The sight and sound of your dog panting is probably so familiar to you, something seems amiss when you don’t hear it for awhile. If you want to know why dogs pant, the answer is pretty simple, even if the circumstances and biology of it are varied and rather complicated.
Why Do Dogs Pant?
Simply put, dogs pant to cool down their bodies, specifically, their core. Humans can produce sweat from many areas of the body, but dogs are mostly restricted to sweating through their feet. Sweating through those precious but tough little paw pads on the bottom of your dog’s foot are one way that your dog regulates its body temperature. However, panting through the nose and mouth to cool the core is the most important cooling process.
Moisture is evaporated
When a dog pants, moisture is evaporated from the tongue and the lungs. Think about a very hot day. Now think of a very hot day that is also very humid from the moisture in the air. A hot day is much more tolerable with little to no humidity. The same effect happens in your dog; the evaporation of moisture through panting cools down the dog’s core temperature. That’s why dogs pant, but it goes even further when combined with its fur coat.
Fur can be a very warm protection from colder temperatures
The fur, which as you can imagine, can be a very warm protection from colder temperatures. But once a dog has panted down the heat from inside of its’ body, the fur can actually help keep it that way, instead of just making the dog hot all over again, like one may think. So if you tend to shave down your long-haired pooch every summer to cool him off, consider leaving an inch or two on his body next time- you can help him use his own biological processes to help him stay cool.
Just like humans, sometimes it is too hot for dogs to keep themselves cool, because our bodies don’t possess the power to do such a big job. Dogs can suffer heatstroke, too. Be sure that your dog has plenty of water and access to shade, and never, ever leave them inside of a car on a hot day- they can tolerate even less heat than you can before injury or death occurs.
A lot of factors play into why, how, and with how much intensity your dog pants. Some breeds with flatter faces or snub noses, like pugs, might pant more frequently, louder and heavier. Their short noses need to compensate for air circulation. Your dog will pant with more gusto during strenuous play and hotter months.
Of course, panting in dogs can also be a signal that something else is going on. Ceaseless panting, panting at night, and panting during the cold, especially when your dog hasn’t been active, needs to be treated as a possible symptom of something else.
One of the easiest things to check is your dog’s weight. An overweight dog will pant more, even in environments you wouldn’t expect, because the extra weight is causing them to overexert themselves. Speak to a veterinarian about a modified diet plan for your dog, and never feed your dog table scraps and excessive amounts of treats. Dogs need only one or two modest meals per day. It’s easy to lose perspective and feed your pet the amount of food you’d like to have, but given that their physiology and size are not comparable to ours, you shouldn’t. It’s also difficult not to give in, since dogs always seem hungry, but you need to strengthen your resolve and stay firm. A heavy, panting dog has a stressed-out heart, and could suffer big consequences if you, the responsible owner, do not keep diet in check.
Excessive panting in older dogs should also be addressed. Many dog owners wonder why their senior dog is panting while lying on the couch in a cool room. Dogs pant when they are in pain, and older dogs with arthritis are known to pant more than usual while seeming at ease otherwise. Arthritis can be treated by your vet with medications, should your dog be diagnosed, and they will help immensely. When dogs are in pain, they don’t always cry or whine, and they can’t tell you with words, so observe when and how much panting is going on. If your dog seems very thirsty, and urinates a lot, along with the panting, it could be a different syndrome that your vet needs to keep an eye on.
Dogs also pant when they are stressed and anxious. If you’ve ever been really nervous or frightened, you’ve noticed your chest tightening, your breath quickening, and perhaps an intense heat rapidly spreading across your body. Your central nervous system lights up and causes this, and dogs have a nervous system too. If your dog pants when anxious, you might also notice trembling or pacing alongside the heavy breathing. If the stressor is something simple that has been misunderstood, like an object or a nonthreatening human, work with your dog to desensitize it from this fear. Slowly exposing a dog to perceived threats that aren’t actually dangerous, while making sure you’re there for safety, security, and support, can help your dog pant less, because they will gradually become less frightened.
If the stressor causing the dog to pant a lot is a thunderstorm, traffic, or a crowd of people, try a Thundershirt. This is a vest your dog wears that hugs tight, making them feel more secure. Similarly, don’t rule out giving your dog a good hug, holding them tight, or even giving them a massage. It has a grounding effect on the dog, and makes them feel like they don’t have to be on alert for a disaster.
Is your dog’s panting normal? Probably, and it can be a sign that everything is working as it should in the body. Remember that how and when your dog pants is another feature on the checklist of signs to run through when querying about your pet’s behavior and good health.