By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
Wagging tails and slobbery tongues are a signature look for most four-legged best friends. Although they can’t speak words, our dogs are experts at communicating with their longing eyes, wiggling butt, or kissing with their wet tongues to show how much they love their pet parents. Unlike people, your dog won’t stick their tongue out to show their distaste for something, but they will when they need to pant. Panting is an everyday occurrence for dogs, and regular, excessive panting may be the norm for some canine companions. However, excessive panting or your dog panting at night could be the first clue that your pet’s health is compromised. Understanding why your dog is panting will ensure you make the best decisions for their overall health and wellness.
Panting vs. tachypnea: What’s the difference?
Panting and tachypnea are often mistaken when referencing your dog’s breathing patterns. In many cases, they may occur concurrently or for similar reasons. During periods of rest, dogs will generally breathe between 10-30 breaths every minute, depending on the breed. Following exercise, your dog’s respiratory rate can increase up to 200-400 breaths/minute depending on the amount of exertion, breed type, and various health parameters. When your dog pants, their tongue will protrude from their mouth, and their breaths will be shallow. Tachypnea also refers to an increased breathing rate and effort in your dog, but it is not as rapid as panting. Dogs experiencing tachypneic-type breathing will take 40-90 breaths/minute through their nose or mouth, generally without a protruding tongue. Tachypneic breathing can occur when your dog‘s body needs to increase airflow through the lungs, usually as a result of an underlying respiratory disease or other medical problems.
Normal panting reasons in your dog
Regularly panting can be a 100% normal occurrence in your dog and is the primary way your dog can cool down and remove excess body heat after exercise or a long walk to prevent overheating. Unlike people, dogs do not have sweat glands throughout their bodies. However, your dog has a few sweat glands on their paw pads, but these are not enough to cool their body following exercise or heat exposure. Panting allows your dog to evaporate heat from the moist surfaces of their body, including their tongue, cheeks, and lungs. Flat-faced breeds, including pugs, French bulldogs, and Boston terriers, often have brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) because of their genetic structure. These breeds generally have narrowed nostrils, a short snout, and excess soft tissue in their throat, making it challenging to oxygenate their body adequately, resulting in regular panting. Some breeds with BOAS will require surgery to allow them to breathe more easily. An increased breathing rate, panting while resting, or your dog panting at night before bed may be the first clue they have an underlying medical or behavioral problem.
Reasons your dog may be panting during the day and night
If your dog is experiencing abnormal or heavy panting at night before bed or during the day and has not been outside on a hot day or exercising, they may have a health problem. Common reasons your dog may be excessively panting include:
Noise aversion fears, like fireworks or thunderstorms, separation anxiety, stress, or excitement can all lead to increased panting in your pup. Pets with behavioral panting may show other anxiety signs, including yawning, whining, hiding, dilated pupils, inappropriate urination, or defecation.
Pain or Trauma
Panting may be the first sign that your dog is experiencing pain or discomfort. Many senior dogs suffer from painful joint disease or arthritis. Native Pet’s Relief chews can help support your dog’s overall joint health.
Exercising your dog on a hot day or in a high humidity environment can cause their core body temperature to rise above the normal range of 100 to 102.5 degrees. Dogs with heat exhaustion or heat stroke will have heavy panting. Other signs may include drooling, vomiting, lethargy, glazed eyes, or seizures in severe cases. Seek immediate veterinary care if you suspect your dog is overheated.
Accidental toxin ingestion can cause excessive panting in your dog. Other toxicity signs may include lethargy, vomiting, and pacing.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than 50% of U.S. dogs are overweight or obese. Like people, the heart of obese pets must work harder to pump blood and oxygenate tissues, which may result in excess panting during walks or playtime sessions.
Heart and lung disease
Heart disease, heart failure, or lung disease, including pneumonia or lung tumors, can cause the body to inadequately pump blood which is vital to carry oxygen to the tissues. Your dog may respond by showing tachypneic breathing or heavy panting due to oxygen deprivation in their body.
The larynx or opening to your pet’s windpipe contains two cartilaginous flaps that open wide during breathing and close during swallowing. If one of these flaps doesn’t open properly, airflow becomes restricted, which can cause panting.
Cushing’s disease and steroid therapy
Middle-aged to older dogs are at risk for developing a hormonal disorder caused by an overproduction of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Panting is an early sign of Cushing’s disease. Other signs may include increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, hair loss, and a potbellied appearance to the abdomen. Dogs prescribed steroids may also show similar signs to Cushing’s, including panting, increased thirst, and hunger, but these will generally resolve once the medication course has been completed.
Dogs may pant or have increased respirations before and after a seizure. Additionally, older dogs who suffer from cognitive dysfunction may become restless and pant in the evening because their sleep/wake cycle is disrupted.
When panting is a problem: determining when to visit your veterinarian
Bring your dog for a veterinary examination if they are panting excessively or if they appear to have increased respirations when at rest. If you are unsure if your dog’s panting is abnormal, begin counting how many breaths your dog takes in a minute during various times of the day. Ensure to keep a record of your dog’s daily respirations during various activities and provide this to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will likely recommend blood work to evaluate your dog’s organ health and advanced imaging such as an X-ray to examine their heart and lungs. Additionally, seek immediate veterinary care if you suspect your pet has ingested a toxin, has heat stroke, is struggling to breathe, has pale, blue, or bright red gums, is lethargic, or collapses.
Ways to support your panting pooch
Treatment for excess panting depends on the underlying cause, which can be determined by your veterinarian. Regular veterinary examinations will ensure underlying problems are caught early, increasing the chances of a successful outcome. Ways you can provide additional support to your panting pooch include:
- Prevent dehydration and overheating— Avoid exercising your pet during the hottest hours of the day to prevent overheating. Dogs who regularly exercise or live in warmer climates should have extra hydration to help prevent overheating and dehydration. Native Pet Bone Broth Topper is a great nutritional addition that can help increase your dog’s water intake.
- Support your pet’s joint health — Many older dogs develop painful arthritis due to aging bones and joints. Pets who are obese also have an increased risk for painful joint problems. Regular exercise will help keep your pet’s joints lubricated and their weight in check. Proper nutrition is also critical for overall musculoskeletal health. Native Pet Relief Chews can help support overall joint health and provide natural anti-inflammatory support.
- Learn behavioral modification — Consider hiring a dog trainer and/or consulting a veterinary behaviorist to get to the bottom of your dog’s anxiety and learn tools to support their mental health. In addition to behavioral modifications, supplements like Native Pet Calming Chews can help decrease panting caused by anxiety or stress. They include melatonin which can also benefit dogs with cognitive dysfunction and help regulate their sleep/wake cycle.