It's something that every dog parent has seen on countless occasions: Their beloved companion bounding back to them after a fun play session, panting from their efforts but still wagging that tail happily. We usually associate our dog’s panting with physical activity, but why do dogs pant in other scenarios? It turns out there are a lot of possible reasons.
Panting is completely normal behavior for dogs, so seeing your dog panting after a play session or a jog around the block isn't something to be concerned about. But panting can sometimes indicate health trouble — how do you know when your dog is panting normally, or panting because of a problem?
Read on to find out about some of the normal reasons for panting in dogs, as well as some of the reasons that are a cause for concern.
Normal Reasons for Panting
Most of the time, panting isn't something to be concerned about. It's standard dog behavior. Dogs pant primarily to cool themselves down, and they might also pant while playing, even if they're not hot. Panting is also part of a normal and healthy stress reaction in many dogs.
More often than not, a panting dog is a dog that's trying to cool themselves down. That's why you'll see your furry child pant after physical exertion, especially in hot weather.
Humans sweat to cool themselves down. As sweat on your skin evaporates, it helps cool your body down. Dogs, however, are covered in fur. Even if they did sweat through the skin, it wouldn't be able to evaporate. So, they pant instead of sweating.
When a dog pants, moisture evaporates from the tongue, as well as the nasal passages and lining of the lungs. When the air produced by your dog's panting passes over these moist tissues, your dog's body is cooled.
While your dog does have a few sweat glands on the feet, they don't do much to cool Fido down. Panting is your dog's primary way of lowering the body temperature after physical activity, or when he or she is outdoors on a hot day.
Panting While Playing
Even if your dog isn't outside in hot weather or exercising vigorously, you might notice them panting while they're playing. This is normal — often, some mild panting is just a sign that your dog is happy.
Look at the rest of your dog's body while he or she is playing. You'll see bright, attentive eyes, a wagging tail, and a relaxed body and facial features, accompanied by a bit of light panting. Nothing to be worried about!
Stress is bound to happen to your dog at one point or another. For many dogs, panting is a normal reaction to stressful stimuli.
Does your pooch start panting when they hear the first rumble of a thunderstorm? Many dogs experience storm anxiety, and it's one of the most common causes of stress-related panting. Fireworks or other loud noises also cause stress for many dogs, so you might see heavy panting shortly after your dog hears a "boom."
Other things can cause stress, too. Car rides, changes in the home like a new pet or a new piece of furniture, a visit to the dreaded vet's office ... the possibilities are endless. All of these stress factors could cause your dog to pant, and it has nothing to do with body temperature.
Panting as a Sign of Health Problems
It's important to understand that while most of your pooch's panting is completely normal dog behavior, it can sometimes indicate that there is a health problem. Here are some of the most common possibilities:
We've already seen that a dog will pant to cool themselves down, especially outdoors on a hot day. Allowing your dog to remain in hot weather for too long, though, can lead to dangerous heatstroke. When panting isn't enough to cool the body down, the body temperature rises and results in heatstroke.
Older dogs and brachycephalic breeds (those with squashed faces and bulging eyes like the Boston terrier, pug, bulldog, Pekingese, and shih tzu) are at an especially high risk for heatstroke. This is thanks to their unique facial anatomy, which makes breathing more difficult.
A dog that is in pain might exhibit heavy panting as a reaction, especially if they've just experienced trauma. You might also see signs like trembling, whining or crying, increased respiratory rate, limping, and biting or licking at a certain area of the body.
Toxic or Allergic Reactions
Sometimes, dogs pant when they're reacting to something poisonous, or when they're having an allergic reaction. Drooling, weakness, and vomiting might accompany panting in the case of a toxic reaction. An allergic reaction could cause coughing, sneezing, scratching with accompanying bald patches and hair loss, or vomiting in addition to heavy panting.
A variety of medical conditions could lead to panting as well. All sorts of heart and respiratory issues, including heart disease, laryngeal paralysis, Cushing's disease, lung cancer, and much more could cause panting as a symptom.
How to Address Excessive Panting
What should you do if you see your dog panting? Since panting can either be a part of normal dog behavior or a symptom of something serious, your actions depend on the circumstances and other behavior that your dog is exhibiting at the same time as the panting. Here's what to do in the most common panting scenarios:
- If your dog is lightly panting after physical activity, like a play session or a run, there's nothing to worry about.
- If your pet is relaxing outdoors in the sunshine, you might see some panting. As long as you don't leave Fido outdoors for a long period of time, he or she should be fine. Just take steps to keep your dog cool — make sure they have a shaded spot to relax under, and give them access to plenty of fresh water.
- If your dog is panting because of a stressful situation, like a thunderstorm or fireworks display, you can try to take your dog to an area where he or she can't hear the booms or see the bright flashes. Otherwise, there's not much you can do except wait for the noise to pass.
- If it's hot outside and your dog won't stop panting even after he's stopped exerting physical activity, heatstroke may be setting in. Move your dog to a cooler area immediately, offer cool water, and call your veterinarian to find out how to proceed. To prevent heatstroke in the first place, don't let your dog stay outdoors for longer than a few minutes on hot days. This is especially important for brachycephalic dog breeds.
- If it's clear that heatstroke or stress isn't the cause of your dog's panting, something else may be wrong. It's time to see the vet, because an injury, illness, or poisoning could be to blame.
Here's the bottom line: If your dog's panting concerns you, it's best to seek help as soon as possible. That way, your veterinarian can check out your dog and deal with any health trouble immediately.
So Why Do Dogs Pant, Exactly?
Putting it all together, why do dogs pant? The simple answer is this: Dogs pant to cool themselves down, especially in hot weather or after exercising.
Keep in mind, though, that other things can cause your dog to pant as well. Stress, pain, and illness are all possibilities. When you're aware of all the things that can cause your dog to pant, you'll be better prepared to notice when Fido's panting is abnormal.