Panting is a typical dog behaviourbut you may wonder why it occurs, or whether your pet's panting is exaggerated or unusual. Researchers have looked into dog panting to determine the causes; what they discovered may surprise you.
What is panting in dogs?
Moderate to rapid breathing with open mouth is a normal behaviour of dogs and puppies that lowers the body temperature and also brings oxygen into the dog's bloodstream. The panting dog breathes with its mouth open and tongue slightly protruding.
Panting as a cooling mechanism is necessary because dogs do not have an effective system of sweat glands like humans. Instead, dogs cool their bodies by evaporating moisture from their mouths and tongues and by exchanging the hot air from their lungs with cooler air from outside.
Panting should not be confused with labored breathing. Laboured breathing is characterised by strained breathing and may be accompanied by sounds of fear, such as cry or whining, or whistling from the nostrils or windpipe due to blockage.
Common reasons for panting
Even if they don't overheat, dogs will panting from exertion. It is very similar to the way humans breathe heavily during intense exercise. However, panting is also the main way for dogs to cool themselves, as they do not sweat like humans. Although dogs do sweat a little on the soles of their feet, this does not allow them to cool down sufficiently. Instead, dogs cool themselves through their mouths.
By panting, dogs can give off heat and exchange it for cooler air. As you might imagine, this is not a very efficient process. It is even less efficient for short-faced dogs (such as bulldogs or pugs). Therefore dogs start panting, even if they get even slightly hot. The hotter a dog gets, the more intense the panting becomes. Sometimes heavy panting is accompanied by drooling and redness of the tongue and gums.
In addition to deep panting, warning signs of overheating include a bright red tongue and gums, big eyes, limp and long hanging tongue. Take measures to prevent overheating by keeping your dog cool and minimising heat exposure. Always take careful measures to keep your dog safe in hot weather. Never leave a dog alone in a car, as cars can quickly become much hotter than the outside temperature. If in doubt, take your dog to the vet for medical attention.
Excitement or stress
Panting can sometimes have nothing at all to do with body temperature. Many dogs pant when they experience fear, anxiety or stress. Examples include car rides, fireworks, separation anxiety, vet visits and other stressful events. Look at the Your dog's body language to help you determine whether your dog is showing signs of anxiety or any other form of fear. Understanding the cause of your dog's anxiety or agitation will help you minimise these incidents. If panting appears to be related to fear, anxiety or stress, it is best to remove your dog from the situation as soon as possible.
Many dogs pant when they play
Panting may just be a sign of happiness in your dog. If so, the rest of your dog's body language will reflect this happy mood. The tail will usually wag in a cheerful manner. Your dog's body and facial features will be somewhat relaxed. The eyes will appear bright and happy. Once things calm down, the panting will slow down and eventually stop. Persistent mild panting with an open mouth and bright eyes is normal in a relaxed, contented dog. In fact, many people consider this to be a dog's smile.
Pain or discomfort
Dogs are pretty good at hiding pain and illness from humans. Some dogs try harder than others to hide their discomfort. However, once they reach a certain level of discomfort, they often cannot help but show signs, such as panting. Watch for other signs of illness or pain, such as vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, lethargy, limping, pacing and behavioural changes. Contact your vet if you suspect your dog is ill or injured.
If, at any time, you notice that panting is extremely intense and cannot be explained, you should immediately take your dog to the nearest veterinarian. It is always best to play it safe and let your vet check things out.
These are just some of the possible reasons why your dog is panting:
- Dogs with high fever may pant to lower their body temperature.
- Medicines given by the veterinarian may increase respiration or cause panting.
- A very full stomach or bloated feeling can also cause your dog to pant, sometimes in preparation for vomiting. This may be an emergency and your pet should be examined immediately if it vomits.
- The Cushing's disease, a condition caused by excessive production of the stress hormone cortisol, can cause excessive panting.
- Laryngeal palsyA condition where the muscles which open and close the larynx at the back of the throat are weakened or paralysed is another cause of panting. This condition is more common in older dogs of medium to large breeds, such as Labrador retrievers. The panting is often accompanied by a high-pitched squeaking sound known as stridor.