren’t getting enough oxygen circulated throughout their body. The lungs have to work harder to move oxygen throughout the body due to the increased fat around the rib cage. 

Additionally, overweight pups tend to get overheated more quickly. Talk to your veterinarian during your pup’s next checkup to make sure that they haven’t developed any health issues associated with obesity, such as arthritis, heart disease, or diabetes.

7. Heatstroke

Heat exhaustion happens when your dog’s temperature rises to a dangerous level. Symptoms of heatstroke include excessive panting, drooling, seizures, loss of coordination, vomiting, glassy eyes, erratic heart rate, and weakness.

🚨 If you suspect that your pet has heatstroke call your vet immediately — it’s a medical emergency and can result in death in less than an hour.

8. Poisoning

Excessive panting can sometimes indicate a reaction to a toxin. Your dog’s body temperature may drastically increase or decrease from the toxin they ingested. Because many toxins target and affect the lungs and respiratory system, they may have a harder time breathing. 

If you notice panting associated with trouble breathing, wheezing, shortness of breath, delayed breathing, drooling, vomiting, and lethargy, these could be symptomatic of poisoning and your dog needs emergency care.

🚨If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, immediately contact the Pet Poison Hotline at (855) 764-7661.

9. More serious health problems

Panting can also be a sign of a more serious underlying cause. Here are other possible reasons for excessive panting:

  • Congestive heart failure (CHF). CHF is due to a build-up of fluid in the lungs. It can cause excessive panting, coughing or panting at rest, a swollen stomach, loss of appetite, and pale or blue gums. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately.
  • Lung diseases. Conditions like pneumonia , lungworm, lung inflammation, and certain cancers can cause excessive panting in dogs. These diseases make it harder for them to breathe, causing them to pant, struggle with exercise, or cough.
  • Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease happens when the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. It also causes muscle weakness in all areas of the body, weakening the muscles needed to breathe, and leading to panting, even when at rest. You may also notice pacing, excessive thirst and urination, a pot belly, and muscle weakness.
  • Respiratory disorders. These disorders can cause difficulty or labored breathing (dyspnea) and rapid breathing (tachypnea). A dog with breathing difficulty may stand or sit with wide legs, their neck stretched, with an open mouth, and refuse to lie down. With rapid breathing, you’ll notice coughing, snorting, hunching over, blue gums, and drooling.
  • Laryngeal paralysis. Weakness and collapse of cartilage surrounding the dog’s voice box cause laryngeal paralysis. Initial signs of this are typically shortness of breath, excessive panting, coughing, and changes in breathing sounds, such as loud breathing. It’s more common in older dogs and breeds like Labrador retrievers, huskies, bull terriers, and Dalmatians. It causes breathing difficulty and can obstruct their airways.
  • Medication allergies. Medications like steroids, pain medications, and thyroid medications can cause your dog to pant as a side effect. However, excessive panting may signal an allergic reaction accompanied by difficulty breathing, itching, sneezing, vomiting, or diarrhea. If you notice these symptoms post-medication, contact your veterinarian immediately.
  • Anemia. Anemic dogs don’t have enough red blood cells. They tend to be restless and pant because they don’t have enough oxygen getting to their organs. They’ll also have light pale pink to white gums, have little to no energy, may collapse after exercise, and may be reluctant to move at all.

Alleviate any stress or extra movement for the dog as minor exertion can be very difficult or challenging for anemic patients.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

🚨 Breathing issues can be a life-threatening emergency. Contact your vet if you notice difficulty breathing, excessive panting, or other symptoms.

What is normal panting vs. excessive panting?

Panting should typically align with factors like temperatures and activity levels. However, excessive or abnormal panting can indicate underlying issues that require attention. If your dog is panting excessively while at rest or in cool temperatures, it may signal a problem that requires attention.

Here are some things to look out for to determine if your dog’s panting is normal or not.

Assess your dog’s body language — Panting in healthy dogs should align with what your dog is doing. Are they experiencing stress, excitement, or exercise? Is it hot, or are they overheating? Healthy, active dogs typically don’t exhibit panting during resting. If they’re panting during resting or sleeping, that may signify abnormal panting.

Note other symptoms — Look for other symptoms of changes in behavior, like lethargy, decreased appetite, and coughing. Panting with other symptoms can indicate a serious condition but can help your vet diagnose underlying health issues.

Listen to how they sound — Be attentive to any changes in the sound of your dog’s panting. Abrasive panting, abnormal snorting, or any other sounds can be an obstructed airway or another serious condition. Short-nosed breeds are more prone to heatstroke due to inefficiency when panting, so make sure to monitor them closely. 

Err on the side of caution — If you’re uncertain if your dog’s panting is normal or excessive, it’s best to call your vet. Your veterinarian can evaluate whether their panting is normal or requires attention.

What should you do if your dog is panting heavily?

Take action immediately if your dog is panting heavily and something seems wrong. 

Look for other symptoms like pale, blue, or dark red gums, reluctance to move, disinterest in food or water, and labored breathing. Also, take note if they start panting heavily. Anything over 35 breaths a minute is concerning. You should call your vet straight away if you notice any of these signs. 

If you think your dog is overheating and you notice signs of stress, immediately move them to the shade or a cooler area. Cool them down with cool water (not ice cold water, as this can cause shock) and offer them fresh water to drink. Call your vet. They can advise you on what to do next. 

Do not let them drink excessively, and go with the idea of small amounts frequently over 1-2 hours.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

Even if they seem like they are recovering, call your vet immediately since this could still result in fatal consequences. Your dog may need to be hospitalized after to make sure no organs are damaged. Treatment will also likely include blood tests and intravenous fluids to help them recover.

If excessive panting comes with other symptoms, contact your vet and schedule an appointment. They may recommend diagnostic tests like bloodwork and X-rays to rule out or identify potential underlying issues. 

You know your dog. Be vigilant for any changes in behavior. Whether it’s changes in appetite, energy levels, or panting patterns, your observations can help detect potential issues early on. Timely medical intervention that could be lifesaving for your furry companion.

Frequently asked questions

Why is my dog panting while resting?

If your dog is panting while resting or sleeping, they may be having a hard time breathing. Look for other symptoms and call your vet immediately.

Why do dogs pant in the car?

For a lot of dogs, panting in the car is normal behavior. Dogs pant in the car when they’re anxious, excited, or too hot. Some dogs also experience motion sickness. Keep your dog calm, turn on the air conditioning, and offer them some water. Common signs of motion sickness include whining and pacing, excessive drooling, licking lips, smacking of the mouth, vomiting, or defecation. Your vet can provide medical advice and treatment if you think this is the case.

Why does my dog’s panting stress me out?

For many people, we can pick up on other people’s or animal’s stress. If your dog is panting and seems visibly stressed, you’ll probably get stressed, too, especially if you feel like something is wrong. 

When should I worry about dog panting?

If your dog has not been exercising and they’re breathing more than 40 breaths per minute at rest, you should contact your vet. Rapid breathing and other symptoms or behavioral changes can be symptomatic of an underlying cause. 

How do you calm a panting dog?

One of the best ways to calm your dog is to distract them. If they aren’t excessively panting or exhibiting other symptoms, try going for a walk, playing with toys or a bone, or giving them their favorite treat. Lots of love and positive reinforcement help too!