Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Panting

Why is my dog panting so much?

Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Panting

Dogs pant. They pant when they exercise, when they are hot, they pant when they are excited. Panting is your dog’s way to cool their body. Because dogs don’t sweat, the only effective way they can cool themselves is by panting. All dogs do that, and it is perfectly normal.

So if panting is normal, why worry about it?

Normal vs. abnormal panting

What is normal for your dog and what are the circumstances?

Sharing your life with your dog, you should have a good idea of what is their normal breathing. I’m sure you’re also familiar when they are likely to pant.

If your dog’s panting doesn’t fit the typical pattern, they might be in trouble. Excessive or unexplained panting can be a symptom of a serious health issue.

Overheating

Overheating can happen quickly and might progress to heatstroke.  Contributing factors include level or exercise and excitement, ambient temperature, and even anatomical conformation. Brachycephalic breeds, for example, are in an increased risk of overheating. These dogs have a hard enough time breathing as it is and cooling their bodies is much more difficult for them.

Heatstroke can cause catastrophic damage to your dog’s body and can lead to brain damage and even death.

If your dog is panting heavily and you have a reason to suspect heatstroke, check for other signs. If your dog’s gums and tongue are deep red, purple or blue with thick sticky saliva, move your dog to a cool place and spray them with cool (not cold) water or place wet rags or towels over them, particularly near the stomach and inside of legs. Do not immerse your dog in cold water! If your dog’s temperature is over 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40°C) take your dog to a vet immediately.

Related articles: Heatstroke – See It Coming: Canyon’s Story

Obesity

Obesity is a common cause of excessive panting in dogs. An obese dog is also more likely to overheat. Activity is more exhausting for an overweight dog. While being obese might be normal for your dog, it doesn’t mean it’s good for them. Obesity can lead to serious health problems including heart and cardiovascular disorders, pancreatitis, joint disease, liver disease, and other conditions. And it too increases the risk of heatstroke.

Fever

While heatstroke is hyperthermia due to environmental factors, fever is caused by your dog’s immune response. Your dog might get a fever as a response to infection or other illness. Signs of fever can include loss of appetite, lethargy, or changes in behavior. If your dog has a fever see a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause. As with heatstroke, temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit is an emergency and needs immediate medical attention.

Pain

Heavy or frequent panting can be the first warning that your dog is in pain. With some dogs, it might be the only sign you can see. Other times, you’ll have other symptoms to go on, more or less apparent.

Other signs of pain include behavioral changes, antisocial or aggressive behavior, loss of appetite, changes in body posture and movement, excessive licking, and shaking or trembling.

Respiratory or cardiovascular disorders

If your dog’s body isn’t getting enough oxygen, their breathing pattern will attempt to compensate, resulting in panting. It could be that the heart isn’t able to pump blood properly, or it could be not enough oxygen gets into the blood.

Accompanying signs can include reduced exercise tolerance, weakness, and coughing.

If your dog is panting for no apparent reason or continues to pant longer than ten minutes after exercise, talk to your veterinarian.

Anemia

The other side of the coin is when both the heart and the lungs work well, but your dog’s blood contains a low volume of red blood cells. The result is the same–your dog’s body is starving for oxygen.

Pale mucous membranes are a big red flag pointing to anemia. Other signs include loss of appetite, weakness, and lethargy.

Hormonal imbalances

Excessive panting can be a sign of some hormonal disorders, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease. 

You might also notice other signs such as changes in appetite, drinking, and urination, weight gain, changes in behavior, and skin and coat changes.

Anxiety and stress

Both excitement and stress constitute aroused emotion; one in a positive way, the other in a negative way–physiologically, though, they are not that different. The symptoms of both, including excessive panting, are very similar. Stress, however, particularly chronic or prolonged, can have a profoundly negative impact on your dog’s health and quality of life.

Other signs of anxiety include hiding, trembling, pacing, vocalization, and destructive behaviors. While this is considered a behavioral issue, there are actual negative physiological changes in your dog’s body, such as elevated levels of cortisol–fight or flight response.

When your dog’s body is in the fight or flight state, the body maintenance and immune functions shut down. That isn’t a good thing.

Medications

Some medications, particularly steroids, can have the same result for the same reasons. Excessive panting is one of the changes you will see in your dog on this type of therapy.

Bottom Line

Both physiological and emotional stress can result in excessive panting. There isn’t such a big difference between them.

If your dog is panting excessively, or without an apparent reason, take it seriously and consult your veterinarian. Excessive panting is an important symptom to keep in mind.

When is it an emergency?

Panting can signal an emergency if your dog

  • is showing signs of severe pain or distress
  • has been exposed to high temperatures
  • might have got into a poison
  • is restless, unable to lie down comfortably, trying to vomit unsuccessfully
  • is showing signs of weakness or lethargy
  • seems unresponsive or disoriented
  • your dog’s gums are any than normal color (normal gum color depends on the breed; typically it’s pink)

Related articles:
Is Panting an Emergency?

Further reading:
When Your Dog’s Panting Might Mean Trouble

Categories: Excessive pantingSymptoms

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

172 Comments
  1. FiveSibesMom

    Such good information. There are so many reasons for a dog to pant…knowing our dogs certainly helps to understand what they may be feeling, but sometimes it can be something else. Having a dog who was epileptic, he was a panter due to meds, overheating, prior to seizing, etc. Now I have seniors, who pant when their arthritis acts up, one has anxiety and when triggered, he paints; and sometimes my deaf girl pants just to go out potty! I cover a lot of panting territory with my four! Pinning your post to share!

    • FiveSibesMom

      BOL – my one dog does not actually “paint” he pants! Silly typo!

  2. Whenever our dogs start panting in an unusual way, I pay attention. Unfortunately, we learned the hard way about dogs and heatstroke.

    I took my Keeshond to a groomer (who was always okay) and when I went to pick her up, she was panting heavily. I ignored my gut and listened to my husband, and he convince me to take a wait and see approach, which turned out to be the worst choice.

    We learned afterwards, that his air conditioner was broken and on a day when it was 90 degrees, he put her in the dryer for a long time. Our vet told me that it would have been too late for her even if I took her straight to the emergency room, but I’ll never forgive myself for not doing better by her. I wish I would have known to check her gums and to listen to my instincts instead of someone else’s.

  3. Marjorie Dawson

    There are a lot of things that could cause panting aren’t they. I would make sure I checked most of these off and, when in doubt, it would be off to the vet!

  4. Great post and I always worry about heat stroke with Layla but since I have the cooling vest for her life has become easier. I monitor her very carefully all the time and whenever I read your posts I think am I missing something although my vet says she is 100% healthy

  5. Great post and so important. Panting is definitely not something to be taken lightly, and especially in an older dog I wouldn’t adopt a wait and see attitude. My dog Red used to pant and although there were times when it was definitely from the heat, she had a heart condition so it was always off to the vet.

    • It is one of the tricky things because while panting is usually perfectly normal, excessive panting is a big red flag.

  6. It is so important to spend enough time with your pets so that you know what is normal behavior and what is suspicious. Panting in cats can be a sign of medical problems too.

  7. Since it's new it does mean something. Yes, it could be stress/anxiety, it could be pain, it could be all sorts of things as you can see above. If it keeps happening, try to film it and talk to your veterinarian.

  8. I have a 7 year old American Bulldog named Bella. When it's hot out she does pant some because she is a bulldog, however, this morning about 2am she barked at me like she does whe she needs to go out. When I went to go take her out she was panting way harder than she normally does. Bella is about 15 lbs overweight and I have been cutting back her food, but I have never seen her pant like this when she hasn't been out running, etc. I have another dog as well that is Bella's best buddy, an Amstaff that is 11 years old with Cushing's. Could Bella be stressing out because my other dog's Cushing's has been getting worse? The house has been kept at around 75* and is pretty comfortable. After I took Bella out to go she still wouldn't settle down for about another hour until I came out to get on my computer. Now she is laying down snoring like a baby. I know she is trying to tell me something as she is a very smart dog, and being one of those dogs with the type of muzzle and nose that bulldogs have it is normal for her to pant some, but this was beyond normal. It has been pretty hot here the past couple of days, but she stays indoors. Could she be having some other issues as well? She has always been a really healthy dog and seemed fine until this morning. Thank you in advance for answering 🙂

  9. Well, it may or may not be. Excitement itself can cause panting. Activity that goes with all the excitement can cause panting. So it's possible it's perfectly normal for his emotional state and activity. Cannot exclude the possibility it's not normal … you know your dog. If you're concerned, have him checked out (make a video of what you consider is excessive panting for the vet to see.)

  10. My 4year old bichon is a very hyperactive little boy. We have had him a year. He is very happy and his tail is always wagging… But he pants a lot of the time. Is this normal?

  11. Oh, yes, in these breeds, it's even more crucial. Perhaps the name Kilo was not the best choice? Perhaps you called something onto yourselves with that. LOL

  12. A good reminder that Kilo needs to lose a pound or two. Pugs pant a lot and overheat easily and are very greedy. Can be a dangerous combination in this hot weather.

  13. Throwing up that many times would get me to a vet. Since something seems to still be going on, I'd want to have her seen and basic labs done to see what is up with that.

  14. My boxer emma,working towards 2 years old hasnt been herself .last week one or 2 days she threw up 6 or 7 times and seemed to be ok after the course of a few days and today she has been licking lips and swallowing a lot .hasnt thrown up though but has been eating grass- was fine over last 3 or 4 days though

    • Vomiting repeatedly means she’s not ok. Lip licking and swallowing without a reason are also a likely sign of nausea or upset in the digestive tract.

      Something is amiss; chronic pancreatitis, liver issue, IBD … do see a vet to get to the bottom of it.

  15. Yes, there are some more things I'd want to rule out; talk to your vet about the symptoms. It is also possible that he's getting cognitive issues, but there are treatments for that too.

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