Out of all the quirky and sometimes weird things our dogs do, there’s probably nothing more natural or dog-like than panting.
Everyone’s familiar with that tongue-lolling expression and the accompanying quick breathing, but are you familiar with the reasons why dogs pant?
There’s actually a few different reasons why your pup’s panting, and a ton of different meanings behind the behaviour. So why do dogs pant?
Panting is just fast, shallow breathing and every dog does it. It’s perfectly normal for dogs to pant if they’ve been running or playing, or if it’s a hot day.
The two main reasons why dogs pant are:
To cool down
To oxygenate their blood
You’ve probably noticed your dog pants more often in the summer, even if they’ve not been running around. That’s because panting is a dog’s main method of thermoregulation. In other words, they pant to cool themselves down.
As they pant their saliva evaporates and this helps your pup stay cool because the heat from their body transfers into their saliva and evaporates away.
Panting also evaporates moisture from their upper respiratory tract so they can cool down on the inside too. It also allows them to quickly breathe out hot air and inhale cooler air, further cooling them down.
All this evaporation is effective at cooling your dog down, but it does mean they can get dehydrated, so make sure your pooch has plenty of water on hot days.
Your pup’s tongue might hang out of their mouth while they pant. Dogs pant with their tongue out because it helps them to cool down quicker by speeding up the evaporation of saliva.
Your pup’s tongue is packed full of blood vessels and another way dogs cool themselves down is by their blood moving into blood vessels on the surface of their skin, or tongue, so heat can transfer out of the body.
Because their tongue is long and flat, there’s much more surface area so more blood can be cooled down. (It also means more saliva can sit on the tongue and evaporate.) If your dog is hot, their tongue might even swell up because of the increased blood flow.
The first reason why dogs pant after exercise is because it helps them to cool down. When muscles move, they generate heat, so your dog will be much warmer after some activity and will need to pant to cool down.
Secondly, your dog pants after exercise to help them to recover oxygen in their body. They use a lot of oxygen up to create energy when they move, and panting lets them quickly breathe out carbon dioxide and breathe in more oxygen, helping to oxygenate their blood. Humans pant after running for the same reason!
If your pooch is panting, take a few minutes to let them rest and catch their breath. Taking a breather also helps them to cool off and prevent overheating. Once their breathing is back to normal, you can carry on with walkies.
If your dog is panting when it isn’t hot and they haven’t been active, it is possible that they are hurt. Panting can be a sign that your dog is in pain or is suffering from an underlying health condition.
If your dog is panting without an obvious reason, it’s a good idea to check them out for any other symptoms and contact your vet for advice.
The most common reasons why dogs pant in the car is because they are hot or they’re anxious.
Cars are pretty enclosed and poorly ventilated, and the temperature inside can be much warmer than the outside. You might not feel toasty, but you must remember humans are better at regulating their temperature than dogs.
Plus, your pooch has a fur coat and their spot in the back of the car often doesn’t benefit from the AC as much as the front where you are. Try cracking the windows open or turning the AC on to help cool your pup down. If you can, you might also want to stop somewhere safe and give them a drink.
Otherwise, your dog is probably anxious or over-excited. Dogs pant whenever they are stressed, nervous, anxious, or excited and being in the car could be causing your dog to feel any of these emotions. They might also associate car rides with dreaded destinations, like the vet, so it’s possible they’re freaking out thinking about where you’re going.
Dogs pant when they’re anxious and this is seen as a form of behavioural panting because it isn’t caused by activity or heat. Dogs pant when they’re anxious because it is part of their fight or flight response. By panting, they can oxygenate their blood and prepare their body to be able to run. Dogs will also pant when they are stressed or excited.
Although panting can sometimes be a sign of stress, panting can be a signal that your pooch is feeling happy or energetic. It’s also believed that dogs can laugh, which sounds like panting with a kind of “huh-hah” sound.
However, noisy panting is not always a sign of a happy dog. Loud, harsh panting can be a symptom of illness, so it’s important to read your dog’s body language to judge the situation. If your dog is tense or restless and panting harshly, something might be wrong.
Because panting can mean a lot of different things, it’s important to be able to read your pup’s body language and assess their emotional state based on the situation. For instance, if you’re out on walkies they’re probably happy as a clam. If there’s a storm brewing outside, they could be anxious.
Brachycephalic breeds like Pugs and French Bulldogs pant more and are prone to breathing problems because of their anatomy. Those squashed faces mean they’re not as efficient at panting and cooling down as other longer-nosed types of dog.
Brachycephalic breeds also have narrower respiratory tracts which can cause difficulty breathing and might make a dog pant when they aren’t hot or exercising.
Old dogs tend to pant more than young dogs because their diaphragm and all their muscles are a bit weaker, so they can’t breathe as efficiently as a young pup. Old dogs can also have fibrotic tissue buildup in their lungs which means less oxygen can get into their blood. Elderly animals are also simply more prone to illnesses that can cause them to pant more, such as heatstroke or heart disease.
Most dogs don’t pant for long and their breathing is back to normal within a few minutes. But if your pooch is panting for longer than 10 minutes then it’s a sign that they are probably overheating or suffering from another illness.
Abnormal panting can be a sign of illness. This includes:
Panting more than normal
No obvious reason for their panting
Making strange noises as they pant
Putting effort into panting
If your dog is panting heavily they are probably hot and so you should assess them for signs of heatstroke and try to cool them down.
One of the best ways to do this is to get a wet towel and drape it over your dog. You should also give them a drink. Never give your dog iced or cold water to cool them down because it can put them into shock and actually heat them up. If you suspect your dog is suffering heatstroke, you must contact your vet urgently as your dog’s life will be at risk.
If your pooch is panting more than normal or it’s louder than normal, it could be a sign of breathing difficulties or problems like a paralysed larynx or tracheal collapse. Try to video your dog panting (recording the sound too) so you can show it to your vet, and take your dog in for further examination.
If your dog is panting abnormally they could be ill. Your dog could have a problem with their lungs or heart that makes it harder for them to get enough oxygen which is making them pant.
They might also have anaemia which affects how oxygen travels around their body. Anaemia is often associated with poor diet, so it’s important your pup eats healthy dog food to get enough iron and folate to prevent the condition. Overweight dogs also tend to pant more. Hormone disorders like Cushing’s Disease can also cause persistent panting.
Sudden panting or abnormal breathing can also be a symptom of poisoning. If your dog’s breathing doesn’t slow down, or they show other symptoms of illness, you should go to the vet.
It is important that you take your dog to the vet so they can investigate why your pup is panting so much and try to help them.