HEALTH & CARE

Dog Excessive Panting: A Symptom That Could Indicate A More Serious Disease

Help your dog when panting
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Dog panting is not something unusual when it comes to dogs’ health in general. Dog panting is a normal canine respiratory response to various factors such as physical activity, heat and exhaustion.

However, this excessive panting can be a result of some serious health problems, so you should monitor your pet in order to see whether you should take him to the vet or not. If your dog pants for no apparent reason, especially if he has not been physically exhausted recently, you should definitely take him for a checkup.

Dog panting

This article will provide you with a short guide on possible causes, symptoms and medical conditions.

Overview

Dog panting is a term that represents the way a dog takes quick and shallow breathes through an open mouth, often when his tongue is sticking out. When dogs do this, they manage to cool down and normalize their breathing. It is the fact that dogs do not have as many sweat glands as we humans do. The only sweat glands they have are the ones on the pads on their feet and their nose.

They usually take between 10 and 30 breaths per minute, and that depends on their size or breed. There are the so called ‘brachycephalic’ dog breeds, such as the Pugs, Boston terriers, Bulldogs etc. that have small nasal passages and short windpipes, which results in them panting more excessively than other dog breeds. Additionally, you probably have noticed that they pant and breathe heaver than other breeds, and that is especially evident when it comes to Pugs. They are also the dog breeds that suffer more from heart strokes and heat strokes.

Panting and exhausted dog

You should also keep in mind that panting occurs only periodically, which means that your dog would pant for a short period of time and then his breathing would return to normal. Dog panting occurs between longer episodes of regular breathing and a healthy dog would pant only for a short period of time.

If you wonder what are the causes related to the normal dog panting, these are:

  • Heat is the usual cause for dog panting. As we have mentioned above, this is the main way a dog would cool down his body when he is exposed to really high temperatures. That kind of panting helps him release any excess body heat.
  • Physical activity is the second reason why dogs rapidly pant. Your dog would pant in order to catch his breath and after that he gets his breathing normalized.
  • Excitement or nervousness is the third cause of excessive dog panting. When a dog is exposed to anxiety or he is too nervous, or maybe he is just too happy to see his owner, he will fasten up his breathing and start panting. However, this should not occur too often.

What to do

If any of the options stated above do not seem most likely to be related to your pet’s excessive panting, then you will probably wonder what the cause is and what to do next.

Signs of overheating

First, do not panic. Secondly, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has my dog eaten or drank anything unusual recently or maybe an unusual amount? If the answer is yes, it is very possible that your dog ate something that he should not have, or maybe he is overfull so much that he is on the verge of vomiting. You should know that you should never give your dog one huge meal, it is always better to give him small meals. He is panting too much probably because he is in pain and discomfort.
  • Is my dog being treated for any illness or condition? This is a very important question, because there are several disorders that cause excessive panting. Some of them will be mentioned below in the article. However, if your dog is already sick or being treated, you should know all the symptoms and signs of that particular illness. If the answer is no and the dog has not been diagnosed with anything, then it is time to take him to the vet.
  • Is my dog taking any medication? There are various medications that can cause excessive panting, and one of them is prednisone. It is very possible that your dog is allergic to some of the ingredients or he is not responding well to that medication. You should read the side effects and warnings on the back of the medications and you should never ever give your dog any medication without his vet’s permission.
  • Has my dog been absent on his own/out of my sight for any period of time recently? If the answer is yes, it is very possible that your dog has sustained some internal or external injury. Make sure to check his whole body and see whether he is in pain or discomfort. If you relieve the pain, the excessive panting should stop, because dogs try to calm themselves down when they are in a serious pain.
  • Does my dog belong to the long coat or Brachycephalic group of dog breeds? If the answer is yes, then that means that you should pay more attention to him during the summer, especially if you live in the area that is a living hell filled with scorching days during the summer season. Additionally, you should take care if you take your dog in cars during hot days? Why? Because the heat inside a car can reach 100 degrees in just 15 minutes. Some countries even passed the laws concerning leaving children and dogs in cars for a long period of time.
    Also, if your dog spends a lot of time in the outside kennel, then a kennel cover is a must, including the access to fresh water.

Health problems associated with excessive panting

If your dog is suffering from any of these conditions, then it is very possible that is the reason he pants too much. Additionally, if you suspect that your dog may develop or he already has developed any of these conditions, you should take him to the vet.

Dog check up

A checkup should be a must if you notice any extraordinary, because a healthy dog should not pant too much unless the reason is one of the options stated above.

Obesity

This is a common cause when it comes to excessive panting in dogs. That is because an obese dog is more likely to overheat and therefore he needs to pant more in order to cool down. Additionally, when a dog is obese, he is unable to enjoy physical exercises and activities like a normal healthy dog. You should then take care of the root problem – obesity. Obesity can lead to more serious health issues such as heart and cardiovascular diseases, pancreatitis, joint disease, liver disease and many more.

Even if your dog is not obese, but you do not take care of his health in sense that you do not prepare health meals, then it is not wonder if your dog pants excessively after overeating. You should consider giving smaller meals two or three times a day. Avoid giving your pup meals whenever he wants because you are doing it for his benefit.

Hyperthermia or heatstroke

This is also another common cause of heavy panting. But you should still worry because this condition can lead to brain damage and death. Dog breeds with long coats and those that have short nasal passages are at more risk than the others. That is because they cannot handle high temperatures and they breathe in a difficult way. In order to prevent this, always provide your pet with an access to fresh water and never leave him out in the sun or in a scorching car. If your dog spends time in the yard, he should have a shade so he can protect himself from the dangerous sun.

Heatstroke in dogs

What are the symptoms of a heatstroke? If you notice that your dog’s gums and tongue are deep red, purple or blue with thick sticky saliva, then you should take your dog to a cool place and spray him with cool water. However, if his temperature is higher than 40°C, then you must take him to the vet.

Fever

Whereas a heatstroke is a result of environmental causes, fever is a result of your pet’s immune response. A dog can get a fever due to some infection or other more serious illness, just like humans. Fever is usually accompanied by loss of appetite, lethargy and abnormal changes in behavior. If your dog has a fever, you must take him to the vet to find out the cause, do not give your dog any medication.

Pain

An excessive panting can be a result of physical pain. It is accompanied by excessive salivating and retching. One of the causes can be bloating, and you should know that it is a life threatening condition, so you should take the dog to the vet. Other causes of pain can be joint pain, pancreatitis or other physical injuries. Bloat, poisoning, trauma or internal injuries can cause acute painful abdomen, and the dog will cry out in pain if his stomach is pressed and he will start drooling and panting more than usual.

You would also notice your dog being unable to lie down or move around as normally as before. This is a serious condition that should be treated right away.  Additionally, if your dog got kicked by the car or fell down, that can also result in internal bleeding which would result in your dog panting excessively as a way of showing that he is in a serious pain.

Anxiety and trauma

Besides obvious physical pain, dogs can also experience emotional and mental pain. If they are abused, mistreated or simply ignored by anyone, they can show the signs of distress by panting excessively, following other symptoms. It is normal for dogs to pant when they become excited, but it is not unusual for them to pant when they are sad or abused too.

Dog anxiety

Just like humans, dogs can develop traumas or sudden anxiety attacks due to certain events in their lives.

Eclampsia

Eclmapsia or milk fever is a condition that resembles a seizure and it is caused by low serum calcium. Small dog breeds are more likely to develop this condition and besides excessive panting, other signs of this condition are restlessness, anxiety, uncoordinated movement, and pale mucus membranes. This condition can be dangerous and must be treated immediately, therefore, if your pet has given birth recently and you notice her breathing heavily and panting, take her to the vet right now. It usually occurs two to four weeks postpartum.

Severe anemia

Anemia represents a deficiency of red blood cells and it can be caused by blood loss, hemolysis or inadequate red blood cell production. Severe anemia can cause a dog to collapse with exertion and besides heavy panting, other signs include lethargy, weakness, and lack of appetite. You can also notice that a dog’s gums and tongue are white or pale pink and that is the moment when you should be alarmed and take your dog to the vet.

Respiratory problems

Dogs that have respiratory problems would usually pant for no apparent reasons and there are several conditions that would be the cause for it. A collapsing trachea results in your dog having a cough that is similar to the sound of a honking goose. Dogs that go through some physical activity that is tiring would develop such a cough and then they would pant.

The same goes for an obstruction in a dog’s respiratory tract. There are also various long conditions, for example fluid buildup in the lungs which result in labored breathing and in gums, lips and tongue looking blue from the lack of oxygen.

Dog with lack of oxygen

If a dog is infected with an inflammation of the bronchi such as bronchitis or with an inflammation of the lungs such as pneumonia, he will most likely wheeze and rant more than usual. Bronchitis is responsible for dry and harsh coughing including retching. The symptoms of pneumonia are labored breathing, fever, lethargy and a congested-sounding cough.

Lung tumors can also be the major cause of such panting and there are many versions of them. They are usually surgically removed, especially if they are in their first stages. It is important to notice them as soon as possible, because it is then less painful for the dog.

Cardiovascular disorders

Dog excessive panting can also be a result of cardiovascular disorders, so if you are noticing for the first time that your pet has developed abnormal panting, then you should take him to the vet to check whether he has any of the following conditions. For example, when a dog is affected with an advanced stage of heartworm infestation, he will experience labored breathing. Other symptoms that are following this kind of panting are: a harsh cough, anemia, lethargy, jaundice and swollen abdomen.

Additionally, if a dog is experiencing a congested heart failure, he will besides feeling lethargic, also tire easily and get out of breath easily. That means that the excessive panting will be triggered by exercise. Losing his appetite and be less interested in usual activities are other symptoms.

A heart muscle disease called dilated cardiomyopathy is associated with hypothyroidism and the affected dog tires easily and pants excessively after normal exercises. He also refuses to eat. Cushing’s disease is another hormonal disorder which happens when a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol and that can result in a dog panting abnormally.

Cushings disease

To sum up, it is normal for dogs to pant, however, it is not normal for them to pant for no apparent reason or too excessively. We have mentioned some of the normal causes such as heat, physical activity and excitement, but we also mentioned some of the conditions that are usually accompanied with such panting.

Some of the medical conditions or disorders are obesity, hyperthermia or heatstroke, fever, pain, anxiety and trauma, eclampsia, severe anemia, fluid buildup in the lungs, collapsing trachea ,pneumonia, bronchitis, lung tumors, heartworm, congested heart failure, dilated cardiomyopathy and Cushing’s disease.

You know your dog the best, so you should be able to notice when something is going on. If your dog shows signs of lethargy but he has not had any physical activities recently, maybe he is not feeling well.

When dogs pant, they try to cool their bodies down, so dog breeds with longer and thicker coats and those that have short nasal passages may be forced to pant more than the others. It is for best if you get to understand your dog’s normal behavior.

That means if you notice any changes in the frequency or intensity of panting in your pet, especially if there is an absence of stimulation (physical activity), you should be alarmed. All in all, make sure to react immediately if you suspect anything weird, because in that case you can save your furry friend in time.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • Lucy Wilde

    Funny, we raised this certain thread of inquiry to our vet before. Apparently dog CAN develop hyperventilation syndrome if they pant to deep and too fast. And this is apparently accompanied usually by another condition, aerophagia (they ‘gulp air and this distends their stomach). Sharing for other dog owners, because this is pretty much of heavy note.

  • Anna Tomson

    My mom has a Terrier who has ear infection for a week now. Pooch is having ear drops as prescribed by the vet. Now mom says her dog is shaking her dog vigorously and panting non-stop. Is this a medical emergency?

    • It can be a sign of adverse effects caused by the medication. Notify the veterinarian immediately.

  • That’s very true, Lucy. What can look funny or weird can be a medical emergency already.

  • Sandra

    6 weeks ago I moved from a home that my dog and I lived in for 11 yrs. since moving in the new home she has been very anxious panting quit a bit, having accidents in the house. Shaking and drinking water like mad. Peeing a lot. Eating well but I need some thought as what this is stemmed from?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Because of the new environment and how your dog was literally uprooted from where she belongs, anxiety is highly likely to buildup. Your dog may benefit from a routine appointment with the veterinarian, and further assessment might require tests.

  • Nate

    Our pug is 13 yrs. old. He had some teeth removed and bounced back great. The pain medication the Vet gave us has a history of causing ulcers in some dogs. We were going along fine until he started vomiting and could not keep rice and chicken down? His one postop stool was tarry and brown. His labs are good except the red blood cells are down? We repeated the lab and the rbcs were up slowly. Then we noticed his tongue was pale and rushed to the Vet. They are stymied as to what is going on? His tongue will get a little pink but not that healthy pink. We are heart broken to find an answer. Any Vets with Pug experience? We are in Southern California near Palm Springs. Thanks

  • Tiffany

    We have a 13 year old Jack Russell, lately she has been panting and seems to be overheated. We have just noticed this behaviour this year, specifically in the summer. We started cooling her off with cool water and she seemed to be fine. However this behaviour has continued even now when the weather is not hot. We have noticed this behaviour usually lasts for about an hour, and we are unsure if we should take her to a vet.
    Thanks!

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