Why Dogs Pant

Common
Normal

Introduction

All dogs do it, especially on a hot summer day or after physical exertion, as a form of thermoregulation. But, how does it work exactly? And what about the panting that occurs when neither of the above situations applies? Does it mean your dog is excited, stressed out, or sick? And is there any way that you can you help your furry buddy through it? Examining the circumstances is the only way for you to know for sure if your dog’s panting is normal and healthy or a sign of something concerning that should be checked out by a veterinarian to rule out any health problems. 

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The Root of the Behavior

When humans get hot or nervous, they sweat to cool off. As their sweat evaporates, it takes the heat with it. But dogs can only sweat through their paw pads and nose as those are the only places on their body that have sweat glands. You can imagine with all that fur and an active lifestyle, dogs get hot pretty quickly - and their paws are not enough to cool them off. Dogs release heat to lower their body temperature by letting their saliva evaporate which is why panting is their main way to cool down. It is also the fastest way for dogs to rid themselves of excessive heat, the faster the panting, the more saliva evaporates and thus the more effective the cooling. Their long, flat tongues are perfectly designed for this cooling mechanism and most dogs freely let their tongues flop outside of their mouth when they are hot as it enables even more saliva to evaporate. But dogs aren’t the only ones who pant to cool off. After running a few miles, you pant too, just in a more subtle, less sloppy way. In addition, thermoregulation isn’t the only reason dogs pant. Your dog might be at rest in an air conditioned car and still pant. That could mean he’s either excited, anxious, or scared - which one it is will largely depend on where you are going and if your dog knows the route. If you’re going to the dog park or for a hike, chances are he’s probably excited about it. However, a trip to the vet is guaranteed to make him anxious. Health problems can also be behind your dogs’ heavy breathing as your dog might be panting as a way to cope with pain, this is especially the case with older dogs. Since dogs can’t tell us when they are feeling off, it is very important to watch out for their non-verbal cues, especially since excessive panting can also be a sign of a variety of health disorders like nasal blockages, poisoning, respiratory issues, heart problems, or blood clots. All of these should be checked out and monitored by a veterinarian.

Encouraging the Behavior

It is important to note that some breeds are physiologically predisposed to pant more than others. Brachycephalic breeds or flat-faced breeds such as Pugs and Boxers tend to pant more than other canines as they are built differently and are unfortunately at a greater risk of developing the aforementioned health issues. They require special attention from their owners and should be observed carefully for any changes in their breathing. The panting behavior should not be discouraged or encouraged as it is something that happens naturally in all dogs and can help identify your dog’s physical state as well as potential health issues. If your dog is panting, make sure to rule out anything that could be concerning. If it is hot or you just came back from a walk with your dog, make sure he has access to fresh water and some shade to rest. With time, the panting should decrease and stop. While the sound of your dog panting might not be the most pleasant sound to listen to, there is not really much you can or should do about it other than trying to be understanding. Remember that unlike you, your dog is always wearing a coat (of fur) that he cannot remove whenever it gets too warm or whenever he wants to play. Panting is his main way to cool his body down to prevent from overheating and therefore should not be discouraged.

Other Solutions and Considerations

Since dogs get rid of a lot of saliva through the process of panting, they require more water when they are hot to replenish what has evaporated, so make sure to have the water bowl full at all times, especially in the summer. If your dog’s panting was caused by vigorous playtime, make sure to limit his exercise so he has enough time to rest and cool off. Lastly, if it is not hot and your dog started panting suddenly and excessively without prior physical exertion, take him to the veterinarian. The same advice applies to dogs who pant constantly without pause or clear causes, as it is always best to be safe than sorry. 

Conclusion

Panting is your dog’s primary method of thermoregulation and thus completely normal and healthy for your dog to do, especially after a walk, playtime, or during warmer weather. It is essential to be understanding of this natural behavior as well as observant as it may help in early detection of health problems in dogs.