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Causes of Panting in Dog

Updated on July 16, 2010

Panting is a dog's natural cooling system

As a dog owner, you may be quite used to seeing your dog with its tongue sticking out while breathing rapidly and panting. This is a quite normal occurrence, especially if your dog has been running around and about on a quite warm day.

Panting after all, is the dog's evaporative cooling system. Because dogs do not sweat as humans, they cool down when their mouth is open and their shallow, rapid breathing increases the air flow to the mucous membranes of the mouth and respiratory tract. This effectively cools the dog down and lowers its temperature. The salivary glands further help in the cooling process.

While it is quite normal for a dog to pant after exertion, exposure to heat, excitement, anxiety or following a stressful event, it can be quite abnormal for a dog to pant in absence of any of the above triggering events.

One thing to keep in mind is that obese dogs tend to over heat more easily, and therefore, they are more prone to pant. Brachycephalic dog breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs and the Pekingese which are characterized by short nasal passages and pushed-in faces, tend to pant more and overheat. This is a reason why these breeds are often not allowed to travel on airplanes in the summer.

Unexplained and excessive panting may be indicative of some sort of disease or condition especially if the dog appears to be also in distress. Below are some common causes.

Causes of Unexplained Panting in Dogs

Perhaps this is one of the most common causes of unexplained panting in dogs. The dog may be suffering from a variety of disorders affecting the upper and lower airways that interfere with proper breathing. Possible conditions may be: disorders of the voice box (with loud panting), nasopharyngeal polyps, collapsing trachea, the presence of fluid in the lungs or chest, asthma and even cancer. An indicator of severe respiratory distress is the presence of bluish tinted gums instead of healthy pink.

 Cardiovascular Disorders

Heart disorders such as cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, heart murmurs or the presence of heartworms may cause unexplained panting episodes. However, affected dogs usually also display trouble breathing, tiredness and coughing episodes sometimes worse in the night. Thromboembolism is another possibility.

• Hormonal Disorders

Panting episodes have been observed in dogs that suffer from hypothyroidism, a disorder of low thyroid levels that needs correcting with medications. Another possibility is Cushing's disease, sometimes seen in dogs that have been given long term steroid medications. Affected dogs often have a potbelly and distinct panting episodes.

• Bleeding Disorders

If the pet has been bleeding extensively, panting may be a symptom of anemia because of the resulting weakness and therefore, tiredness. The bleeding may not be visible as it may be internal. A dog with pale gums usually strongly suggests anemia. Severe cases may require immediate care and possibly a blood transfusion.


Nauseous dogs may tend to pant and try to eat grass to feel better. Panting is often also seen with abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Dogs that have been vomiting a lot, exhibiting diarrhea, or both, may quickly become dehydrated. A quick test to see how dehydrated a dog is can be done by pulling up the skin in between the shoulder blades in a tent and looking how fast it springs back. If it springs back promptly, very likely the dog is hydrated. If it has a delay or worse remains lifted, this indicates dehydration.

• Pain

Dogs in pain, may tend to pant. Finding the source of pain sometimes may be challenging. Senior dogs may have joint pain or the pain may be abdominal such as in dogs suffering from pancreatitis after eating a fatty meal. A female dog may pant after hours and even days after giving birth to her puppies. This occurs because the uterus tends to contract for a few weeks after giving birth. Such contractions are stimulated by lactation.

• Hyperthermia

If your dog has been under the scorching sun and appears to be panting, weak, has dark red gums then he or she may have hyperthermia, better known as heat stroke. These dogs exhibit high rectal temperatures and need to be cooled quickly in a tub of cool water, making sure the dog gets wet near the belly and inside of legs. Dogs with heat stroke should be seen by their vet promptly.

• Fever

Because fever causes elevated temperatures, a dog may pant because it is over heating. Dogs have a fever when a rectal temperature of over 102.5 degrees is recorded. Cool sponges passed on the dog' s paws, abdominal area and armpit area may help cool the dog a bit and lower the fever. However, dogs with fevers should be seen by a vet to find an underlying cause.

• Medications

Dogs on steroids like Prednisone may tend to have temporary panting episodes often along with increased drinking and increased urination (polydipsia, polyuria). Opiods are also a possible cause of panting. Exposure to toxins, chemicals and poisons may also lead to panting episodes along with other worrisome symptoms of toxicity. Consult with your vet or poison control immediately.

As seen the causes of panting in dogs are various. Make sure you are able to promptly recognize signs of trouble before they worsen leading to further complications. Always seek your vet's advice when in doubt.

Disclaimer: the above article is not to be used as a diagnostic tool nor as a substitute for veterinary advice. If your dog or cat is sick please refer to your veterinarian for a hands on examination.


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