Why do dogs pant?

Unlike humans dogs aren’t able to regulate their temperature using sweat so, instead, they pant to circulate cool air through their bodies and to evaporate water from the mouth and upper respiratory tract. In the vast majority of cases, panting is a normal sign in dogs who are excited, hot or just taking a breather from exercising. If you’re worried your dog is too hot and want to cool him down, check out our vet’s tips on how to keep your dog cool.

Why won’t my dog stop panting?

If your dog won’t stop panting, is panting abnormally or is panting and shaking, it could be the first sign of something more serious. This is especially the case if they’re panting at a time that seems unusual, are in discomfort, or their panting sounds louder or harsher than normal. If your dog seems to be struggling to get his breath or there is a change in the colour of his tongue or gums call your vet immediately or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency service.

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Excessive panting in dogs may be an indication of a more serious health risk

There are a number of conditions which list abnormal, heavy or excessive panting as a symptom. These include:

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is a potentially fatal condition which occurs when a dog’s temperature rises to a dangerous level. Faster, heavier panting is one of the earliest and most common signs of heat stroke in dogs. Urgent action is required to treat this condition, as heat-related illnesses can kill pets in as little as 15 minutes.

Poisoning

Abnormal panting may be a signal your dog has been poisoned or has suffered an allergic reaction. Poisonings are one of the most common emergencies our vets and vet nurses see. Often they are the result of chocolate or raisin ingestion, swallowing dangerous plants, or licking things like antifreeze, rat poison or slug and snail killer.

Pain

If your dog is panting heavily but hasn’t been exercising, it could be that they’re in pain. Dogs in pain will often pant well before displaying more obvious signs, such as a limp or whining. It’s worth bearing in mind that dogs with shallow breathing could also be suffering pain.

Heart failure

Just like humans, a dog’s heart pumps blood rich in oxygen around the body. As the heart deteriorates and is no longer able to do this, dogs can display several signs, including weakness, coughing and exercise intolerance. Another common sign is panting. This occurs when the respiratory rate rises to compensate for the lack of oxygen being circulated.

Brachycephalic syndrome

One of the most common problems suffered by brachycephalic dogs (breeds with flat faces such as pugs and French bulldogs) is an inability to breathe normally. This is especially the case after exercise or while eating meals. This condition is called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) and is caused by a narrowing of the upper respiratory tract.

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A dog panting excessively could be due to a number of factors, one of which is heat exhaustion

Respiratory illness

Disorders in any part of the respiratory system can lead to breathing difficulties in dogs and one of the signs may be heavy breathing or panting. These disorders can include laryngeal paralysis, lung tumours and pneumonia.

Anaemia

Anaemia is diagnosed when there’s a fall in the number of red blood cells. Because these cells transport oxygen around the body, anaemia can lead to oxygen deprivation. This, in turn, may result in a dog panting more to compensate.

Obesity

Obesity is a growing problem in dogs and can lead to heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as debilitating life-limiting conditions including arthritis. Excessive panting in an overweight dog is often a sign that they’re struggling to get fresh, oxygenated blood to their vital systems.

Cushing’s disease

This syndrome occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. Affected dogs, who are usually middle-aged or older, tend to pant more, drink more, urinate more and want to eat more.

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Dogs aren't able to regulate their body temperature with sweat like humans

More on this topic

What else can lead to heavy panting?

Other issues which may result in abnormal panting in dogs include anxiety, adverse reaction to medication, high blood pressure, fever and metabolic acidosis, which is when the body produces too much acid.

What are dyspnoea and tachypnoea?

You may hear your vet referring to the terms dyspnoea and tachypnoea when discussing your dog’s breathing. Dyspnoea is laboured breathing while tachypnoea is when the rate of breathing is faster than normal. Some of the causes of dyspnoea and tachypnoea in dogs may also result in panting.

When should I call my vet if my dog won’t stop panting?

You should always call your vet if you’re worried about your dog’s health. But bear in mind that panting is perfectly normal in dogs who have been exercising, are excited or just a little too hot. Panting can be considered abnormal, and a potential emergency, if it starts suddenly and for no reason, won’t stop, is accompanied by shaking or restlessness, or involves a change in the colour of your dog’s tongue or gums from pink to bluish, white or purple.