Dog behavior explained: Why do dogs pant so much?
February 25, 2020
Panting is a natural part of being a dog. Who doesn’t love the sight of a happy dog, stretched out contentedly after a romp at the dog park, adorable pink tongue hanging out?
In addition to helping your dog cool off and recover, panting can also reveal medical issues in your pet. Use this guide to get to know more about the purpose of panting, and how these pants can help us humans recognize problems.
Panting with a purpose: Cooling off and playtime
A dog’s cool-down routine
Dogs can’t sweat, except through their paw pads. Therefore, they pant! A hot day, a run, an extra energetic play session — all while wearing a fur coat — can leave your dog feeling warm. To cool off, they’ll stretch out for a rest, roll out the floppy pink tongue, and just pant for a while, followed by a long drink of water.
What’s happening when your dog pants? By opening that mouth wide and making those lungs pump like bellows, your dog is shedding excess heat. All that huffing and puffing expels heat-carrying water vapors from the lungs, nasal passages and the tongue. Of course, because your pooch just released all that moisture, they’ll need to rehydrate so their bodies can continue to regulate temperature. While they’re re-acclimating, provide a dish of fresh water so they can complete their cool-down.
The “let’s play” pant
Dogs sometimes pant to communicate. Many may give off a particular series of exhales as their way to tell their human or canine companion that they really want to play right now. Along with the sharp exhales, you may also see a play bow, or perhaps they’ll present a toy. According to a famous study by Patricia Simonet at Sierra Nevada College, there was something to this play-pant theory (which some refer to as dog laughs). When sounds of the play pant were broadcast, test subject puppies would pick up a toy and approach other dogs or humans.
Is your dog panting too much?
When you’ve lived with your dog for a while, your ears become accustomed to the usual sound and duration of your dog’s cool-down session. But what if your dog is panting when the situation doesn’t seem to warrant it, for example, they haven’t been exercising? That’s when it’s time to tune in. Take note if the panting gets deep, difficult, intense and continues for an unusually long time, because that can indicate your pet is experiencing a medical issue. It could be a sign that your dog is feeling anxious. But she could be also overheated, reacting to toxic food she ate, or even injured.
Here are some of the top causes of abnormal panting and what you should do about it. When in doubt, have your pet seen by an emergency vet immediately.
Dogs pant to cool off, but intense, prolonged panting is one sign of heatstroke.
- Other symptoms: Elevated heart rate, drooling, vomiting, body temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
- What to do: Cool down your dog by moving him to an air-conditioned area, and offer fresh water to drink. Submerge him in cool (but not cold) water, or apply ice packs to your dog’s chest, neck and head areas. Then, get him to the vet for treatment.
If your chunky puppy is always huffing and puffing, even after a moderate amount of movement, it can indicate your dog’s cardiovascular system is working overtime.
- Other symptoms: In addition to the labored breathing, overweight dogs can often develop joint pain. Excess pounds can increase the dog’s risk of hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and shorten their lives by up to two years.
- What to do: In the short term, over-exercising your dog can be dangerous, so while longer walks and play sessions are a good idea, be sure and increase these sessions gradually. In the long term, carrying extra weight can have serious health ramifications for your dog. Here’s a look at how and what you can do to help your dog get back into top shape.
Heavy prolonged panting that lasts more than 30 minutes is one sign that your dog has eaten something he shouldn’t have. Certain types of foods, household plants, medications or supplements issued for human use, not to mention household chemicals, are all things that sicken or even kill your dog.
- Other symptoms: Your dog’s physical response will depend on what they ingested. In fact, they may not be panting at all. Watch for excess drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, unsteadiness on the feet, rapid heart rate, and gums that are blue, purple or white.
- What to do: Take your dog to the emergency vet clinic, and bring along the packaging from the ingested item.
Dogs pant in response to pain and injury. Sometimes, it’s not always clear they’ve been hurt, especially if they sustained a blow on the abdomen area.
- Other symptoms: Enlarged pupils, reduced appetite, not wanting to lie down, increased anxiety, licking and biting on a specific body part.
- What to do: These signs can indicate your dog is suffering from trauma and needs to be seen by a vet immediately.
Congestive heart failure
This occurs when the heart struggles to pump adequate blood supplies to the rest of the body, causing fluid to collect in the lungs and body cavities. When this chronic condition develops, it’s usually late in the dog’s life.
- Other symptoms: The most common sign of heart failure in dogs is a persistent cough, along with difficulty breathing, even while at rest or asleep. Other signs are weight loss, a reduction in muscle mass, fatigue and a reduced interest in walking and playing.
- What to do: It’s important to understand there’s no cure for congestive heart failure, which means this can come as deeply upsetting news to pet parents. Once your pet’s health care provider makes a diagnosis, they can tell you more about your dog’s prognosis and what can be done to manage the disease.
A chronic endocrine condition that affects dogs when they reach middle age or their senior years. This occurs when the pituitary gland produces excess cortisol, which means your dog’s body is in a constant state of stress.
- Other symptoms: Thinning coat, increased appetite, drinking water to excess, development of a pot belly.
- What to do: This disease takes different forms, and a vet may recommend treatment through medication or surgery.
A lung infection that makes breathing difficult. This usually develops from a cold, but it also occurs when your pet inhales droplets of water, bits of food or other substances.
- Other symptoms: Coughing, lethargy, fever, reduced appetite and heavy breathing.
- What to do: Because this infection could be bacterial rather than viral, it’s essential to seek treatment so your pet can recover.
Dogs can’t tell us if they’re feeling hot and tired, or feeling seriously ill. But through their panting, we can better understand what they need and when they need our help.
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