Dog panting is usually a sign that your dog is feeling hot. But when is it a sign of something more serious? Usually accompanied by a big lolling tongue, panting is just rapid, shallow breathing. Humans do the same thing when we need to cool down – without the lolling tongue!
It is very a common behavior in dogs as they’re high-energy animals that love to run around and play, and their fur coats don’t help! However, there are several medical problems that can cause abnormal panting in dogs. Let’s take a deeper look at why dogs pant, when it’s abnormal, and what the causes could be.
Why Do Dogs Pant?
The most common cause of panting in dogs is feeling too hot or overexcited. It can be alarming because when dogs pant, they can breathe up to ten times faster than normal. And some breeds, such as Bulldogs and Pugs, naturally breathe quicker than others because of their short noses.
However, if being hot is the cause of your dog’s heavy breathing, it is usually nothing to worry about. So if your dog is panting on a hot day or after going on a walk, or playing a game with you, this is likely just their way of cooling down. Don’t panic!
That said, there are other, more serious reasons for panting, so be vigilant if your dog’s panting seems out of place, abnormal, or excessive.
When Does Dog Panting Become Abnormal?
It’s hard to quantify exactly how quick is too quick for a dog to be breathing as they can breathe very quickly when they’re absolutely fine.
But if your dog’s breathing seems to be strained or labored and feels unnatural, if your dog is distressed by their own breathing, or if it’s much louder than normal, watch out for the following signs and symptoms of more serious medical problems.
Common Causes Of Dog Panting
Let’s take a look at the medical conditions most often associated with extreme or out of place panting.
When dogs get hot, they pant, and when they overheat, they pant excessively. Heatstroke occurs when your dog is overexposed to temperatures over 70°F, and it can be life-threatening.
Heatstroke requires immediate veterinary treatment in which the body temperature will be gradually cooled with ice, cold water, IV fluids, and in severe cases, oxygen. Until the dog can see a vet, they should try your best to cool them down at home.
Other signs of heatstroke include:
- High temperature
- Stomach upsets
- Bleeding from the nose
- Falling into a coma
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs, in which they become filled with fluid and result in heavy breathing. This cause will either be bacterial or fungal and sometimes related to breathing in a foreign substance.
If your dog has pneumonia, they should see a vet as soon as possible for examination and treatment. This will either be antibiotics or antifungal medication depending on the cause of the problem.
Other signs of pneumonia include:
- Runny nose
In severe cases, dehydration can be life-threatening and must be treated by a vet with fluid therapy. During the wait, dehydrated dogs should be given sips of clean, cold water, with added electrolytes if possible.
Other signs of dehydration include:
- Loss of skin elasticity
- Sunken eyes
- A dry nose and gums
- Overall weakness.
Dog asthma is caused by extreme sensitivity to common allergens such as dust and air pollution and can cause extreme panting. Dogs with asthma require on-going antihistamine medication or their lungs could face permanent damage. If a dog has an acute-asthma attack, they may need to be hospitalized for oxygen treatment.
Other signs of asthma include:
- Heavy, labored breathing
- Wide-mouthed breathing
Stress, anxiety, and fear can all cause excessive and out of place panting in dogs. Dog breeds prone to experiencing anxiety include Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. Common causes of anxiety include phobias, separation, a change in schedule, and a loved one being ill or passing away.
If the cause of a dog’s stress or fear is not something that can be eliminated, you should try to associate it with something positive. If that’s not possible, there are several herbal treatments & pet products sold online & in pet stores to help reduce anxiety in dogs. Physical reassurance, lots of exercise, play, low-sugar treats, relaxing music, and a proper bedtime routine will all help as well.
Other signs of anxiety include:
- Loss of appetite
- Being destructive towards themselves or things within the home
When a dog ingests a toxic substance, it can cause them to pant excessively. Whether it’s chocolate, a poisonous plant, or a pesticide, if your dog ingests something poisonous, you should call your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline for advice on what to do next.
Depending on exactly what and how much was ingested, they may tell you to wait and see or go straight to the hospital to induce vomiting or take an antidote.
Some signs of poisoning can vary depending on what was ingested, but universal signs include:
- Excessive drooling
- Stomach upsets
- Falling into unconsciousness.
A very serious potential cause of panting is heart failure. Dogs with these symptoms require urgent veterinary examination, as heart failure is as life-threatening as it sounds. It is also more likely to affect bigger breeds of dogs such as Great Danes and Saint Bernards.
Unfortunately, heart failure is a progressive condition and there is no cure at present time, but there are life-prolonging treatments. Which treatment is prescribed depends on the type of heart failure present. There are two kinds; acute and chronic. Both require lifestyle changes and on-going medication, and in severe cases, oxygen therapy, or possibly even surgery.
Other signs of heart failure include:
- A reduced desire for physical activity
- Getting tired out easily
Cushing’s syndrome is a condition that causes the overproduction of the hormone cortisol in the adrenal or pituitary glands, usually caused by a tumor. It famously causes excessive hunger and thirst, and as a result, extreme panting. Breeds prone to Cushing’s include Poodles and Yorkshire Terriers.
Cushing’s can be life-threatening if left untreated, so dogs showing symptoms should be taken to see a vet for blood tests right away. Cushing’s can be treated if the tumor is non-cancerous (which it usually is), and hasn’t spread. Surgery to remove the tumor can be performed, but it is complex and risky, so vets will typically prescribe life-long medication to manage the issue instead.
Other signs of Cushing’s syndrome include:
- More urination than normal, and having accidents within the home
- A swollen belly
- Hair loss
- Fragile skin
- A proneness to skin infections
Though relatively rare in dogs, lung cancer can affect any dog breed and causes are usually either genetic or environment-related.
Dogs with suspected lung cancer must be taken to the vets for scans and testing as soon as possible. Treatment includes surgery and chemotherapy, but the prognosis for lung cancer in dogs is unfortunately not very good. Depending on the severity of the tumor and the treatment received, dogs with lung cancer can expect to live for between 3 – 16 months.
Other signs of lung cancer include:
- Labored breathing
- Weight loss
- Exercise intolerance
Anemia causes a reduction in the red blood cells or oxygen in the blood. Therefore, dogs with anemia can experience respiratory issues like panting. Dogs suspected of being anemic need to have their blood tested right away and treatment options include corticosteroids, chemotherapy, or even surgery or blood transfusions depending on the severity of the case.
Other signs of anemia include:
- Jaundice (yellow eyes, gums, and skin)
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways, causing irritation in the throat. There are two types; acute bronchitis is a short-term infection, while chronic bronchitis is a long-term, irreversible condition that is quite common in older dogs.
That said, both can be treated with veterinary prescribed medication, and chronic bronchitis should not shorten a dog’s life.
Other signs of bronchitis include:
Laryngeal paralysis is a condition that causes the eventual collapse of the voice box muscles. It most commonly affects Irish Setters and Labradors. Vets treat laryngeal paralysis with anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, and sedatives, and in severe or congenital cases, surgery.
Other signs of laryngeal paralysis include:
- A shortage of breath
- Noisy breathing
- A different sounding bark
- Gagging when eating or drinking
Pulmonary Edema, or fluid on the lungs, is often caused by heart problems and head traumas. It is also not uncommon in puppies, because their respiratory systems are undeveloped and vulnerable. It’s a very serious condition that requires urgent veterinary examination. Treatment for the condition includes oxygen therapy and medication.
Other signs of pulmonary edema include:
- Trouble breathing
- A blue tongue & lips
Pain or Trauma
Sometimes dogs pant when they’re in pain, so if your dog has experienced a trauma or injury they should be taken to see a vet as soon as possible. Common physical traumas that dogs experience are car accidents, being attacked by other dogs, and ingesting foreign bodies.
Dogs, especially older dogs, may also be in pain due to a health problem unrelated to their respiratory systems, such as arthritis.
Other signs that a dog is in pain include:
How Can I Stop My Dog From Panting Excessively?
To calm your dog’s breathing down, take him to a cool, quiet place in the home. Then, get him to lie down and give him sips of cool, clean water, gently pet or massage him and speak to him in a calm tone of voice.
Putting something sweet like honey in the water will take his focus away from his breathing and slow it back down into a regular pattern.
When To See A Vet For Heavy Dog Panting?
If you’ve attempted to calm your dog down and 30 minutes have passed but he is still panting excessively, be on the lookout for any other uncharacteristic symptoms and call your vet to ask for their advice on what to do next.
Depending on what their other symptoms are, they may tell you to wait and see or go into the clinic for further examination and treatment.
Dog Panting – FAQs
Dogs often pant when they are overexcited because the emotion can cause them to get hot from all of the tail wagging and jumping about.
It is hard to quantify what is abnormal, but if you feel your dog’s breathing is unnatural or strained, if they’re distressed by their breathing, or if it’s much louder than usual, you should watch out for other symptoms of respiratory issues such as coughing and wheezing and consult a vet.
A dog that is panting and restlessness is most frequently an indication of anxiety. Anxiety in dogs has a number of common causes including phobias, separation, a change in schedule, or an illness or loss in the family.
Other signs of anxiety include pacing and yawning, and it is especially prevalent in puppies and some rescue dogs.
When the source of a dog’s anxiety is not something that can be eliminated, you should try to associate it with something positive. If that’s not possible, make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, play, cuddles, healthy snacks, and a relaxing bedtime routine. If necessary, try some anxiety-reducing pet products such as herbal plug-ins, tablets, drops, and jackets.
If your dog is panting at night, they are likely either too hot, anxious, or experiencing some kind of respiratory distress.
Where the first two options aren’t applicable, look out for other symptoms such as coughing and wheezing which could indicate asthma, fluid on the lungs, or pneumonia. If your dog appears to be having symptoms of a respiratory issue, take them to see a vet as soon as possible.
Abnormally excessive panting could be a sign of a dangerous health problem. If your dog has spent time in hot weather, they could be dehydrated or overheated, so check their body temperature and skin elasticity. If they’re also drooling excessively, they could have ingested a poisonous substance and should see a vet immediately.
However, if they are also coughing and wheezing, it could be a sign of a respiratory issue such as asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, or fluid on the lungs. It could also be a sign of a more chronic condition like lung cancer, heart failure, or laryngeal paralysis.
Alternatively, if your dog has yellow gums, it could be a sign of anemia, or if they are experiencing excessive thirst, it could be Cushing’s syndrome. Dogs can also pant excessively when they’re in pain, so it could be a sign of a health problem or injury completely unrelated to their respiratory systems.
Dyspnea means shortness of breath, and Tachypnea means abnormally rapid breathing. Shortness of breath is not necessarily dangerous and can be a result of exercising and overexcitement in dogs. Whereas, abnormal breathing is likely a sign of a health problem and should be monitored.
Older dogs may pant excessively if they are experiencing pain, such as in arthritis, or they could have a health condition that directly affects their breathing. Such conditions include bronchitis, a common illness in older dogs, and heart failure.
Very rarely will panting mean that a dog is close to passing away. It might in some instances where the dog is extremely ill with a health condition, but if this is the case, other signs will be present and a vet should be called immediately for advice.
Dog panting, more often than not, is nothing to worry about unless it’s abnormal or accompanied by other distressing symptoms. Did you learn anything new in this article or have anything you want to add about the topic? Let us know in the comment section down below!