Is your dog panting more than usual? Or perhaps you’ve recently got a new dog, but he always seems to pant more than you might expect? In this article we are going to explore what panting is and some of the reasons why your dog might be doing it.
What is panting?
All normal dogs pant, usually when they are hot or overexcited. This is their way of cooling themselves down as they are unable to sweat as we do. With their thick fur coat, they need a way of getting rid of excess body heat somehow, and this is where panting comes in. Air is drawn over the tongue, allowing heat and moisture to evaporate from this hairless, vascular (high in blood vessels) area.
During panting, your dog will have his mouth open and will have more rapid breathing than normal. His tongue will be sticking out and he may be making more noise than usual, though he shouldn’t look like he is struggling for breath. Many dogs will pant whilst they are playing and often have a happy, open-mouthed expression, along with relaxed body language. Other dogs may be seeking shade or lying down to cool off.
However, if your dog seems to be panting more than you would expect, perhaps when the weather is mild, when they are at rest, or even at night when they should be relaxed, then there could be something else going on.
Causes of excessive panting
The following is a list of some of the most common causes of panting –
As we have discussed, dogs will pant if they are too warm. So, you may find your dog panting more than usual if conditions are very hot or humid. In some extreme situations, your dog may not be able to cope and heatstroke could occur. This is more likely if your dog has been exercising in hot weather or if he is a brachycephalic (flat-nosed) breed.
Dogs suffering from heatstroke may pant excessively, drool, have difficulty breathing, become lethargic, collapse and be non-responsive. Treatment will involve intravenous fluids and gradual cooling of body temperature. This condition can be fatal so must be taken seriously, calling your vet as soon as you realise that something is not right.
Underlying pain or discomfort can cause some dogs to pant excessively. This may be obvious if a dog has had a recent injury, but other animals may be suffering from more subtle issues such as arthritis or abdominal pain. Your vet will be able to help you investigate things further.
Many dogs will pant when excited, particularly young playful animals. But also stress and anxiety can make a dog pant more than usual. This is perfectly normal. However, episodes of extreme panting could be triggered by fear of loud noises (e.g. thunder or fireworks) or the anxiety of travelling in a car. For these dogs, appropriate behavioural training is needed, alongside the use of calming pheromones or anxiety medications.
Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)
Many dogs with flat faces, including pugs, English bulldogs and Shih Tzus, are prone to excessive panting. These breeds have BOAS, a condition that affects their airways. It involves a combination of small narrow nostrils, an excess of soft tissue in the back of the throat and other structural abnormalities. They are unable to breathe as freely as other dogs, which makes them prone to excessive panting. This is especially noticeable when they get overexcited or during warm weather.
Surgery can sometimes help improve things for your dog, but even this is not a quick fix. Speak to your vet if you think your pet could be suffering from BOAS.
Some prescribed medications could cause your dog to pant more than usual, even in the evenings when they aren’t hot. The most common drug that may cause this is steroids (prednisolone). This medication is used for many conditions including skin allergies or immune-mediated diseases. If your dog is showing this side effect after starting a medication then speak to your veterinarian for advice.
There are many different problems with the respiratory tract that could cause a dog to excessively pant. These include laryngeal paralysis, infections, and cancer. Further investigation is usually required to identify the underlying causes, such as x-rays and blood tests, with the exact treatment depending on the cause.
Dogs that are suffering from heart failure may pant more because they are struggling to get enough oxygen around their body. A build-up of fluid in the lungs occurs in heart failure making things increasingly difficult for the dog. Some animals may also have a cough, lethargy, and weakness. Investigations will help to look at the underlying cause of the issue, but in many cases, dogs will need regular medications to help manage their symptoms.
Dogs that suffer from anaemia (a lack of red blood cells) may pant more than usual. Red blood cells carry oxygen to various organs and tissues, and if this isn’t happening effectively then the body may start to compensate. Panting is the body’s way of trying to increase oxygen levels. Other signs of anaemia include pale gums, lethargy, changes in appetite and collapse. Anaemia can be due to a heavy bleed from somewhere, an autoimmune process where the body is destroying its own red blood cells, or could be due to a lack of production (for example in iron-deficient patients).
Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is a condition where an overproduction of a hormone called cortisol, causes a variety of symptoms. This includes developing a potbelly, thinning of the fur, and drinking excessively, in addition to excessive panting. The condition is diagnosed through blood tests and may require medication to manage it.
As you can see, there are many reasons why your dog could be panting more than usual. This ranges from normal behavioural responses, to serious health conditions. If you have any doubts at all, or if your dog is also showing signs of ill health, then get him checked over by a vet. It could be nothing to worry about, but better safe than sorry!