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Why do dogs pant?

Have you ever wondered why dogs pant so much? We’ve got you covered - here are common causes for panting in dogs!


Dog laying in flower meadow.  Wix Media

 

To cool down


When we get hot, we sweat, and our body cools off as the sweat evaporates. While a dog’s feet can sweat, it is not enough to efficiently lower body temperature. Since dogs are unable to sweat to cool down, they bring their body temperature down by panting instead! When a dog pants, they are exchanging the hot air in their body for cooler air. Keep in mind that this isn’t nearly as effective as the way our bodies cool down, so it is important to pay close attention to your dog when spending any amount of time in warm weather. Be sure to keep walks or playtime outside to a minimum during the hottest parts of the day, especially if you have a puppy, senior dog, or brachycephalic breed (flat-faced dogs like shih-tzus, bulldogs, and pugs).


They are feeling happy and playful


It’s common for a dog’s mouth to be open with their tongue out while playing. This, paired with loose or “wiggly” body posture and a wagging tail, are signs that your pet is enjoying the play and having a good time! Even when the temperature is cool, it is normal for dogs to pant during and after a play session with their favorite human or other canine friends.


They are feeling stressed or anxious


Panting can also be an indicator that your pet is feeling anxious, but how do you differentiate anxious panting from happy panting? The first thing to consider is if your pet is currently experiencing any common or known stressors. There are the more common stressors, like thunderstorms or fireworks, that we associate with pets being anxious, but there are also more subtle stressors that can raise anxiety levels in pets that are sometimes overlooked. For example, having visitors over or relatives from out of town coming to stay, introducing a new baby or pet to the home, or having noisy home renovations completed, like roof repairs or putting in a pool.


They are experiencing pain or discomfort


Because they can’t speak, many pets are far more stoic than we are when we aren’t feeling our best. Pets don’t always whine or cry when they are feeling painful, so we have to rely on other indicators to identify when our pets are feeling uncomfortable - panting is one of those. You may notice your pet panting at odd times, such as when they are laying down to take a nap or late at night when they are usually asleep. The panting might also be accompanied by restlessness or difficulty getting comfortable, such as repositioning a lot while laying down, walking around at night, or standing/sitting versus lying down. Common causes may include joint pain or gastrointestinal discomfort.


Medications


Believe it or not, there are some medications that can lead to panting in pets! Drugs like prednisone, a type of steroid, is a common culprit for unexplained panting. Steroids may be used to treat things like pain/inflammation, allergies, or conditions like Addison’s disease (a condition where the adrenal glands do not produce enough corticosteroid hormone). Other medications, such as those used to treat heart conditions or urinary incontinence, may also have similar effects.


Medical Conditions


There are a number of medical conditions that can lead to increased panting. Some of the most common include Cushing’s disease, a condition in which the body is producing excess cortisol (stress hormone), diabetes, heart failure, anemia, or laryngeal paralysis, which is the weakening of the muscles surrounding the voice box. If you are noticing that your pet is panting more than usual or panting at times it seems unusual, please contact your veterinarian who can recommend further diagnostics to identify possible causes for the behavior.


Important: There is a significant difference between panting and labored or distressed breathing. Labored or distressed breathing may look like: exaggerated chest or full-body movements, fast and short breaths, breaths are accompanied by wheezing or whining, tongue and/or gums appear dark red, purple, or blue in color. If you observe these symptoms in your pet, please call your veterinarian immediately.

For additional questions, please contact us at 972-347-6100.


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