Critter Culture
Why Do Dogs Pant?

Why Do Dogs Pant?

Critter Culture Staff



Whether it's from playing in the sunshine with your dog, or a vigorous game of fetch, you'll probably have seen your four-legged best friend with their tongue rolling out of their mouths, panting heavily. It's natural to wonder why dogs pant, and whether or not it's a warning sign. First of all, don't panic - in most cases, a panting dog is a sign of a happy, well-exercised dog who is just being themselves. However, there are a couple of warning signs that it's worth watching out for, just in case.


Dogs Don't Sweat

The way that dogs are designed is inherently different from humans. After all, they're wearing the equivalent of a fur coat all of the time. When it comes to people, after running around on a warm day or exerting ourselves, we're usually sweating, taking off an item of clothing, or looking for a nice cold drink. When it comes to dogs, these are options that they don't have - when a dog is bouncing around, they're essentially working out with a heavy coat on.

dogs don't sweat Tim Graham / Getty Images


Dogs Pant To Cool Down

Once a dog's body temperature has increased, they don't have the option of sweating to cool down in the way that people do. Dogs have some sweat glands, and this is through their paw pads, but panting is the real MVP when it comes to lowering a dog's body temperature. Panting circulates air around their body, helping to cool them down the natural way.

why do dogs pant Adam Berry / Getty Images


A Cool Bath Can Help

Of course, another way that dogs can cool down is similar to humans - where we might take a cold shower or have a long drink; some dogs will enjoy jumping into a body of water to get their chill back. However, this isn't recommended for all dogs - certain breeds, like the French Bulldog and the Pug, aren't meant for the water and cannot swim.

can dogs swim maiteali / Getty Images


The Differences Between Panting & Labored Breathing

If your dog has been playing a fierce game of fetch, it's likely that their panting is from them having spent some of their energy. However, there is a big difference between panting and labored breathing. If your dog is breathing heavily while making a sound like crying or whining, or even a whistling sound, this can mean that something more serious is going on and that your dog might have problems breathing.

happy panting dog RapidEye / Getty Images


Why Do Dogs Pant In Cars?

In some cases, you might find that your dog is panting even though they haven't done any exercise, such as when they're on a car ride. For some dogs, this is because they're excited and loving it. However, in some dogs, this is a prime example of anxiety or stress. For many dogs, this is why they pant in cars. It's important to check out your dog's body language to work out if your dog seems anxious or fearful. On the other hand, if your pooch's body language is positive, they may be having a rocking good time.

dogs in cars Capuski / Getty Images


Happy Panting Is A Thing!

Some dogs like to pant when they're feeling happy - particularly in play. This is another time to check out your dog's body language. If they have bright eyes and are panting gently, and the tail is wagging, then your dog is probably just loving life. Think of it as the equivalent of a dog grinning at you!

dogs happy panting dageldog / Getty Images


Panting Can Be A Sign Something Is Wrong

When it comes to being hurt or feeling unwell, dogs will typically try to hide their discomfort. In some cases, and at certain levels, this becomes impossible. Panting can be an indicator that your dog isn't feeling very well, and will often come along with other symptoms like behavior changes, vomiting, or loss of appetite. If this has happened, it's best to contact your veterinarian immediately.

panting as a sickness Morsa Images / Getty Images


Panting From Allergies or Medication

Your dog may also pant if they have a fever, for the same reason humans sweat in a fever - it helps to lower their body temperature. However, if your dog is on certain medication from the veterinarian, this might increase their respiration and induce panting. If your dog has eaten something that has upset their stomach, they may also pant before they vomit.

bad panting vm / Getty Images


Look For Other Clues

In general, while our four-legged friends aren't the best at communicating verbally, there are plenty of body language clues you can check out to see if your dog is panting for normal or abnormal reasons.

If your dog looks happy, is playing, eating, and drinking normally, and it happens to be a warmer than average day, then panting is a perfectly normal situation.

If you experience behavioral changes, your dog is crying or seems lethargic and uninterested while panting; it's probably time to get them checked out by a professional.

clues for panting AleksandarNakic / Getty Images


Panting As Heat Stroke

The final kind of panting to watch out for is when it goes from normal to abnormal - usually on a hot or sunny day. If your dog is overheating, you'll find that your dog's tongue and gums go bright red, they have wide eyes, and their tongue might look stretched out.

When this happens, make sure your dog has water, and keep an eye on their heat exposure. If cool water and shade hasn't helped, or if you're in any doubt, call your vet.

heat stroke in dogs Capuski / Getty Images


Medication-induced panting

dog with medication

If your dog starts panting more than usual, it might be a side effect of medication, especially steroids. These drugs can increase your dog's heart rate and respiration, leading to more panting. It's the body's way of handling an uptick in metabolism. If this panting persists or is accompanied by other symptoms like increased thirst or restlessness, a vet visit is in order. Your veterinarian can determine whether the panting is a manageable side effect or if the medication needs to be adjusted for your dog's comfort and health.


Panting and canine emotions

dog panting

Dogs don't just pant to cool down; they also do it when they're brimming with excitement. This type of panting is usually seen during playtime or when greeting a beloved owner after a long day. It's characterized by a wagging tail, a relaxed posture, and what appears to be a smile. This happy panting is perfectly normal and should subside as the dog calms down. However, if the panting continues without a clear reason, it could be a sign of an underlying issue.


Recognizing stress-related panting

dog on couch

Panting can be a telltale sign of stress in dogs. Unlike the panting seen during cooling or excitement, stress panting may be accompanied by other signs of anxiety such as pacing, whining, or hiding. It's important to identify the source of stress and help your dog cope. Creating a safe space or using techniques like desensitization can be beneficial. If your dog's stress-related panting is severe or chronic, it's advisable to consult a professional trainer or a veterinarian for further guidance.


Panting in brachycephalic breeds

pug dog

Brachycephalic breeds, such as bulldogs and pugs, often pant more due to their shorter airways. This anatomical feature makes it difficult for them to breathe and cool down efficiently. Owners should be vigilant about providing a cool environment and limiting exercise, especially in warm weather. If your brachycephalic dog's panting seems excessive or show signs of distress, it's critical to seek veterinary care immediately to prevent complications like heatstroke or respiratory distress.


Panting as a symptom of serious health issues

dog sick

Persistent panting may be a red flag for serious health issues in dogs, including heart disease, respiratory problems, or hormonal imbalances like Cushing's disease. This type of panting is often relentless and may occur without an obvious trigger like heat or exercise. If you notice such symptoms, it's crucial to get your dog evaluated by a veterinarian. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to managing these conditions and ensuring your dog's well-being.


Breathing patterns and normal respiratory rates

Close-up of black and white dog's nose

Understanding your furry friend's breathing patterns can be the key to recognizing when something might be off. A healthy, resting dog typically takes about 15 to 35 breaths per minute. If you notice your pup's chest moving faster than a lazy tail wag on a warm, sunny afternoon – say, more than 40 breaths per minute while resting – it might be time to consult your vet. Just like humans, dogs have their own version of a healthy resting heart rate, and knowing yours can help you keep them in the best possible shape.


Role of water evaporation in cooling dogs

Happy Bernese Mountain Dog lying on the green grass in a dog park. Blue water bowl near his paws.

The science behind your dog's panting is as cool as a breeze on a hot day. When dogs pant, they're not just showing off their tongues for fun. This process allows them to evaporate water from their tongue, mouth, and upper respiratory tract, which cools their body from the inside out. It's a natural, built-in air conditioning system that kicks in when the joy of chasing their tail gets a tad too hot to handle.


Panting in brachycephalic breeds

Side profile view of a fawn French Bulldog dog with long nose, sticking out tongue

For our snub-nosed friends like Bulldogs and Pugs, panting can be a whole different ball game. Due to their unique facial structure, these breeds might pant more frequently or struggle more for air, especially in warm weather or after exercise. It's crucial for owners of these adorable squish-faced breeds to monitor their panting closely, as what's normal for others may be a sign of distress for them.


Panting due to pain or discomfort

Dog with a hurt paw.

Sometimes, panting is not about the heat or the excitement of a squirrel sighting. It can be a sign that your dog is in pain or discomfort. From an achy paw after an adventurous leap off the porch to more serious internal discomforts, dogs might pant to cope with pain. Observing other signs of distress, like reluctance to play or a decrease in appetite, along with unusual panting, could be your cue to provide comfort and care, starting with a vet visit.


Dogs’ panting as a sign of nausea

Aging Senior Golden Retriever Dog in Cool Shade Summer Grass Panting

Ever noticed your dog panting right before they decide to gift you with the contents of their stomach? This could be a sign they're feeling nauseous. Just like us, when dogs feel a bout of nausea coming on, their breathing might change, leading to panting. This natural response is their body's way of dealing with discomfort, and while it might not be pleasant, it's a sign for you to prepare for potential cleanup duty and a check-up if it happens often.



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