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

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Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

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. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

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