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Dog Panting? why and what to do?

Dogs pant when they are hot, but heavy dog panting means something is wrong with the dog. It can be due to overheating (heat exhaustion), or if your dog pants even while resting, it may mean that he has some underlying health problem, such as a heart problem. This page looks at the common causes of excessive heavy panting in dogs and what you can do to deal with the issue.

As we all know, dogs pant when they are hot because they do not have as many sweat glands as we do. (The only few sweat glands that they have are on the pads of their feet.) Instead of sweating bullets like humans do, dogs cool themselves by breathing and panting. Therefore, it is absolutely normal that dogs pant on a hot day, or after chasing the ball several times in the park.

Also, the brachycephalic breeds (dogs with a pushed-in face such as the pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers, etc.) are prone to excessive dog panting because of their small nasal passages and short windpipes. They need to work harder (pant more heavily) for heat reduction.

So how can we be sure as to whether a dog's panting is normal or is caused by something more serious?

The bottom line is, get to understand your dog's normal behavior better. If your dog is a "great panter", there is no need to be alarmed if he is huffing and puffing after a walk. However, any change in the frequency or intensity of panting in your dog in the absence of any stimulation (e.g. heat, vigorous exercise) calls for attention as there probably is something wrong with the dog. So, if your dog pants heavily while resting or if he continues to pant for over ten minutes after an exercise session or exposure to heat, veterinary examination is advisable.

Common Causes of Excessive Dog Panting

Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is perhaps one of the most common causes of heavy dog panting that can lead to devastating damage to the dog's physical health. If a dog is left in a parked car on a hot summer day, or has been out playing or running for a long time in the heat, he can easily get heat stroke. His body temperature can rise rapidly to over 104°F, when he will start panting heavily. If no action is being taken to cool him down, his body temperature can rise up to 107°F, when heat stroke occurs and brain damage (sometimes death) may occur rapidly as well.

Besides heavy panting, other signs of heat stroke include:
  • excessive drooling;
  • deep red gums and tongue;
  • nausea and/or vomiting;
  • dizziness;
  • weakness and lethargy;
  • seizure.

Visit our page on Dog Heat Stroke to see how to give first aid treatment to a dog with heat stroke.

Another common cause of dog panting is obesity. When a dog is too fat, he may literally feel crushed by his weight and as such breathing is difficult, resulting in heavy panting. If your dog pants and if he is obese, be sure to help him lose weight!

Stress and Anxiety
Dogs also tend to pant when they are anxious or under stress. Sometimes if you get a new puppy, you may find that she pants constantly for the first few days, or even the first week or two. That is because the new environment is causing her to feel stressed, thus the panting. As she starts getting used to the environment, the panting should go away.

If there are changes in your dog's environment (e.g. a new family member, or you have just moved), your dog may pant more heavily than normal for the first few days. Try to calm your dog and spend more quality time with her. Use some natural calming remedies if necessary.

Some dogs may also pant when they are scared. For example, if your dog has noise phobia, she may pant heavily during a thunderstorm or firework display.

Another possible reason why a dog pants is that she is in pain. Look for other signs that may suggest pain, e.g. restlessness, constant licking or biting at one specific site, whimpering, reluctance to lie down, etc.

Cognitive Dysfunction
Panting is also associated with canine cognitive dysfunction. If you have an older dog, and he suddenly starts panting more, watch for other symptoms accompanying CCD, such as pacing and circling; walking into doors and furniture; a reduction in social interaction; "accidents" in the house; failure to recognize family members, etc.

Side Effect of Some Drugs
Some medications can cause panting as a side effect, such as corticosteroids (e.g. Prednisone), pain killers (e.g. Tramadol, Fentanyl), and excess thyroxine supplementation (thyroid medication for hypothyroidism).

Other Causes of Dog Panting
Other common causes of heavy dog panting include:
  • Too much excitement;
  • Fever;
  • Anemia;
  • Heartworm;
  • Congestive heart failure;
  • Hypothyroidism;
  • Cushing's disease;
  • Poisoning.

Heavy Dog Panting - Things You Can Do

First, if you notice there is a sudden change in the frequency or intensity of panting in your dog, suspect poisoning, choking, heat stroke, or injury of some kind.

Here are some questions that you may want to find answers to:

  • Has your dog just finished his meal - Would there be something caught in his throat so that his windpipe is partially obstructed? (In this case, the panting is usually accompanied by gagging or attempts to vomit.)
  • Has he been outside - Would it be possible that he has eaten something poisonous? (Also look for other signs of poisoning such as vomiting, drooling, and convulsions.)
  • Is it hot outside - Would it be heat stroke? If your dog feels hot, take his temperature immediately.
  • Do his gums appear pale or bluish in color - Would it be possible that he is injured and is bleeding internally thus the pale or bluish gums?
On the other hand, if you notice that your dog has been panting heavily even when he is resting, he may have a fever caused by some bacterial or viral infection. Check his body temperature immediately. If your dog has a temperature above 102.5°F, you should take her to your vet for a check-up.

If your dog seems to be panting heavily due to anxiety, fear, excitement, or stress, try to distant your dog from source of the stimulation, if possible. Use natural remedies to calm your dog down.

If you have an older dog, heavy excessive panting may mean congestive heart failure (particularly if your dog is panting heavily at night or if there are signs of exercise intolerance), or cognitive dysfunction.

To recap: It is important to be more observant to your dog's behavior and, in this case, his own "panting style". If you do so, you will be more likely to notice abnormal, excessive dog panting when you see one, and appropriate and timely action can be taken to prevent possible health damage to your dog.
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