Why Do Dogs Pant?

It’s not just to keep cool 😅

dog panting in grass

It’s not that unusual to see a dog panting, especially on a hot summer day. But, why do dogs pant, exactly?

If it seems like your dog’s panting for no reason or if he’s doing it too much, there might be an actual problem.

We spoke to Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinary journalist and veterinarian with Pumpkin Pet Insurance, to find out why dogs pant and when you should be worried.

Why do dogs pant? 13 common reasons

“Dogs pant to cool themselves,” Dr. Wooten told The Dodo. “Pain from anywhere in the body, nausea and stress are three common medical reasons why dogs will pant. Other medical conditions that can cause increased panting include Cushing’s syndrome; respiratory problems, such as laryngeal paralysis or pneumonia; poisoning; heart disease; and eclampsia (milk fever).”

Here are some more details on why your dog might be panting.

1. To cool down

You’re probably familiar with the most common reason why dogs pant — because they’re hot.

Panting acts as a way to cool off, like sweating does for people.

“Dogs only have sweat glands on their paws and cannot cool themselves adequately with sweating, so they pant, which cools them down from the inside out by the process of evaporation,” Dr. Wooten said.

Panting evaporates moisture off dogs’ tongues and circulates cool air through their bodies, cooling them from the inside.

2. They’re out of breath

Just like how people will breathe heavily when they’re out of breath from exercising, your dog will pant when he’s tired from running after the ball or playing with friends.

3. Excitement

You may have noticed that your dog sometimes pants when he greets you at the door. That’s because dogs often pant when they’re excited about something.

If your dog’s panting because he’s excited, he’ll take short breaths and might make sounds, like whining or barking.

4. Heatstroke

If your dog gets too hot and can’t cool down, he could get heatstroke.

“Heatstroke is a potentially life-threatening condition,” Dr. Wooten said. “Symptoms include heavy panting, weakness or refusing to move, dry gums, increased heart rate, drooling, diarrhea, seizures and collapse.”

Dogs can’t cool down as well as people can, so they can get overheated way more easily (plus, they have all that fur, which is kind of like wearing a fur coat in the summer).

Brachycephalic breeds, like pugs, can be at higher risk for heatstroke because of their short snouts, which cause them to have trouble breathing.

If you think your dog has heatstroke, take him to the vet immediately.

5. Stress or anxiety

Panting can be a sign of stress and anxiety in dogs, which is why your pup might pant in the car.

Other anxiety symptoms can include increased yawning, lip licking, increased activity, trying to escape or hide, freezing and tail tucking.

6. Pain or discomfort

Dogs will pant if they’re in pain or uncomfortable. If you think your dog’s in pain, take him to the vet to have him checked out.

7. Bloat

Panting is a symptom of bloat, which is a life-threatening condition in dogs.

Bloat is when a dog’s stomach fills with gas and liquid and flips and twists, which traps the contents inside. This can cut off blood flow to other organs in the body and lead to shock.

Symptoms of bloat include a swollen belly, retching, drooling, collapse, restlessness, pale gums and rapid heart beat.

Because bloat can quickly become fatal, it’s super important to take your dog to the vet if you notice any of these symptoms in addition to panting.

8. Cushing’s syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome, or Cushing’s disease, is a condition that causes your dog’s body to produce too much of the hormone cortisol.

Any dog can get Cushing’s, but it’s most common in middle- to old-aged dogs. And certain breeds are at higher risk, including beagles, Boston terriers, dachshunds, German shepherds and poodles.

In addition to panting, you might also notice symptoms like increased thirst, increased urination, a swollen belly, hair loss, increased skin pigmentation, thinning skin and loss of muscle mass.

9. Steroids

Steroid medications can sometimes have side effects that look similar to the symptoms of Cushing’s disease. If your dog’s panting while taking a steroid, it’s usually nothing to be worried about, and he should stop when he’s finished with the medicine. (But if you’re concerned, never hesitate to give your vet a call.)

10. Heart disease

When a dog’s heart isn’t working properly, he won’t be able to get enough oxygen to his organs, which can cause him to have trouble breathing. This can lead to panting.

Other signs of heart disease in dogs include coughing, getting tired easily, restlessness, swollen belly, weight loss and fainting.

11. Respiratory problems

If a dog has a respiratory issue or illness, like laryngeal paralysis or lung disease, difficulty breathing can cause him to pant.

Laryngeal paralysis occurs when one or both of the flaps in a dog’s windpipe don’t open properly, which prevents air from getting in and out. This causes the dog to have difficulty breathing, which can lead to panting.

Panting from laryngeal paralysis will sound loud and raspy. Older dogs and bigger dog breeds, such as Labs, are more likely to develop laryngeal paralysis. Some breeds have a congenital (aka inherited) form and can get it when they’re younger, such as Bouvier des Flandres.

Lung disease is another respiratory issue that can prevent oxygen from getting into the bloodstream, which leads to a lack of oxygen in the body and causes difficulty breathing.

Other respiratory problems that can cause panting in dogs include pneumonia and allergies.

12. Poisoning

If your dog ate something he shouldn’t have, he might pant and have trouble breathing. Other symptoms of poisoning in dogs include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy, drooling, increased heart rate, tremors and weakness.

If you think your dog ate something toxic, take him to the vet immediately for treatment.

13. Eclampsia

Eclampsia is a life-threatening condition that occurs in nursing dogs who have recently given birth, and it’s caused by low levels of calcium in the blood (it can sometimes happen during the last weeks of pregnancy before the dog gives birth). This happens when a mother dog loses too much calcium by producing milk.

Symptoms of eclampsia include heavy breathing or panting, disorientation, stiffness, difficulty walking, tremors, restlessness, aggression, drooling, high fever and collapse.

Signs your dog’s panting isn’t normal

Panting from being outside in the heat, running around or getting excited when you come home is totally fine. If there’s something for your dog to be stressed out about, like a car ride or going to the vet, then his panting is probably normal as well.

“If your dog is panting and has not been exercising and the ambient temperature is not hot enough to cause panting, then it is caused by something else,” Dr. Wooten said.

Here’s how to know when your dog’s panting isn’t normal:

  • He starts panting suddenly with no obvious cause.
  • His panting is excessive.
  • His panting sounds different than usual (noisier, for example).
  • He’s having difficulty breathing.
  • There are other symptoms of pain or illness.

If you notice any of these signs (especially other symptoms of illness), take him to the vet to get checked out.

But most of the time, your dog is probably just trying to keep cool, so make sure he has access to water and plenty of shade when you’re outside on a sunny day.