It’s normal for dogs to pant, especially when they are hot, excited or energetic. Heavy panting is however different and may be a sign that your dog is dangerously overheated, coping with a chronic health problem, or has experienced a life-threatening trauma.
Moderate to rapid open-mouthed respiration allows for lowering body temperature and also to get oxygen into the dog’s bloodstream. Panting as a cooling mechanism is necessary because dogs do not have an effective system of sweat glands like people do. Instead, dogs cool their bodies using the evaporation of moisture from the mouth and tongue, and by exchanging the hot air of their lungs with cooler external air.
Here’s what every dog owner should know about excessive panting:
• Heat stroke is a potentially fatal condition which occurs when a dog’s temperature rises to a dangerous level. Faster, heavier panting is one of the earliest and most common signs of heat stroke in dogs. Urgent action is required to treat this condition, as heat-related illnesses can kill pets in as little as 15 minutes.
• Abnormal panting may be a signal your dog has been poisoned or has suffered an allergic reaction. Poisoning is one of the most common emergencies vets see. Often they are the result of chocolate or raisin ingestion, swallowing dangerous plants, or licking things like antifreeze, rat poison or slug and snail killer.
• Just like humans, a dog’s heart pumps blood rich in oxygen around the body. As the heart deteriorates and is no longer able to do this, dogs can display several signs, including weakness, coughing and exercise intolerance. Another common sign is panting. This occurs when the respiratory rate rises to compensate for the lack of oxygen being circulated.
• One of the most common problems suffered by brachycephalic dogs (breeds with flat faces such as pugs and French bulldogs) is an inability to breathe normally. This is especially the case after exercise or while eating meals. This condition is called Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) and is caused by a narrowing of the upper respiratory tract.
• Disorders in any part of the respiratory system can lead to breathing difficulties in dogs and one of the signs may be heavy breathing or panting. These disorders can include laryngeal paralysis, lung tumours and pneumonia.
• Anaemia is diagnosed when there’s a fall in the number of red blood cells. Because these cells transport oxygen around the body, anaemia can lead to oxygen deprivation. This, in turn, may result in a dog panting more to compensate.
• Obesity is a growing problem in dogs and can lead to heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as debilitating life-limiting conditions including arthritis. Excessive panting in an overweight dog is often a sign that they’re struggling to get fresh, oxygenated blood to their vital systems.
• This syndrome occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. Affected dogs, which are usually middle-aged or older, tend to pant more, drink more, urinate more and want to eat more.
Do dogs pant when in pain?
If your dog is panting heavily but hasn’t been exercising, it could be that they are in pain. Dogs in pain will often pant well before displaying more obvious signs, such as a limp or whining. It’s worth bearing in mind that dogs with shallow breathing could also be suffering pain.
What else can lead to heavy panting?
Other issues which may result in abnormal panting in dogs include anxiety, adverse reaction to medication, high blood pressure, fever and metabolic acidosis, which is when the body produces too much acid.
When should I call my vet if my dog won’t stop panting?
You should always call your vet if you are worried about your dog’s health. But bear in mind that panting is perfectly normal in dogs who have been exercising, are excited, or just a little too hot. Panting can be considered abnormal and a potential emergency if it starts suddenly and for no reason, won’t stop, is accompanied by shaking or restlessness, or involves a change in the colour of your dog’s tongue or gums from pink to bluish, white or purple.