Anyone with a dog will know that panting is normal behaviour. A natural way of cooling themselves down, many dogs pant when they're excited, hot, or feeling energetic. But sometimes it can be a sign of something more serious.
If you've noticed your dog is panting a lot, it's important not to ignore the symptoms; it might be a sign they are overheating, have a chronic health problem or are in significant pain.
To help you decide whether your dog's panting is normal or a cause for concern, we break down everything you need to know below – including when to contact a vet.
Dogs pant to circulate cool air through their bodies because, unlike humans, they can't regulate their body temperature by sweating. The process of water evaporating from their mouths and upper respiratory tract cools them to a comfortable temperature.
Panting is separate from laboured breathing, though. Laboured breathing will normally sound strained and can come with other symptoms like whining, crying or whistling from the nostrils.
Laboured breathing is sometimes caused by blockages, so it's important to speak to a vet if you think your dog might be struggling.
1. Cooling off
Even if your dog isn't overheating, they'll still pant if they've been exercising – just like humans breathe more heavily when doing aerobic exercise.
We all know how excitable dogs can be. So, it might be reassuring to know that panting sometimes has nothing to do with body temperature. Panting is simply a way for dogs to express their excitement, whether that's at mealtimes, before their walks or when you show them their favourite toy.
Stress, anxiety or fear will cause dogs to pant more than usual. To determine whether your dog is stressed, look for tell-tale signs in their body language. For example, backing away, tucking their tail beneath their legs, trembling or yawning are signs Fido might be feeling anxious or worried.
Dogs may try to disguise the fact they're in pain. But if they're suffering, they often can't help but show signs – one of which is panting. If you're unsure whether your dog is in pain, look for other signs of discomfort such as reduced activity levels, changes in behaviour and limping.
If you're unsure, it's always best to contact your vet as soon as possible.
If you're wondering why your dog is panting so much, you're not alone. Panting is normally nothing to worry about. But in some cases, it can be a sign of something more serious. For example, excessive panting is common in dogs with the following conditions:
If your dog is panting excessively, it could be a sign of a heart problem. If panting is accompanied by coughing or heavy breathing after light exercise, it's best to get them checked out by a vet.
Heart disease can be caused by several underlying conditions such as valve disorders, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathies and even heartworm disease.
Respiratory diseases like tracheal collapse and laryngeal paralysis can affect dogs as they get older. They can both cause excessive panting.
Clinical studies cited by the PDSA found that 65% of dogs were considered overweight. Obesity is a growing problem and can exacerbate a range of undesirable conditions like heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
If your dog has been piling on the pounds and is panting excessively, it could be a sign they're struggling due to weight gain.
Heatstroke is a potentially life-threatening condition that happens when a dog gets too hot and can't cool down. According to the Royal Veterinary College, it doesn't have to be hot for dogs to get heatstroke. Even exercising in warm weather or being left in a poorly ventilated room can cause dogs to suffer.
If your dog is panting and breathing heavily, it could be a sign of heatstroke. It's important to act quickly if you suspect it as it can kill pets in a short amount of time.
Cushing’s disease is a disorder that usually impacts middle-aged and older dogs. It's not as well-known as other diseases, but it can seriously affect your dog’s health, vitality and appearance.
James Walker, Technical Services Manager at Dechra explains: "Cushing's disease is caused when dogs produce excessive amounts of cortisol – a hormone that helps regulate metabolism and helps the body respond to stress. If left untreated, this can have detrimental effects on other organs and on the ability of the body to regulate itself."
The good news is that when Cushing's is properly diagnosed and treated, dogs usually make a speedy recovery. So, you can sleep easy knowing you're helping to enhance your dog's quality of life.
There are eight common symptoms of Cushing's disease in dogs, most of which might seem like ‘normal’ signs of old age. It's why Cushing's disease is often misdiagnosed – or not diagnosed at all.
A recent survey of 1,000 UK dog owners revealed that over three quarters (77%) would put many of the top symptoms of Cushing's down to ‘old age’, meaning that dogs could be left suffering with a reduced quality of life.
Not all dogs will react to the disease in the same way and yours may not necessarily display all these signs. But the most common symptoms are:
Cushing's disease is more common in the following breeds, although it's worth noting that it can affect other breeds too.
If you suspect your dog might have Cushing's, it's important to speak to your vet. They'll seek a diagnosis by performing a clinical examination and likely some routine blood and urine tests. These may need to be followed by hormone tests that measure cortisol levels.
Speak with your vet immediately if your dog is:
A vet will be able to assess your dog and determine the underlying cause of the panting. It's usually nothing to worry about, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.