For dogs, panting can be a natural reaction to exertion, heat, excitement, and fear. If the panting is excessive it may be a sign or symptom that something is wrong.
When can panting be normal?
If your dog is hot
Dogs don’t sweat effectively like humans so panting is the only real way they can lose heat. A thick coat, and a tendency to continue running around despite feeling too hot, doesn’t help. Your dog will pant to lose heat until their normal body temperature is restored.
In a hot environment, if panting becomes excessive, this may be a sign of heatstroke. Drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea, and restlessness may be other signs. Cease any activity, find a cool spot in shade, and give your dog water. If possible, shower them with cool (not cold) water. Always call your vet for advice if you think your dog may have heatstroke. It can be rapidly fatal without action.
If your dog is anxious
Panting can be a natural response to fear and anxiety. Your pet may pant in response to a visit to the vets, a thunderstorm or some other stressful event.
Although this a perfectly normal response, its a sign that they aren’t coping with their situation. A visit to the vets is a rare event (hopefully) and your pet’s panting should stop after the visit. Using treats and fusses to build positive memories around the building and people may help to ease your pet’s fears in the long run. Sustained periods of anxiety in everyday situations, such as in the home or on walks, may require some treatment and/or behaviour modification. Anxiolytic (anti-stress) medications or natural products, such as pheromone collars and plugins or thunder shirts, may promote calm. Please speak to your vets for advice if you think your pet may be suffering with stress or anxiety.
If your dog is exercising
Panting is often a normal response to exercise or excitement.
If your pet is panting with minimal exercise, when they previously they wouldn’t have done, this may be a symptom. We call this exercise intolerance. Although there may be a simple explanation for this, it could also be a sign of a deeper issue so it’s always worth getting your pet checked by one of your vets if you notice this.
Different breeds of dogs and individuals within breeds may pant more or less often than others. It’s important for you to be aware of your dog’s ‘normal’ so you pick up subtle changes. Elderly and obese animals are more likely to pant due to heat, exercise, fear and excitement. Your vet team can discuss your pet’s weight, and help with a weight loss program if needed. Short-nosed breeds (brachycephalics) such as boston terriers, pugs and bulldogs are more susceptible to heatstroke. They can pant and struggle more if anxious or exerted. If you’re worried about your dog’s breathing it is always best to get it checked.
Are there any illnesses that can cause my dog to pant?
It is very important to try to differentiate between panting and respiratory distress, which is extremely serious. With respiratory distress your dog may prefer to stand, with their elbows turned out, and their neck stretched out, as they may find it easier to breathe in this posture. Their breathing may be faster and with more effort. Their gums may take on a dark or even purple appearance, with their lips drawn back and nostrils flaring. With this pattern of breathing it is extremely important that you take your pet in immediately. It may be a sign of serious heart or lung disease.
Pain can also cause excessive panting. There are a huge number of possible causes for pain, some more obvious than others. An elderly pet may pant excessively due to pain from joint disease, for example. There are usually other symptoms depending on the cause of the pain. Your vet can examine your dog to look for any evidence of pain causing panting, perform follow-up investigations, or suggest a trial of pain relief if appropriate.
If your pet has a fever they may pant excessively to cool themselves down. Your vet will check your pet’s temperature and may want to perform further tests to find out the cause, or take a history to see if there are other symptoms to help determine the cause of the fever. Treatment will depend on the cause, or if the cause is uncertain, the symptoms are treated.
Certain hormone conditions can cause increased panting. One of the most common is Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism). Panting is usually not the only sign of this disease. Dogs commonly drink and urinate more, want to eat more, have a thinning coat with thin skin, and a pot-bellied appearance. This disease is usually caused by a benign tumour in an area of the brain called the pituitary, or rarely a tumour in the adrenal gland near the kidney. It is normally diagnosed with blood and urine tests. Panting can also be a sign of other, rarer, hormone diseases.
Panting can be a symptom of high blood pressure (hypertension). Hypertension is usually due to other conditions such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease and renal disease. Your dog would usually have other symptoms of these diseases. Hypertension can be medically treated but underlying causes would need to be investigated, diagnosed, managed and treated.
Certain medicines can cause excessive panting. Prednisolone, and other corticosteroids are commonly used and can cause side effects, including panting. Overdose of medications to treat thyroid disease (hypothyroidism) can cause increased panting, as can certain painkillers and sedative drugs such as diazepam and opioids.
If you are unsure whether your pet’s breathing is normal or not, it is always best to get them checked. Please call your vet immediately if:
- you think your dog may be in pain.
- the panting is constant and heavy.
- your dog’s tongue or gums appear blue, purple, or white. This may mean your pet isn’t getting enough oxygen.
- your dog’s panting starts suddenly.