It can feel alarming if your dog begins to pant after being active, but there's nothing to worry about. Most dogs will also pant after going up or down the stairs or running around for a long time.
However, if your dog is panting when he is not active or experiencing any kind of heat stress, that's abnormal panting and you should call your vet about how to proceed next. Let's take a look at why dogs pant and when you should be concerned.
Why Do Dogs Pant?
When dogs pant, they regulate their body temperature by increasing blood flow to their skin. Dogs have lots of sweat glands in the soles of their feet and the inside of their legs. When they are in hot weather or they are being active, they use these glands to release moisture onto the surface of their skin.
Glands on the outside of the dog's body release fluid as the dog's temperature rises. The fluid evaporates on the skin, taking some of the body heat with it. The result is that the dog's internal temperature is lower than it would be if no evaporating took place.
Dogs can also pant when their blood sugar is low, they are feeling anxious, or if they have been running for more than a few minutes. Panting helps bring their internal temperature down.
What Is Causing Your Dog to Pant?
There are several reasons that your dog may be panting. What's important is understanding what constitutes normal panting in dogs and what is considered excessive panting. If your dog has been panting for more than 10 minutes without stopping, it's time to call your vet immediately. This may be a warning sign that your dog is suffering from a serious health condition.
The following are some common reasons that dogs pant:
- Heat - If your dog is outside on a hot or humid day, you will likely find them panting heavily. This is considered normal panting as it is your dog's way of lowering their body temperature. Make sure your dog stays hydrated on hot days and avoid exercise during the hottest parts of the day to reduce the risk of heatstroke.
- Exercise - If your dog has been running around and playing, they release some of their body heat through panting.
- Stress-related panting - Dogs who experience anxiety, whether it is situational during a thunderstorm, separation anxiety, or generalized anxious behavior often pant. This is a sign that your dog has an elevated level of stress and is releasing cortisol. This stress hormone causes a number of physiological reactions in a dog's body, including heavy panting.
- Low blood sugar - Dogs can pant as a symptom of hypoglycemia, in particular if they are overheating or stressed. Excessive panting, combined with drooling and shakiness is a sign of low blood sugar. This is not normal and you should take your dog to the vet.
- Illness - Many illnesses can cause dogs to pant more than usual. When panting is combined with other symptoms like fever, malaise, lethargy, or loss of appetite, it's a good idea to see your veterinarian for a check up. While it may be something minor, it can also be a sign of serious illness. Conditions like heart failure, Cushing's disease, and laryngeal paralysis can all cause excessive panting in dogs.
What To Do When Your Dog is Panting Heavily
If your dog's panting seems excessive, take a look at the environmental factors at play. Is the weather particularly hot? Are they tired after playing for a long time? Are they stressed out? If the panting seems to be caused by something in their environment, you can do a few things to reduce your dog's panting.
- Keep them hydrated - Dehydration is one reason why your dog may pant more than normal in hot weather. It is also a cause of heatstroke, so make sure your dog has extra water on hot days.
- Keep your dog cool - You can help your dog regulate their temperature by keeping them out of direct sunlight and giving them a cool place to rest.
- Keep your dog calm - If your dog is panting from anxiety, you can help them calm down by reducing stimuli around them. This means eliminating loud noises, removing other animals or children, and giving them some peace and quiet to ease their nerves immediately. Excessive cortisol levels that are sustained for long periods can cause other health problems. If you think your dog is suffering from high levels of stress or has difficulty settling, your veterinarian can help you find treatment options that can help.
When To Call Your Vet
If you can't find a reason for your dog's panting or you have intervened and your dog is still experiencing heavy panting, it may be time to seek help immediately.
Panting is considered abnormal panting when it has the following characteristics:
- Heavy panting compared to the dog's normal pattern
- It occurs at inappropriate times, like when it is cold outside or your dog is at rest
- The panting requires more exertion than normal
- Panting sounds raspy, harsh, or overly noisy
Abnormal panting is considered an emergency if your dog is also experiencing the following:
- signs of distress or pain
- prolonged exposure to high temperatures
- restless, unable to lie down, or trying to vomit but not successfully
- weakness or lethargy
- red or inflamed gums
Medical reasons for heavy panting in dogs include:
Dogs who are overweight or obese naturally pant more during exercise than dogs who are at a healthy weight. This is because it requires more effort to move their body around and it taxes their respiratory system more than if they were lighter.
Panting heavily is a common symptom of discomfort. Dogs who are in pain often start panting before other symptoms like whining, and limping. You may also notice excessive licking or chewing of a certain body part. Have your dog checked by the vet if you suspect they are showing signs of pain.
Overheating is one of the most common reasons for excessive panting in dogs, but it doesn't always occur because of hot weather or overexertion. Dogs can develop a fever due to infectious processes or viruses. Their body's natural response is to pant heavily to try and cool them down. Extreme heatstroke can also cause increased respiratory rates and fever - if you think your dog has a fever, this is a medical emergency and they should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Panting heavily is one of the first indicators of heatstroke. Hydration and a cool space will help reduce your dog's panting, reduce their breathing rate and cool off their body. Heatstroke is easily avoided by taking precautionary measures.
- Respiratory disease
When lung disease prevents oxygen from being transported effectively throughout the body, oxygen deprivation results. The body's natural response is to start breathing faster and harder, which causes panting heavily.
- Heart failure
Heart failure causes a dog's heart to do a poor job of pumping blood throughout their body. When this happens, there is an increased respiratory rate that often results in panting.
- Stress or fear
Your dog may pant or experience heavy breathing when they feel stressed. Panting is considered a primary behavior exhibited by anxious dogs. Behavioral panting will also be accompanied by other body language, such as: yawning, a tucked tail, whining, drooling, clingy behavior, lip licking, trembling, or hiding.
Low numbers of red blood cells result in overall oxygen deprivation to the body. Much like other medical concerns, panting heavily is how the dog's body tries to compensate for the condition.
- Laryngeal paralysis
Under normal circumstances, a dog's larynx or windpipe has a flap that opens during breathing and closes while swallowing to prevent choking. Sometimes this flap fails to open properly and creates restricted airflow to your dog's lungs. This causes raspy, loud panting.
- Cushing's disease
This is a hormonal imbalance caused by an overproduction of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Inappropriate panting is one of the first symptoms of the condition and the panting usually resolves with adequate treatment.
- Steroid Therapy
Dogs who are treated for illness using steroids like prednisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, or other steroids can have symptoms that mimic Cushing's.
Monitoring Your Dog's Panting and Breathing
If you are concerned that your dog's panting may be a lot or that they are experiencing heavy breathing, there is a way you can keep track of your dog's patterns. It's possible that your dog's panting is normal but that your dog simply isn't getting enough rest. Dogs cool off through panting after exercise. While it's good for them, dogs, like humans, can overexert themselves to the point of exhaustion, but it's hard to know how much is too much.
The Fi GPS dog collar keeps track of your dog's Strain Score. This score lets you know when your dog is experiencing heavy breathing or panting, so you know when they need to slow down.
An activity tracker gives you up to date information on your dog's panting and breathing, so you know when something is wrong. It can give you the info you need to intervene by taking your dog to the vet and offers the opportunity to catch health problems before they become too serious.
Dogs pant for a variety of reasons, but the most common one is overheating. Since they can't sweat, dogs cool down by releasing moisture from the glands in their tongue, which cools off their body. If your dog is panting, check the environment and take steps to help them cool down.
If your dog has been panting for an extended amount of time, call your vet to discuss any concerns. Panting isn't usually a cause for concern, but it can be an indicator of an underlying issue.
For more articles about pet tips, check out the Off Leash blog at TryFi.com.
Want to know more about TryFi.com? The Fi Dog Collar is a GPS tracking collar that not only keeps track of your dog’s location, activity levels, and sleep patterns, but it also alerts you if your dog escapes your backyard. This is the fastest way to find your dog after an escape. Try the Fi Dog Collar today!