Why is my dog panting?

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
Why is my dog panting?

Panting is when a dog breathes through its mouth, and we usually see it in dogs during normal physical activities. However, there are certain situations where panting can be a sign of an illness or a health problem. Knowing the common causes of panting in dogs can help an owner determine if a dog’s panting is normal or is caused by a clinical illness. Keep reading to learn more!

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Common Causes of Panting in Dogs

1. Heat Control

Heat control is an important health adaptation ability needed by different animals, including humans, to be able to survive being subjected to high environmental temperatures. In humans, we can regulate our body temperature by sweating. This helps our body cool down when under high ambient temperatures.

Unfortunately, dogs have very limited sweat glands to help them cool off on a hot day. A dog’s sweat glands are located in its paw pads, and function similarly to that of a human. They produce sweat that evaporates and cools off when the animal is exposed to an environment with a high temperature.

However, the surface area of a canine’s paw pad is too small to facilitate cooling down of the entire body fast enough to avoid internal tissue and organ damage. Instead of relying on sweat glands, a dog’s main way to cool down and dissipate body heat is through panting.

When dogs pant, they inhale rapidly, allowing for fast humidification of inhaled air into the lungs that facilitates evaporation of water from the dog’s nose and lungs. This helps dogs decrease their body temperature and control the excessive elevation of the body heat that can cause heatstroke.

2. A Way to Show Excitement

You may have noticed that dogs pant during play, walks, and even when they greet you as you get home from work. Panting in dogs can also be a normal behavior they show when they get excited about a wide variety of things, from occasional treats to the thought of walking and playing outdoors. Panting due to excitement is often rapid and occasionally accompanied by high-pitched vocalization in some dogs.

3. Response to Stress

Panting due to stress is also a common behavior exhibited by dogs. However, unlike during excitement, there is certain body language that a dog shows when they get stressed, aside from excessive panting.

Dogs that are stressed usually have their eyes wide open, their ears and tails tucked, and there’s apparent lip-licking and yawning. Knowing other physical signs of stress in dogs can help determine if your dog’s panting is due to excitement or a sign of stress which needs to be addressed.

4. Panting as a Sign of Pain

In dogs, there’s a vast range of physical signs of pain depending on the location and severity. Pain in dogs is commonly associated with a limping and abnormal gait, but this only accounts for painful and inflammatory conditions that affect the limbs and joints. Pain stimulus emanating from other parts of the body, or even musculoskeletal pain that’s not strong enough to cause gait changes in the animal can have different presentations.

One way dogs show pain is through panting. Dogs that are in mild to moderate pain, either originating from a single point or diffused pain from a certain region of the animal’s body, would have very subtle signs of pain that can be difficult to detect. Panting is usually a subtle but common manifestation of pain in canine patients.

A thorough physical exam is needed to determine if the panting is caused by pain and to locate where the possible pain might be emanating from. In some cases, the pain may be internal and diagnostic imaging such as radiographs or ultrasonography may be needed to pinpoint the source.

5. Side Effect of Certain Medications

The use of systemic corticosteroids such as prednisolone or methylprednisolone can increase the respiratory rate of dogs and cause panting as a side effect. While these medications are effective in treating specific inflammatory or auto-immune diseases, prolonged use of corticosteroids at high dosages can cause side effects such as excessive panting in dogs.

If the dose is not adjusted even after clinical signs of side effects have already appeared, continuous use can cause severe health problems to canine patients receiving systemic corticosteroids. If you notice your dog panting after being put on oral or injectable corticosteroids, it’s best to consult your vet to discuss steps you can take to reduce the side effects of the treatment.

6. Respiratory and Cardiovascular Diseases

Panting, especially if it’s excessive and persistent, can be a sign of respiratory disease in dogs. Certain inflammatory respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and pneumonia cause the airways of the dog to narrow, resulting in difficulty for the dog to breathe and inhale oxygen. As a response, affected dogs tend to pant to allow for a faster inhalation as it tries to compensate for the narrowing of their respiratory passages.

Several respiratory infections also cause severe inflammation of the upper and lower airway, and even the lungs, resulting in severe panting of the affected animal. Traumatic injuries that result in lung puncture or consolidation can also cause breathing difficulties that usually present as panting in dogs.

Cardiovascular diseases are also a common pathological cause of panting in dogs. The heart is responsible for the distribution of oxygenated blood to tissues and organs and the gas exchange in the animal’s lungs during respiration. A compromised heart function causes the improper distribution of oxygen to different organs and tissues and a dysfunctional blood-gas exchange during respiration.

This compromised circulation and blood-gas exchange in the lungs result in poor oxygenation of the tissues, to which the animal compensates by increasing the respiratory rate through panting. In severe cases of cardiovascular disease, the lungs become congested resulting in breathing difficulties, making the panting of dogs with such conditions to become worse.

If your dog has been having breathing difficulties and persistent panting, coupled with changes in the color of their mucus membranes such as gums, it’s best to visit your vet immediately for a proper and thorough exam.

Read more:

Heart Murmurs in Dogs

Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

My dog has Cushing’s disease. What does this mean?

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Published: 10/22/2021

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