Panting can be normal, but it can also signal a health issue.
Rapid, open-mouthed breathing, also known as panting, is a common dog behavior — so common that it can be tempting to dismiss it as normal. But when is panting cause for concern? Learn why dogs pant and when their panting might signal that your pup needs medical attention.
Why Do Dogs Pant?
While dogs have a few sweat glands located on the bottoms of their paws, these don’t release enough fluid to help regulate body temperature. Instead, dogs rely on panting to cool themselves off. Panting causes evaporation of moisture in the mouth and respiratory system, which lowers their internal body temperature and helps prevent overheating.
Normal panting can be triggered by hot temperatures, exercise or heavy physical exertion, excitement or stress. In other words, activities that might normally cause a human to sweat can trigger a dog to pant. But when the reasons your dog is panting aren’t so clear-cut, or if the panting appears labored or excessive, then it’s time to pay closer attention.
When Is Dog Panting Abnormal?
Abnormal panting might be a sign that your dog is in distress, either emotionally or physically. Abnormal panting typically has no immediately identifiable cause — for example, it’s not hot outside, your dog hasn’t been exercising or playing, and they’re not showing other signs of excitement, such as barking or tail-wagging. Abnormal dog panting may appear excessive or labored, and will likely be accompanied by other symptoms, such as lethargy or restlessness.
Why Is My Dog Panting and Restless?
Here are five of the most common causes of abnormal panting in dogs, along with additional signs to look for and the next steps to take.
1. Breed Predisposition
Brachycephalic breeds — those with flat faces, such as pugs and bulldogs — often struggle when it comes to normal breathing, which can cause excessive panting. This is because of a narrowing of the upper respiratory tract, a condition known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS).
Other symptoms of BOAS:
- Collapse or losing consciousness
- Gas and flatulence caused by swallowing too much air
- Frequent vomiting caused by acid reflux
- Brachycephalic dogs tend to be loud breathers in general, often snorting, gagging, etc. Additionally, the breathing difficulties of brachycephalic breeds put them at a higher risk for heatstroke. While no dog should ever be left in a hot car, these dogs require extra care to prevent them from overheating.
- Talk to your veterinarian if your brachycephalic dog tends to pant a lot. Your veterinarian can help you develop a strategy to make breathing easier for your dog, including managing weight and stress, and possibly even surgery to enlarge the airways.
Sometimes normal panting isn’t enough to prevent dogs from overheating in high temperatures. If panting becomes labored or excessive, this could be a sign of heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
Other symptoms of overheating:
- Fainting or collapse
- Bloody diarrhea
- Lack of coordination
- Reluctance to move
- While the symptoms of overheating might be less severe, this condition can quickly escalate to heatstroke, which could prove fatal. Act quickly to cool down your dog at the first sign of overheating.
- Have your dog lie down in the shade or, preferably, in an air-conditioned building in front of a fan, and give them water to drink. If your dog is conscious and responsive, call your veterinarian for advice. However, if your dog loses consciousness, appears confused or dizzy or is unable to drink, get them to the veterinarian immediately.
3. Pain or Injury
Pain and injury can both cause abnormal dog panting. In fact, panting is a very common sign of pain.
- Stiffness or limping
- Antisocial or aggressive behavior
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive yelping or growling
- Dogs sometimes hide the fact that they’re in pain, in which case abnormal panting might be the only visible symptom.
- Take note of your dog’s symptoms and any visible injuries or causes of pain, and give this information to your veterinarian. Learn more about pain relief for dogs.
Abnormal panting could be a sign of a number of health conditions, including heart and lung diseases, Cushing’s disease and anemia.
- Exercise reluctance or intolerance
- Labored breathing
- Increased urination or thirst
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Pale gums
- Appetite loss
- These conditions can all be quite serious, so if your dog shows symptoms, it’s important to act quickly.
- Call your veterinarian immediately. Depending on the severity of your dog’s breathing difficulties and other symptoms, the vet may have you make an appointment for an exam, or they might tell you to bring your dog in right away.
Panting can also be a reaction to stress caused by anxiety.
- Whining or whimpering
- Excessive yawning or lip-licking
- Dogs can become anxious for a number of reasons, ranging from loud noises like parties or thunderstorms to new people or situations to being separated from their owner.
- If your dog is clearly anxious — they’re reacting to a thunderstorm, for example — do your best to calm them and reduce or remove the source of their anxiety. For separation anxiety, try providing your dog with toys, activities and distractions to help them feel less lonely while you’re gone. If this doesn’t help, your veterinarian might prescribe medication or advise other methods of calming your pup.
When to Contact Your Veterinarian
Of course, the best way to identify abnormal panting in your dog is to pay close attention to what their normal breathing and panting sound like so you can recognize the difference. Whether or not you can spot other symptoms, you should consult your veterinarian any time you have concerns about your dog’s health. While panting might not be cause for concern, your vigilance could ultimately save your pup’s life.