Though people breath heavily primarily during or after strenuous physical activity as well as when they are feeling unwell, the same is not necessarily true for our canine companions. Unlike us, dogs use panting as their main method of thermoregulation and it is how they control their bodies’ temperature. But are there other reasons dogs pant when not active and when should we be concerned with our pooch’s panting? It turns out that there are a few signs owners should be on the lookout for that can help determine if their furry friend is huffing and puffing to cool down or because he’s feeling unwell.
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The Root of the Behavior
Unlike humans who use sweat to regulate their bodies’ temperatures, dogs have a natural respiratory response that cools them off. As a result, canine panting is a very common occurrence and in most cases, it is not something to be concerned about. Though it most often occurs due to exhaustion from physical activity, some dogs pant even when not active. It is important to remember that our furry friends pant to release heat which doesn’t necessarily mean exercise has to be involved. There are other circumstances that cause dogs to overheat and thus to pant.
With the exception of a few breeds, most dogs have a fur coat that keeps them warm during the winter season but that can also cause them to overheat during the summer. Even when our furry buddies are not bouncing around and instead are spending most of the time hiding from the sun in the shade, they can overheat. Dogs who are inactive and lay in holes they dug previously are most likely just really hot and pant to cool down. Though it is critical for dogs to have access to clean, fresh water at all times it is even more important for their health during the warmer weather. Dogs lose a lot of fluid through panting as it evaporates in the process and because of that need to hydrate more frequently in the summer to replenish it. This not only allows them to feel comfortable but it also prevents them from overheating, which is essential for maintaining their health. Regardless of breed, make sure your dog has some shade or a cool place to lay down on the hotter days.
Some breeds are heavily-coated and need extra support in terms of cooling, especially in the warmer months. Breeds such as Alaskan Malamutes, Kuvaszok, Saint Bernards, and Samoyeds are great examples of dogs that will not only appreciate but require brushing in order to remove their warm coats and avoid overheating. Sometimes dogs pant because they are thirsty, which dehydrates them further. Therefore, as mentioned earlier, it is incredibly important that your canine has access to clean drinking water at all times to avoid possible health problems and unnecessary veterinary bills.
Encouraging the Behavior
Brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs and Boston Terriers are more prone to panting as well as upper airway problems due to their physical characteristics. However, if you notice more frequent or excessive panting, consult a veterinarian to rule out any immediate health risks or problems.
Regardless of breed, since panting is your four-legged friend's natural and instinctual response to prevent overheating, it should never be discouraged. Let your dog pant as much as he needs to, even if it is mildly annoying. Instead of focusing on the sound, try your best to help your furry buddy feel better instead. If he was recently active or it is warmer than usual outside, let him rest in a cool, shaded place and provide him with an adequate amount of drinking water. Depending on the breed, your furry friend might also require some brushing in order to help him cool off.
Since dogs communicate with you primarily through nonverbal cues and body language it is important to remain observant and aware of any changes in your canine’s behavior. Though in most cases your dog's heavy breathing should not be concerning, excessive panting should not be ignored or underestimated as it can indicate a variety of health problems.
Other Solutions and Considerations
In addition to physical exertion and heat, many dogs pant for short periods of time when they are excited, nervous or stressed out. Depending on the circumstances, the best way to deal with the situation might be to try your best to relieve the stress by eliminating whatever is triggering your dog to get anxious or to calm him down if he is getting overly excited. However, if your hound hasn’t been in an unfamiliar or stressful circumstance, hasn’t been active recently, and you have no reason to believe he might be hot - it is highly recommended to take him to the veterinarian immediately. Dogs who pant without a clear reason can be experiencing heat stroke, respiratory or cardiovascular problems, Cushing’s Disease, or even poisoning. In older dogs, excessive panting could also indicate an onset of arthritis, especially if it is accompanied by lethargy and a lack of interest in playtime or walks.