Most of the time, seeing your dog pant is not something that you need to be worried about. Indeed, panting is a normal and healthy behavior in dogs that helps cool them off when they get hot. It’s very important that dogs keep themselves from overheating!
However, there are times when panting can be abnormal, meaning that it is not related to a dog’s normal self-cooling processes. Yes, panting without a discernible cause may be a result of pain. But abnormal panting can also be caused by other health conditions.
Regardless, in these cases, it’s important to watch for particular signs and symptoms to determine the cause of the panting, potentially take important action to help your pet, and seek veterinary care and advice.
What is Panting and Why Does It Happen?
Typically, panting is a completely normal behavior in dogs. The purpose of panting is to regulate your dog’s internal temperature. As dogs have a limited capacity to sweat, they pant to reduce their internal temperature instead. Indeed, dogs do not sweat on any of the areas of their body covered by fur, so they are limited to sweating mostly on their paw pads, the inside of their ears, and their nose.
Panting is especially common after physical activity like running, jumping and general play, or on particularly hot days. To cool themselves off, panting allows the moisture in their lungs, nasal passages and mouth to evaporate, and for air to flow over these tissues.
If you notice your dog is panting, but they haven’t been exercising recently, and/or the surrounding environment is not hot, then the panting might be a sign that something is amiss.
Pain is one possibility. If your dog is in pain, they might exhibit several symptoms, including an increase in heart rate and stress or anxiety. Both of these can lead to panting, as your dog’s temperature may rise, which can result in panting in an attempt to restore homeostasis.
If they are in pain, panting will likely not be the only symptom. In addition to a heart rate increase, they may tremble or shake, whine or bark, appear restless and exhibit behavioral symptoms like avoidance or hiding. If they have been injured, they may lick or bite the site of the injury if they are experiencing localized pain.
Unfortunately, dogs cannot simply tell us that they are in pain, so it is important to keep an eye out for signs and symptoms if you suspect they may be in pain. If you think they may be hurting, schedule a time to see your vet as soon as possible.
Besides pain, heavy panting that seems out of place may be a sign of another serious condition like heat stroke or a toxicity poisoning. Other important conditions that can result in abnormal panting include Cushing’s disease (which means their body is producing too much cortisol) and heart or lung disorders, like heart disease or pneumonia.
A dog experiencing heatstroke is overheating for a prolonged period of time. Some important signs of heatstroke are excessive drooling, rapid heart rate, high body temperature, heavy panting, red gums, and muscle tremors.
What Can You Do to Help Abnormal Panting?
The steps you can take to help address abnormal panting in your dog depend first on identifying the cause. Once you think you have an idea of what might be causing the abnormal panting, you can then act to hopefully lessen the condition.
If you believe there is a good chance your dog is panting because they are in pain, see your veterinarian as soon as possible. They will be able to confirm this possibility, determine the root cause of the pain (for example, perhaps there is an underlying medical condition or injury), and then design a treatment plan on that basis.
In some cases, like heatstroke, it will be important for you to act immediately to prevent the condition from worsening. In severe cases, heatstroke can be fatal. If you suspect heatstroke, move your dog to a cool, shaded area, give them cool water to drink, and immerse them in cool water (or alternatively, wrap them in cool, wet towels). If possible, take their temperature with a rectal thermometer, and take care to stop helping them cool off once their temperature has come back down to 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you’ve begun helping to cool them off, take them into the vet as soon as possible.
As you can see, dog panting is usually nothing to worry about. However, if you think that your dog’s heavy panting is not a result of exercise or a surrounding hot environment, know that it can be a symptom of a health problem and that your pet may be in pain. Be sure to consult a vet for the appropriate diagnosis and explanation of abnormal panting in your dog.