After a run around the park or a long walk, it’s highly likely that you’ll see your dog panting with its tongue hanging out. It’s the main way overheated dogs control their body temperature and is quite normal.
Subtle changes in how and when they pant can be signs that something might be amiss. Find out when your dog might be panting too much as we look at some underlying health issues around excessive panting.
Why Do Dogs Pant?
The most common reason dogs pant is to control their heat and body temperature. By panting, dogs are able to circulate cooler air throughout their bodies. At the same time, moisture evaporates from their mouths and upper respiratory tract.
So, dogs don’t sweat like humans? It’s a good question. We use sweat to regulate how hot or cool we are. Although dogs do sweat, it only forms a small part of the process they use to cool down.
How and Why Do Dogs Sweat?
Dogs have two kinds of sweat glands:
Merocrine sweat glands work in a similar way to the human variety. You’ll find them in your dog’s paw pads. Overheated dogs activate them when they’re hot to cool themselves down. You’ll see evidence of this on very hot days in the form of wet paw prints on the ground.
Most breeds of dogs have a covering of fur. If they used sweat glands on their bodies to control their temperature, the sweat would have difficulty evaporating. Evaporation is a crucial part of the cooling process. Because there is so little fur in the paw area, it makes more sense for dogs to have these types of sweat glands there.
Although vets consider apocrine glands to be sweat glands, their primary function is to give off pheromones and not control a dog’s temperature. You’ll find these glands all over a dog’s body and they help dogs recognize each other by their smells.
How Do Dogs Cool Themselves Down?
When dogs get overheated, they rely on vasodilation to keep cool, as well as panting and sweating through their paws. This involves the expansion of blood vessels, particularly in their ears and faces.
As the blood vessels expand, they move the warmer blood nearer to the skin’s surface.
That allows it to cool down before it goes back into the heart and, in turn, helps regulate your pet’s internal body temperature.
Shaving a dog’s coat is unlikely to have a great impact on controlling a dog’s temperature. It can also cause more problems than it is trying to solve. Always consult your vet before shaving off any layers of your dog’s coat.
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Breeds That Are Prone to Panting Irregularities
Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) refers to a set of conditions that stem from the body conformation of dogs that have short noses. Common breeds of brachycephalic dogs include:
- English and French bulldogs
- Shih-Tzus and Pekingese
Some breeds with longer noses like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Staffordshire Bull Terriers may occasionally suffer similar issues although more rarely.
Because of their compacted skeletons, short-nosed breeds are prone to certain malformations including in their nasal cavities where they’ll retain normal quantities of skin and soft tissue. This explains the excessive skin folds you may see on their faces.
Signs of BOAS and How to Treat It
All this can increase the resistance to airflow through the nasal passages and that can lead to breathing problems that can sometimes be very serious. Their tongues may also appear too large for their shortened heads and obstruct their mouths and throats even more.
Brachycephalic dogs tend to make up for their abnormalities by breathing in harder, creating forceful negative pressures in their throat, chest and neck. It may then appear that your dog is panting excessively and struggling to breathe properly causing anxiety. That can lead to secondary respiratory and digestive diseases.
Your vet will be able to advise you on the best course of action. Since the majority of problems associated with BOAS stem from upper airway obstruction, the main initial focus is typically to unblock the airways.
Sometimes this may require surgery in order to widen the nasal passages and shorten the soft palate. In many instances, dogs will have an improved quality of life with less trouble breathing in sufficient quantities of air and less dog panting anxiety.
When Is My Dog Panting Too Much
There are going to be times when your dog pants more than is usual. In the same way that we sweat more when we go for a jog, dogs will pant more after they’ve been playing and running around.
Much depends on their size and breed but dogs generally take between ten and thirty breaths every minute. It’s a good idea to get to know how your own dog normally breathes and pants. That’s going to help you recognize when something doesn’t seem quite right.
Limited sweating, panting and vasodilation are not as good at cooling dogs down as perspiring is for humans. This puts dogs at risk from heat stress and anxiety, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Recognizing and Preventing Excessive Dog Heat
Heatstroke is one of the most common causes of excessive panting in dogs. In many cases, responsible dog owners can prevent it from ever happening to their pets. When the weather is particularly hot, they can take precautions such as:
- Limiting the amount of time spent running around in direct hot sunshine
- Moving their pets to the shade when it’s particularly hot
- Cooling their dogs by feeding them ice cubes
- Keeping their dogs well-hydrated
- Never leaving their animals in a parked car
Overheating is a medical emergency. If you think your dog has heatstroke, a fast response can be lifesaving. Symptoms of heatstroke include:
- Panting far more than is normal
- Dazed-looking eyes
- Extreme lethargy
- A rapid heart rate, drooling
- Vomiting, diarrhea and seizures
If you suspect that your dog may have heatstroke, by far the main priority is contacting a vet clinic and getting your dog there as soon as possible. While you are doing this, placing towels soaked in cold water on your dog is a good way to cool them.
If you plan to spray them with a garden hose, always check the water first, as the temperature may have increased in the sun.
Other Potential Causes of Excessive Panting
Dogs can display some of the same signs of heart disease as humans. These can include:
- Breathing difficulties
- Reduced interest in and tolerance for exercise
- Excessive coughing
The way your vet will treat a dog’s heart disease will depend on its cause. Treatments sometimes include medications like ACE inhibitors and diuretics.
This happens when a dog’s adrenal glands start making excessive cortisol. As well as heavy panting, symptoms can include:
- Excessive hunger, thirst and urination
- Hair loss and a bloated, pot-bellied appearance
Treatment varies but can include adrenal-suppressing drugs or even surgery.
Several respiratory disorders including lung tumors, laryngeal paralysis and pneumonia can all cause heavy panting and breathing. Treatment will depend on the condition and how far it has managed to progress.
Abnormal panting could be a sign your dog may have ingested something poisonous or suffered an allergic reaction. Poisonings are amongst the most common emergencies that owners race to see their vet about.
They can often be due to a pet munching through some chocolate or raisins, swallowing the leaves of a dangerous plant or licking something like antifreeze or chewing some slug and snail pellets.
Anemia happens when there’s a drop in the number of red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen around the body and therefore anemia can cause oxygen deprivation. As a result, a dog may pant more often in an effort to compensate.
This is a growing problem in dogs and can cause many complications, from heart disease to diabetes. It can also lead to life-limiting conditions such as arthritis.
Excessive panting can certainly be a sign of an overweight dog.
When to Contact Your Vet
Clearly, there will be times when your dog’s excessive panting is perfectly normal and simply due to doing lots of healthy exercise. However, you should always get in touch with your vet straight away if:
- Your dog begins to pant suddenly for no apparent reason
- You believe your dog might be in pain
- Your dog’s panting is constant and intense
- Your dog’s tongue or gums have turned blue, purple or white
We have a team of vets available to offer reassurance and advice should you have any concerns about your dog’s breathing or panting. A video consultation with one of Cooper Pet Care’s qualified veterinarians is only a few clicks away. Fast, simple, and secure – get the answers you need.