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Why is my dog panting so much?

Why is my dog panting so much - a dog panting
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When is it normal for a dog to pant, and why is my dog panting so much? If you're out on a walk with your canine companion and it's a warm day, there are lots of hills, or they've run to fetch the ball a few times, you might not be too concerned about why they’re panting so much.

Equally, if they’re haring around off-lead on the beach or having some strenuous rough and tumble with their furry friends in the park, they will probably start panting and take a while to catch their breath. So, what are the reasons why dogs pant? And if your dog is panting excessively could it be a sign of an underlying health condition?

They’re too warm

If your dog is feeling the heat, either because it’s a hot day or because they’ve been doing lots of fun, but strenuous, activities, they will pant. Panting allows them to cool down in two ways. Firstly, the evaporation of saliva from their tongue will gradually lower their body temperature, but also the increased breathing rate will help them expel heat more quickly. 

Don't be fooled though, the act of panting can also increase your dog's body temperature, particularly if they pant in an enclosed space or their panting is prolonged. It's also worth noting that panting only works to a point, and if it's a hot day or your dog is really exerting themselves and unable to cool down, they are at risk of heat stroke, which can be serious, or even fatal. Be sure you know how to cool down a dog in an emergency.

They’re afraid or anxious

If your dog has a phobia such as fireworks or thunder, you'll probably find they pant during these times. Similarly, if your dog has separation anxiety, they probably spend a lot of time panting when you leave them alone in the house. Any source of fear or anxiety, including the car or even your postman, could cause your dog to pant.

They’re in pain

Dogs can also pant as a sign of pain or discomfort. If your pooch is in pain, you may also notice them being restless and struggling to find a comfy place to settle. Although some causes of pain are obvious, such as if your dog has a limp or a wound, other sources of pain may be internal or may not be visible, so panting could be the only sign that something is wrong.

They’re overweight

If your pooch is a little bit podgy, those extra pounds could make breathing more difficult, meaning that they struggle to get the oxygen they need through normal breathing. If you notice your dog panting more and they have recently gained some weight, this could be the reason. 

Putting them on a doggy diet and seeing if their panting improves would be a good first step, but don’t forget to consult your veterinarian if their excessive panting continues.

They’re brachycephalic

Even though it's common for brachycephalic breeds such as French Bulldogs, Pugs, and British Bulldogs to pant, snort, and snore due to their flat faces and squashed airways, it is still a serious concern. 

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome, where the airways are narrowed or obstructed by small nostrils, a long soft palate, a short nose, or a small windpipe not only causes serious breathing distress, it can also lead to regurgitation, acid reflux, inflammation of the esophagus and even aspiration pneumonia.

They have another medical problem

Although panting can be normal, excessive panting can be a sign of various other health conditions. For instance, dogs with heart failure often pant to try to keep up with the body’s oxygen demand when the heart isn’t pumping effectively. These dogs might have a cough and pale or slightly blue gums, and they may not be able to exercise like they used to. 

Dogs with an overactive adrenal gland, also known as Cushing's disease, can also pant excessively, as well as showing changes in their thirst, urination, appetite, skin, and body shape. 

Other medical conditions that may cause your dog to pant are infections or inflammation affecting the lungs, such as pneumonia or an allergic reaction where the airways have become affected by swelling.

So, what should I do if my dog is panting?

If your dog is panting with no obvious cause, try offering small amounts of cool water (not ice cold) frequently and taking them somewhere cool and quiet to see if they settle down. However, if there is no improvement, or they appear to be unwell, in pain, or less responsive than normal, speak to your veterinarian immediately as it may be a sign of a health problem.

Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS

Dr Hannah Godfrey is a small animal vet with a love of dentistry and soft tissue surgery. She lives in Wales with her partner, son, and their two cats.