Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Causes of Panting in Dogs
There are several potential causes of panting in dogs, and not all forms of panting are created equal. There is panting, and then there is panting. Panting may be considered a normal occurrence in specific circumstances, but it can also take place with certain medical conditions.
As dog owners, it's important to learn how to recognize signs of troublesome panting so that the underlying cause can be tackled quickly by a veterinarian. Some forms of panting may also signal a life-threatening situation that requires emergency care.
First of all, what exactly is panting in dogs? Panting is described as rapid open-mouth breathing in dogs. The dog's lips are often pulled back when the dog breathes in, and the nostrils slightly quiver while the dog breathes out. During panting, the tongue is known to stick out. Panting is often accompanied by audible breathing sounds, although the breathing sounds produced should not be excessive.
The context in which the panting occurs and the accompanying body language can help dog owners understand the underlying cause. However, because panting in some cases can be triggered by medical problems, it's best to have the dog evaluated by a veterinarian when in doubt.
1. Dog Panting From Feeling Hot
It is quite easy to recognize this form of panting as it's often seen during the warm and humid summer months when Rover is out in the yard (possibly laying on the cool floor as he relaxes and observes children playing). In order to better understand this form of panting, it helps to gain insight into what happens exactly in the dog's body when it gets warms.
Just like us, our dog's bodies are specifically designed to efficiently maintain an ideal internal core temperature. It is courtesy of the dog's anterior hypothalamus, a special region of the dog's brain which acts just like a good thermostat, that the dog's body temperature is kept within an optimal range. Obtaining balance—in a state of homeostasis—is all the body aims to.
Should the dog's temperature rise, special measures take place so that the body is effectively cooled down (through panting), and should the dog's temperature lower, special measures will take place so that the dog's body is effectively warmed up (though shivering). This important phenomenon is referred to as "thermoregulation." By panting with the mouth open, dogs are cooling down courtesy of evaporation as the moist surfaces of the mouth help lower the dog's core temperature.
Dogs are more prone to feeling warm compared to humans for several reasons. Firstly, their bodies are covered in fur, and secondly, dogs tend to have a naturally higher temperature than humans (101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit versus 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit in humans). See your vet if your dog's temperature is higher than normal. On a hot and humid day, this may be indicative of heat stroke.
Dogs who are panting from feeling hot will typically seek ways to cool down such as sleeping on tile floors, seeking shade or sticking their head out of a window if they are riding in the car.
The accompanying body language of a dog who is mildly hot is generally relaxed. The ears and face are relaxed, the eyes look soft while the tongue is hanging out loosely—either straight out or to the side. See your vet if your dog is panting and appears to be in discomfort.
2. Dog Panting From Exercising
Panting during or after exercise is a form of overheating that takes place internally, but there may also be an external factor at play if the dog has been exercising in warm weather or in a place with not much ventilation.
In this scenario, contractions of the dog's muscles are what generates the heat. The context in which this form of panting takes place is quite obvious: the dog has been playing with other dogs at the dog park or enjoying a fun game of fetch with the owner.
Dogs that are panting from exercise will not appear tense and will look relaxed. Their tongue lolls out loosely from the effect of gravity. The lips are kept slightly retracted with a downward, relaxed droop. The nostrils quiver ever so lightly as the dog exhales.
These dogs often have a happy, almost satisfied look on their faces. If we think about it, it's quite natural for dogs who exercise to feel happy as they get to do what they love doing the most, which is to run around, explore, and play.
3. Dog Panting From Emotions
Dogs are emotional beings, and getting worked up from intense emotions may also trigger some panting episodes. What triggers this form of panting is often the accompanying adrenaline rush that gets, once again, the dog's body out of homeostasis. With an increased heart rate and respiratory rate, the dog's body attempts to restore a state of normalcy.
Emotions that can trigger this feature in dogs include negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, and fear but also happy emotions such as excitement and anticipation. Paying attention to context once again is important.
If your dog starts panting during a thunderstorm, chances are, your dog is stressed by this event. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety are also known to pant when their owners manifest early pre-departure cues (picking up keys, putting on shoes), and the condition often persists once the owners leave the home. Many dogs are known to behave this way at the vet's office, too.
Then you have those happy dogs that pant heavily when they see the leash and anticipate going on a walk, going on a car ride or greeting their owners when they arrive home.
On top of context, the dog's accompanying body language may provide some insights as to what may be going on in the dog's mind. Generally, in dogs who are stressed or in a state of fear, the lip retraction is quite marked, and the dog's teeth will be more visible.
When there is tension, the ears may be set back, the pupils of the eyes may appear dilated and there may be facial tension. On top of that, the tongue is no longer sticking out in a relaxed state due to gravity, but it's rather tense (the tongue is a muscle after all!) with curved edges in what is known as "spatulate tongue."
4. Panting From Trouble Breathing
Some medical conditions may also cause panting in dogs. In particular, dogs suffering from some respiratory or cardiovascular disorders may pant as a manifestation of troubled breathing.
The dog may appear anxious or in distress. The dog may be breathing with an open mouth and with the neck extended. Dogs in respiratory distress may also have trouble lying down in certain positions and may prefer to sit, lie down on their stomach (sternal recumbency), or stand with their elbows wide apart.
A medical condition that interferes with the dog's ability to breath effectively is called laryngeal paralysis. In this condition, the muscles that normally pull the dog's airways open fail to function properly, leading to increased panting episodes (often out of context such as when it's cool, and the dog is calm), noisy panting, and the onset of a raspy-sounding bark.
As the condition progresses, affected dogs have to work harder to breathe. The breathing becomes increasingly noisy. Affected dogs may appear anxious, and their facial expression becomes tense with the lips pulled back as if they are “smiling."
On top of laryngeal paralysis, other respiratory and cardiovascular conditions that may cause panting in dogs include infiltrative pulmonary disease, scarring of the lungs (fibrosis), fungal infections, pneumonia, a mass in the throat or neck, cancer, congestive heart failure, heart murmurs and arrhythmias, and pulmonary hypertension.
5. Dog Panting From Pain
On top of panting from breathing problems, it's important to recognize that dogs may also do so when they are feeling pain. Dog owners may simply assume the dog is just getting old or feeling hot.
The facial expression of dogs in this condition is often tense. Some dogs panting from pain may sit in front of the owner almost in hopes of getting some attention or reassurance. Others may do so and change positions frequently in hopes of finding a way to ease their discomfort.
This may be seen in dogs suffering from orthopedic, abdominal (for example the internal pain caused by pancreatitis or life-threatening bloat which may cause breathing problems as well since the distended stomach puts pressure on the diaphragm) or spinal problems.
Dogs who are likely panting in pain should see the vet for proper diagnosis and treatment. Diagnostic tests may include x-rays, CT scan, MRI, and ultrasound. A trial of pain meds can be done to see whether the panting episodes subside with pain control.
6. Panting From Running a Fever
Dogs tend to feel warm as a result of two precise circumstances; being exposed to a warm external environment (non-pyrogenic hyperthermia) as it happens in the dog days of the summer (as mentioned above) or as result of internal conditions as it may happen when a dog runs a fever (pyrogenic hyperthermia). The term pyrogenic derives from the ancient Greek word pûr, meaning “fire/heat" and the word gen, meaning "a producer of something." The medical term for fever is pyrexia.
The normal temperature in dogs is between 100.5 and 102.5. Dog owners can check a dog's temperature at home using a regular digital thermometer for humans. The reading should be taken rectally by inserting the thermometer an inch up from the silver tip, explains veterinarian Dr. Debbie. To facilitate insertion, it helps to lube the silver tip with a bit of vaseline or K-Y lubricant.
A temperature higher than normal may warrant investigation by a vet. A fever in dogs can be caused by various conditions such as infections (abscesses, urinary tract infections, fungal infections) and tick-borne diseases (Lyme, Ehrlichia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever).
7. Dog Panting From Medications
If your dog is panting after starting a new medication, there are chances that this condition may be a side effect. Often side effects are listed in the medication's package insert, so reading through may be insightful.
Steroids are notorious for causing increased drinking, increased urination, and panting episodes in dogs. Examples of steroid drugs include prednisone, prednisolone, and dexamethasone.
Opioids also can potentially cause panting as these drugs affect the thermoregulatory center in the hypothalamus of dogs. Other drugs that are known for causing this condition include diazepam and tramadol.
Other Factors That Contribute to the Condition
There are several other potential causes of panting. The list is not exhaustive but encompasses some of the most common causes of panting in dogs. Because the causes are many, it is always highly suggested to have a veterinarian sort things out for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Dogs who are overweight will tend to pant more. Just as in people, excess fat is associated with impaired lung function. Dogs who are obese may find themselves easily exerted when compared to slimmer dogs.
Aging in dogs may cause an increase in panting due to the fact that dogs may not be oxygenating as well as when they were younger. However, this condition should be looked into as there may be underlying medical factors triggering it.
10. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
In other words, doggy Alzheimer's disease may also cause increased panting in older dogs. This progressive disease found in older dogs causes several behavioral changes.
Affected dogs may develop sleep cycle disturbances with nightly pacing, episodes of panting, inability to get comfortable and other cognitive changes such as forgetting how to go out to potty, getting stuck in corners and forgetting verbal cues.
11. Cushing's Disease
Hyperadrenocorticism, more commonly known as Cushing’s disease, is a commonly diagnosed endocrine disorder affecting dogs. This condition is caused by high cortisol levels in the bloodstream.
Excessive amounts of cortisol circulating in the dog's body are known to cause muscle weakness, panting, increased drinking and increased urination, thinning of the skin, loss of hair, and predisposition to infections and diabetes.
12. Neurological Issues
Sometimes, neurological issues may be at play when a dog is panting excessively. In older dogs who are panting and exhibiting unusual behaviors or have a recent onset of seizures, a brain mass may be a possibility. This would require an MRI to diagnose, however brain masses in dogs are typically not amenable to surgery.
13. High Blood Pressure
Dogs do not suffer from high blood pressure as much as humans do, but it may occur secondary to other medical conditions such as diabetes, Cushing's disease, or kidney issues. Just as in humans, blood pressure measurements can be taken. The underlying cause would need to be addressed in order to tackle panting due to high blood pressure in dogs.
14. Panting After Giving Birth
Many dogs pant after giving birth, and dog owners wonder whether it's a sign of trouble or not; this may be due to several issues. For instance, being surrounded by many puppies may cause mother dogs to feel hot. While nursing, the release of oxytocin triggers mild contractions in mother dog's uterus which can cause panting, explains veterinarian Jon Rappaport in an article for Pet Place. It can also be a sign of fatigue (giving birth is quite tiresome!) or stress.
However, this condition should not be ignored in a new mother dog because it may be due to other potential problems. The mom dog may be in pain, or she may be running a fever. A fever in a dog who gave birth can be indicative of several problems such as retained placentas and milk fever, also known as eclampsia. See your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
15. Ingestion of Toxins
Panting may be indicative of ingestion of some toxin or poison. Dogs are prone to eating the oddest things, and a dog who is panting and in discomfort may have eaten something that it shouldn't have.
Puppies and young dogs are particularly prone to ingesting toxins due to their inquisitive nature, but some adult dogs who are indiscriminate eaters may often get in trouble too.
Play It Safe and See the Vet
As seen, there are several causes of panting in dogs and some of them can be quite serious. If the affected dog is panting excessively and/or develops more symptoms, it's important to schedule an appointment with a vet to have the dog checked over.
Two important things to watch for in a panting dog is the color of the mucous membranes and capillary refill time. Caution is warranted with dogs not used to being handled, therefore it may be best to directly see a vet.
In order to check the color of mucous membranes, the first step is to flip the upper lip and then look at the dog's gum color. In a healthy dog with good blood circulation, the gums should appear a nice bubble gum color. Should the gums appear white or very pale or dark red, an emergency vet should be sought at once.
Capillary refill time is the time it takes for the gums to resume color when pressed on. This helps check for blood perfusion. In this test, the thumb finger should be pressed on the gum applying pressure. Then, upon releasing the finger, the gum should blanch. In a healthy dog with good perfusion, the gum should return to its healthy pink color within 2 seconds or less. If it takes significantly more time, then a trip to the emergency vet is highly suggested.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My dog has started panting after she eats in the evening. Nothing has changed in her diet. She does not pant during her morning meal. What can cause a dog to pant after eating in the evening?
Answer: This sounds like something that would require investigation by a veterinarian. Perhaps, there's some nausea setting in or some other digestive problem. I don't know why it wouldn't happen in the morning, but my older dog with stomach motility problems and acid reflux always struggled more in the evening compared to the morning meal. I suppose the fact that dogs are more active in the morning (excited to start the day, more likely to move, walk around) may play a role since often in the evening they are tired and more likely to lie down, but this is just speculation. Please report the behavior to your vet for diagnosis and treatment.
Question: My Yorkie pants when we get in the car but, eventually stops if we are on a long trip. My husband is worried that this is bad. I don't think it is, what is your opinion?
Answer: Unless the car is hot, the panting initially may be just due to the adrenaline surge associated with going in the car. This can be due to excitement or anxiety or a mix of the two. Then, as time goes by, homeostasis sets in, (the body's attempt to return things to baseline) and therefore, the panting subsides. Of course, if your dog shows signs of panting in other circumstances or you notice any worrisome signs, report to your vet.
© 2018 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 08, 2020:
Another cause for the increased panting is if the food change wasn't done gradually enough, it may cause a bit of an upset tummy and sometimes even diarrhea. I find it concerning though that panting is constant, mention it to your vet to play it safe.
Char on April 07, 2020:
My 3 yr old Australian shepard mix has started panting constantly only thing different is we changed from Beniful dog food to Iams. Could that be the problem. Maybe higher in vitamins is all i could see
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 17, 2020:
Tammy, if your dog is always panting for no particular reason (being hot, exercising, or being stressed) it would be best to inform your vet about this.
Tammy Sue on February 16, 2020:
My dog ALWAYS pants! I’m worried about her!
Doreen Potter on December 13, 2019:
My .dog woke up started to pant all of a sudden.
the dog breed on July 24, 2019:
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 28, 2019:
Cassie, when my dog is panting I take his temperature to see if he might be running a fever or getting overheated. He is mellow so allows me to. If your dog allows that, it can be a starting point to exclude a fever. The normal rectal temperature in dogs is 101 to 102.5 degrees. Other than that though, you really need to see the vet it can be pain or some sort of discomfort. As you can see, there may be several things going on that may be causing panting in dogs.
Cassie Baldwin on May 23, 2019:
My yorkie has been panting more than normal the last 24 hours but she is eating and drinking and going pee and poo poo and she is totally normal except for this wierd panting thing i called the vet and they didnt act like it was anything to worry about. I gave her pedialyte in case shes dehydrated plus lots of water any suggestions.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 18, 2018:
Heidi, my dog does that too. When he gets diarrhea every now and then and has to go, rather than just going to the door like my female Rottie does, he just sits and starts panting. Sometimes he'll whine too.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on June 18, 2018:
Our boy has been panting a lot the past few days with 90 degree temps! Plus, he's been eating a bunch of mulberries in the yard which upsets his tummy, and then he pants until he goes out.
Great tips for interpreting what's going on!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 17, 2018:
This is another article filled with helpful information for dog owners. Thank you for the education, Adrienne.