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Excessive and abnormal panting in dogs: what to do

Bernese dog panting advice
© Pixabay

Panting in dogs? We all know that’s a normal part of being a pooch! You’ll notice your dog panting when they’re excited, during a long walk or run on the beach or when it’s a little hot outside. But excessive panting in dogs can be a sign of heatstroke or disease.

By Alice Lang

As the warmer months set in and the sun finally shows its face (hurrah!), you’ll notice your dog begins to pant more. It’s exactly the same as us humans sweating when we’re at the gym or in the sweltering sunshine. Panting simply helps dogs cool down.

But we shouldn’t just ignore excessive panting in dogs. If you notice that your pooch is panting when he’s seemingly cool and relaxed, it could be a sign of disease. Let’s learn all about panting in dogs and try to understand what’s normal and when panting in dogs needs investigating.

Why do dogs pant?

“If you've spent any time around dogs, you know they pant. In fact, many dogs pant a lot. Panting describes a type of rapid, shallow breathing that speeds evaporation of water from your dog's tongue, and inside his mouth and upper respiratory tract. As the water evaporates, it helps your dog regulate his body temperature.” says Dr Becker to Healthy Pets.

When dogs pant, they circulate air throughout their body, which evaporates water and heat. Panting is an efficient way for a dog to cool themselves down - because unlike us, dogs don’t sweat, other than a teeny bit through their paw pads.

Excessive panting in dogs: what’s normal?

Excessive panting in dogs
Is your dog panting whilst calm, cool and relaxed? Something could be wrong
© Pixabay
 

In a healthy, normal, dog, the breathing rate should be around 40 inhalations and exhalations every minute. When they begin to pant due to exercise, heat or excitement, their breathing rate could be up to 10x this - and that’s still healthy.

But if your pooch begins to pant randomly - such as when he’s in a cool environment, he’s not exercising and he’s not particularly excited - panting becomes abnormal. You might also notice a raspy, scratchy sound as your dog pants - this isn’t a good sign, either.

At the end of the day, you know your pup well. If their pant suddenly changes or you notice much heavier panting than normal, a physical or emotional issue may be present. If excessive panting in dogs goes on for more than a few days and you have a gut feeling something isn’t right, it’s best to err on the side of caution and get your pup checked over by the vet.

What to do when you notice excessive panting in dogs

Figure out the cause: could it be heat stroke?

“Your dog needs to be protected during the summer months when temperatures and humidity remain high. Unlike their human companions, dogs do not have sweat glands all over their bodies; they only have them in their paws” explain Sandra & Harry Choron in Planet Dog: A Doglopedia

“Panting is the only way your dog can cool off. If your dog's temperature exceeds 102 degrees, she runs the risk of suffering from heat stroke.”

Heatstroke in dogs is serious - if left untreated, it can be fatal. One of the most noticeable symptoms of heatstroke is excessive panting in dogs - so it’s important to keep a serious eye on your pooch on or after a hot day.

If, for some reason, your pup has been exposed to the sun for a long period of time or has spent time in a hot room, watch out for the following symptoms:

  • Fast, heavy panting
  • Weakness
  • Drooling
  • Increased heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • High body temperature (over 104 degrees)

Avoid and treat heatstroke

Excessive panting in dogs
Taking your dog for a day out in the sun? Make sure you provide shade and water
© Pixabay
 

If you’ve noticed heat stroke symptoms in your pup, you need to act quickly.

Firstly, get them out of the sun and into a cool room. If you can, submerge them in cool (not cold) water or apply ice (bags of frozen vegetables will do) to their body - paying attention to the chest and head.

Encourage them to drink some cool water or give them ice cubes. After they’ve cooled down, head straight to the vet.

However, the best treatment for heatstroke is avoidance. Never (and we mean never!) leave your pup in a parked car alone - it’s scarily easy for the interior to heat up and cause heatstroke.

On a hot day, make sure your pooch has a shady place to rest. For example, if you’re heading to the beach or for a picnic, bring a parasol for them to sit under. You should also provide constant access to cool water in and out the house - no matter how hot or cold it is. Bring a water bottle with you on walks or outings and give them regular slurps.

Consider other causes

If it’s unlikely to be heatstroke but you’ve noticed excessive panting in dogs, there are a number of other possible causes, including:

Stress, anxiety and fear: Has your pooch recently been on a long car journey, is it bonfire night, or have you moved somewhere new? Panting can be a sign of stress or fear. Other symptoms include whining, yawning, hiding away and loss of bladder control.

Pain: If your dog has started to pant excessively with no clear reason, he may be in some sort of pain. Look out for signs of trauma such as big pupils, restlessness, inability or reluctance to lie down or exercises, or licking/biting a certain area of the body.

Diseases of the heart of lungs: Dogs can suffer from heart and lung disease or failure, just like us. Fortunately, when they’re caught early, they are treatable. A common symptom of these types of conditions is excessive panting in dogs, along with general breathing difficulty and coughing.

Laryngeal paralysis: When the larynx (voice box) muscles malfunction, breathing can become incredibly difficult. Excessive panting in dogs combined with loud, raspy breathing are the most common symptoms.

excessive panting in dogs
Excessive panting could be caused by a variety of conditions
© Pixabay
 

Other causes of excessive panting in dogs:

  • Anaemia
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Medication
  • A variety of chronic illnesses

Head to the vet

While it’s normal for any pup to pant during a long walk or run, when it’s warm outside or even if they’re just really happy to see you, a healthy dog shouldn’t pant too much outside of these situations.

If you notice excessive panting in dogs which is happening frequently, get to the vets as soon as you can. Your pup may be suffering from one of the conditions above - so it’s best to get them fixed up quickly.

If you believe heatstroke could be to blame, take the steps we mentioned earlier and then, go straight to the vet - whether it's day or night! Don’t ever assume heatstroke will get better on its own - it’s a life-threatening condition.

Now that you know the causes of excessive panting in dogs and what's normal when it comes to panting, you can keep a close eye on your beloved canine buddy!