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Why Is My Dog Panting? Common Causes and Concerns

6 min read

Updated - Mar 11th, 2022

Dogs are very expressive animals, with different personalities and ways of communicating with their owners. Panting is a normal behavior in happy and active dogs, especially when temperatures rise or they’re being active. But heavy and consistent panting, deep abdominal breathing, or panting on cooler days can signal an underlying medical issue in your pup. 

So how can you tell if your dog’s panting is normal or cause for concern? Learning the reasons behind both normal and excessive dog panting can help you better recognize problems and make sure your best buddy is healthy. So, here’s everything you need to know about dog panting – including signs to look out for when panting might be an issue. 

Why do dogs pant?

Panting is a dog’s mechanism for cooling themself down on hot days. Unlike humans, dogs don’t have an effective system of sweat glands, so they can’t sweat through their skin to bring their body temperature down. Instead, they’re able to lower their body temperature and get oxygen into their bloodstream through moderate to rapid open-mouth respiration. By breathing in quick and rapid bursts, they speed up the evaporation of water from their nose and lungs. While they do have sweat glands within their ears and underneath their paws, these glands don’t do much when it comes to cooling them off. Dogs with short and flat smushed-faces like French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boxers, tend to pant a lot because of their challenged upper airways.   

Panting is a necessary cooling mechanism for dogs, which is why they’re often seen breathing with their mouth open and tongue protruding. In fact, the normal respiratory rate for resting or sleeping dogs is between 15 and 30 inhalations and exhalations per minute. Normal panting can sometimes be very heavy, but it should correlate with the air temperature or the amount of exercise and activity your pup is doing. 

Common reasons for panting

Your dog may be panting for one of these common reasons:

1. To cool off 

Even if your dog isn’t overheating, they may pant from exercise, just like humans breathe heavily after running. Dogs that do heavy exercise (like running or playing fetch) will pant, and may even pause their run to lie down. This should be a sign to take a break, and get your pup some cool water. 

2. To express excitement

Sometimes, panting has nothing to do with body temperature. It’s a normal behavioral response when something exciting happens, like meeting a new friend or getting a treat. This type of panting is often accompanied by whining, and can be rapid and shallow.

3. To demonstrate playfulness

Panting can simply be a sign of happiness in your dog, showing that they want to play. If this is the case, the rest of their body language will reflect this happy mood, such as a tail wagging, relaxed body and facial expressions, and bright and happy eyes. Once things calm down, the panting will slow down to a mild pant with an open mouth, and eventually stop. 

4. To express stress

Your pup may be more sensitive to external stimuli than you realize. Many dogs will pant when they experience fear, anxiety, or stress, including car rides, thunderstorms, fireworks, vet visits, separation anxiety, and other stressful events and loud noises. Look at your dog’s body language to see if they’re showing any signs of fear, which can include trembling, clingy behavior, flattened ears, drooling, hiding, limping, and more. If their panting seems to be related, it’s best to remove your pup from the situation. 

When is dog panting abnormal?

Dog panting becomes abnormal when it’s ineffective in cooling your dog’s body temperature or doesn’t make sense situationally. Here are some signs that something is potentially wrong:

  • Your dog’s respiratory rate is high (For example, your dog is taking 300 breaths a minute when normally your dog takes 20 complete breaths per minute)
  • Your dog is panting, but hasnt been exercising 
  • Your dog’s panting sounds raspier or louder than normal
  • Your dog is exerting more effort than normal while panting
  • Your dog’s gums look lighter or darker than their normal color, or look blue

While most panting occurs to cool off your pup, it can also be prompted for a whole host of other reasons. It’s usually nothing to be concerned about, but there are a variety of health issues that could cause excessive panting that dog owners should be be are of:

1. Heat exhaustion

If your pup is panting all the time, or faster than normal, they may have overheated. Their body temperature is too high and cannot regulate their body heat, otherwise known as heat exhaustion.

2. Heatstroke 

While heat exhaustion and heatstroke are very similar, signs of heatstroke include excessive salivation, diarrhea, vomiting, depression, and dizziness. A rectal thermometer is usually used to figure out if a dog is overheated. If it reads over 102.5 degrees, then your dog has heatstroke. Severe heatstroke is very serious and should be treated immediately. 

3. Pain 

Dogs can’t voice when they’re in pain, but heavy panting is a sign your dog may have suffered an injury. Typical signs of pain associated with injuries include enlarged pupils, a reduced appetite, a reluctance to lie down, restlessness, anxiety, and licking or biting at the pain site.  

4. Heart or lung disorder

When dogs breathe heavily, it means their heart can’t pump enough blood to their lungs, preventing the transfer of oxygen to their bloodstream and the rest of their body. If their tissues are deprived of oxygen, their respiratory rate increases to correct the situation. Your dog may also get tired more easily, cough while they try to breathe, and their tongue may look purple or blue instead of pink – a sign of inadequate oxygen. 

5. Laryngeal paralysis

A dog’s larynx (or opening to the windpipe) contains cartilage flaps that open wide while the dog breathes and closes when they swallow. Laryngeal paralysis occurs when one or both of their flaps fail to open normally, making their breathing more difficult. This is most common in middle-aged and older dogs, as their larynx gradually loses its normal function. Labradors and Golden Retrievers can also be more prone to this condition. 

6. Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol, causing the dog to pant more than usual. They may also show signs of being hungrier, thirstier, excessively tired, and begin peeing more frequently. 

7. Anemia 

A dog is anemic when their red blood cells decrease. Red blood cells transport oxygen to their body’s tissues, so fewer blood cells can lead to oxygen deprivation, heavy breathing, and excessive panting. 

How can you tell normal dog panting from excessive panting?

To determine if your pup’s panting is normal or a sign that something is wrong, you should:

  • Take note of what your dog is doing: Is your dog exercising? Are they stressed, excited, or hot?
  • Look for other signs/symptoms: Is your dog lethargic or not eating well? Have they been coughing?
  • Pay attention to changes in their panting sounds: Any changes to the sound of your dog’s panting shouldn’t be ignored. 

Even if you’re not sure that your dog is panting excessively, or if their panting may be a cause for concern, take them to the vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Your vet will be able to observe your dog and check their heart rate and respiratory rate, and potentially measure the saturation of oxygen in your dog’s blood. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

When panting becomes excessive and unexpected illnesses strike, you want your pup to receive the best veterinary care possible. Pumpkin’s dog insurance plans can help you pay for covered vet bills, so you can worry less about cost, and more about care.

Christina is a copywriter and a loving cat mom to an adorable Bombay named Zetta.