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Why Do Dogs Pant? (And When is Excessive Panting A Problem?)

Why Do Dogs Pant? (And When is Excessive Panting A Problem?) 1

When you’re a dog, panting is a big part of life.

But here’s the question…

Why do dogs pant in the first place?

And when might it be a sign that something’s wrong?

Well, let’s take a closer look.

Why Is My Dog Panting?

Normal panting occurs when a dog needs to cool off.

Dogs, who are usually covered in fur, do not have sweat glands all over their bodies like humans do.

In an evolutionary sense, this is likely because sweat would cause the fur to be consistently damp, potentially causing other medical conditions such as skin infections.

The only sweat glands on a dog’s body can be found on their feet and nose.

So… Instead of sweating… dogs pant.

After a good run, wrestling session, or tug-o-war, your pup will have increased respiration, which allows cool outside air to enter the nasal passages, mouth, and lungs.

This allows moisture in these areas to evaporate and be expelled as hot breath.

A lot of internal moisture is released when a dog pants heavily, so it’s important to remember they’ll need to hydrate more than normal to avoid dehydration.

It’s much harder for dogs who are brachycephalic, meaning they have a very short muzzle, to take deep breaths and pant. Breeds like Bulldogs, Boxers, and Pugs should be closely monitored during hot weather and exercise as they are more likely to have difficulty cooling off.

Why Do Dogs Pant? (And When is Excessive Panting A Problem?) 2

Medical Conditions That Can Cause Excessive Panting

If a dog pants excessively, it can be an indication that it’s time to take a trip to see their veterinarian.

Causes of excessive panting can include:

Heatstroke

There are times when a dog’s body temperature can rise to an extreme high, commonly seen in dogs that have been left in a hot car with little to no ventilation.

In a matter of minutes, the body temperature will exceed 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dogs with suspected hyperthermia need to be treated immediately with fluids and possible oxygen therapy.

Cushing’s Disease

When a dog has Cushing’s Disease, their body produces too much of a hormone called cortisol.

There are two causes of Cushing’s Disease in dogs, pituitary gland tumors and adrenal gland tumors. The pituitary-dependant type of Cushing’s is far more common.

Dogs with Cushing’s pant for several reasons:

1. The liver can become enlarged and push on the diaphragm;

2. Fat deposits can accumulate on in both the chest and abdominal cavity;

3. Excessive cortisol can weaken muscles, including the muscles used to breathe.

Cushing’s Disease can be treated with prescription medications.

Anemia

When a dog is anemic, this means that they have a decreased number of red blood cells.

Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the bloodstream and when the number of these cells is decreased, so is oxygen.

Dog’s with anemia will frequently become extremely lethargic, pant, and will have pale gums. Anemia has numerous causes and needs to be treated as quickly as possible as it can be life-threatening.

Heart Failure

Excessive panting can be one sign that your dog’s heart might not be working at full capacity.

When the heart doesn’t function properly, fluid can build up in and around the lungs making it difficult to breathe.

Why Do Dogs Pant? (And When is Excessive Panting A Problem?) 3

Pain

Since dogs don’t have a voice, they often find very different ways to show that they are in pain, including panting.

Common causes of generalized pain include muscle strain and upset stomach, however, more serious issues can certainly apply such as back pain or nerve pain.

Poisoning

Dogs love to explore the world using their mouth and even the most careful owner will find that their dog has grabbed an unknown object. Dogs also love to explore their human’s things – including medications and household substances.

Signs that your dog might have eaten something toxic can include:

  • Panting;
  • Trembling;
  • Seizures;
  • Extreme Lethargy OR Extreme Hyperactivity;
  • Vomiting;
  • Collapse.

If you suspect your dog has ingested a toxic substance, take them to the veterinarian immediately.

If possible, contact poison control and inform them of the substance and the amount consumed. They can direct your veterinarian with the appropriate treatment.

Pneumonia

There are many things that can cause pneumonia in a dog.

Pneumonia can develop if another respiratory disease, even a mild one, is left untreated, if a foreign body is inhaled, or if the dog aspirates fluid during an activity like swimming.

Pneumonia can be life-threatening and needs to be treated with oxygen therapy, fluids, and medications.

Eclampsia

If you breed your dog and they are lactating, heavy panting can be a sign of eclampsia.

This means that the calcium levels in their blood are too low. The common name for eclampsia is “milk fever”. Other symptoms of eclampsia include:

  • Drunken Gait;
  • Continued Muscle Contraction;
  • Tremors;
  • Excessive Drooling;
  • Confusion;
  • Sensitivity To Light And/Or Touch;
  • Seizures;
  • Fever.

This condition occurs more often in small dogs who have had a large litter due to the amount of calcium that is being used to produce milk.

In order to treat this condition, the mother must be given I.V. calcium.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome

Many dog breeds who are considered brachycephalic have individuals who suffer from brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS).

This syndrome occurs because of one or a combination of more than one of the following:

1. A narrowing of the nares. The nares are the nostrils of the dog and if too narrow, a dog could have trouble taking in air during inhalation. This condition is also called stenotic nares.

2. An extended palate. When the soft palate is too long it can impact the ability to take in air because it partially blocks the trachea.

3. Tracheal hypoplasia. This means that the trachea is actually too small.

If left untreated, a laryngeal collapse could occur as a secondary issue.

Dogs that suffer from BOAS may only have very mild symptoms, like excessive snoring, or they could suffer from extreme symptoms like collapse while playing. Surgical intervention may be necessary.

If you are concerned that your pet pants more than normal, be sure to let your veterinarian know when the excessive panting occurs and what seems to trigger it. Together, you can find a solution!

Tips To Help Your Hot Pup Cool Down

If you want to help your dog cool their body temperature down, especially on a hot day, the following are simple tips your pet might love:

1. Add Ice Cubes To Their Water Dish: It’s always nice to have a nice cool drink on a hot day and dogs also appreciate cold water! Throw in some ice cubes and let them enjoy the sensation of cold water running down their throats.

2. Bring Out Some Ice Packs: Some dogs love to lay directly on an ice pack when they are hot! Just be sure to check and make sure that the ice pack isn’t in direct contact with their skin. Consider putting it under a towel as a barrier.

3. Get A Kiddie Pool: Does your dog love water? Bring out a kiddie pool and fill it with nice cool water for them to lay down in!

4. Freeze Some Treats: Doggy ice cream, frozen applesauce, and even frozen peanut butter are all delicious treats for a hot day!

5. Crank Up The A/C: Having a cool place to retreat is important and if you have air conditioning, be sure to turn it on!

Even though panting is totally normal and healthy, there are times when panting can indicate that something is wrong with your dog.

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