Why Does Your Dog Pant?

All dog owners have seen their dogs pant. Especially after a long walk or a vigorous romp in the backyard. Panting, in itself, is a perfectly normal behavior. But when it’s linked with other symptoms it could be a warning that something is wrong.

Panting is shallow, rapid breathing usually accompanied by your dog’s tongue flopping out of his mouth. Dogs usually pant because they are hot and are trying to cool off.

This works by helping them to facilitate a quick exchange of cool air from the outside with the hot air inside their lungs. The air flowing inside their mouths and the back of the throat and over the tongue helps to evaporate moisture and cools the dog down very effectively.

Dogs sweat just a bit from their paw pads, but unlike humans, they don’t sweat enought to do a good job of cooling their bodies. 

But panting can be something besides your dog signaling he is hot. One of the more common reasons dogs pant is due to anxiety or they are feeling stressed. This type of panting is usually accompanied by other behaviors such as trembling, whining, pacing, licking of lips and even repetitive yawning. You may notice this type of panting in dogs who are scared of loud noises or trips to the veterinarian. Dogs will also often pant if they are in pain.

Some dog breeds with flat faces such as Pugs, Boxers or French Bulldogs can’t breathe as well as other dogs due to a narrowing of their upper respiratory tract. This makes them much more susceptible to overheating and they pant more than other dogs to try to cool down.

Speaking of overheating, dogs can suffer from heatstroke if they are left in a hot environment or are exercised on a very hot day. Dogs who are having a heatstroke will pant heavily and look like they are having trouble breathing. Their eyes may appear glazed, the heartrate will be very fast and the tongue can appear dark or bright red. This is an emergency and you must act quickly to get the dog inot the shade or a cooler environment immediately. If the dog is conscious and able to drink, give him water and call your vet for advice.

Panting can also be caused by an infection in the dog’s respiratory tract, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. The dog may cough, have difficulty breathing and have a fever.

Allergic reactions can also cause panting, especially if the allergy causes the tissues of the throat or tongue to swell or causes constriction of the small airways in the lungs.

Obesity can cause overweight dogs to pant as the extra weight puts a burden on the dog’s heart and lungs.

Other reasons for panting include Cushing’s disease, a disease where the adrenals release too much of the hormone cortisol. Dog’s whith Cushing’s also may have a pot belly, weight gain and you may notice thinning of their hair as well as of their skin.

Plus, heart problems can cause dogs to pant as they are not getting enough freshly oxygenated blood into their bloodstream.

Needless to say, all of these conditions require immediate veterinary consultation.

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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