If you’ve taken your dog for a long walk or game of fetch on a hot day, you’re sure to notice him panting in quick breaths afterward. But why do dogs pant?
Panting is a natural behavior for your dog, as it’s his most effective way of cooling himself down. So most of the time, panting is nothing to worry about and perfectly normal.
However, if your dog is panting excessively, or panting when he’s not hot, it could indicate something different. Let’s take a closer look at what it means when your dog is panting.
What is Panting?
First off, what exactly is panting? In short, panting is breathing in short, quick breaths out of the mouth. In humans, panting is usually a sign that we are out of breath. But for other animals, like your dog, panting is a primary way for them to cool themselves down.
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Why is My Dog Panting?
Unlike humans, dogs can’t sweat, so they have to rely on another way of cooling off. When your dog pants, he is actually inhaling, humidifying, then exhaling the air. This increases the rate at which water evaporates from your dog’s nose and lungs, and the evaporation helps cool him off from the inside.
Since your dog can evaporate large amounts of water while panting, it’s always a good idea to make sure he’s hydrated on hot days, or days where he’s especially active.
Why Do Dogs Pant When Not Hot?
Most of the time you notice your dog panting, it simply means he’s hot and trying to cool down. However, there are a few other reasons why your dog might be panting even when he’s not hot.
Your dog may pant when he’s stressed. If your dog is panting and whining, it could mean he’s anxious and trying to calm himself down. Other signs of stress in dogs include excessive licking and prolonged, intense yawning. If you think your dog may be stressed, check out our full guide on how to calm dog anxiety naturally.
Heavy, excessive panting, especially when the temperature hasn’t changed much, can sometimes be a sign of pain in dogs. If the breathing seems shallow, this could also indicate that it’s painful for your dog to take a full breath. If you notice any of these signs and think your dog’s panting may indicate he’s in pain, it’s best to have your veterinarian give your dog a thorough exam to try and diagnose the issue.
Your dog panting when it’s not hot doesn’t necessarily mean he’s stressed or in pain though. Panting can also be a sign of healthy and normal excitement. Getting treats, meeting new people or dogs, and other exciting things can cause your dog to pant.
Panting from excitement can also be rapid, shallow, and accompanied by whining. This can make it a bit hard to distinguish excited panting from stressed or painful panting. That’s why it’s best to consider the context of the situation. If your dog just finished playing fetch, exercising, meeting new dogs or people, eating, or getting a treat, it’s likely he’s just panting because he’s excited.
Finally, panting is also a common side effect of several medications that your dog may have been prescribed. Prednisone and other steroids are notorious for causing panting in dogs, even if they aren’t excited, stressed, or hot. While this side effect is common, you should still contact your vet if your dog’s panting is excessive.
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Do Dogs Pant When Happy?
Similar to the “excitement” described above, your dog’s panting can simply mean that he’s happy. This is why many dogs pant during or after play. Again, you can rely on your dog’s other body language and the context of the situation to try and figure out if he’s just panting because he’s happy and excited. Usually his tail will be wagging, his face will be relaxed and his eyes will be bright. Some dogs may even appear to smile.
Unfortunately, dogs can be pretty good at hiding when they’re in pain. Panting is one of the few signs your dog may give you that he’s in discomfort … especially if he’s panting when not hot, excited, or after exercising.
Other signs can also help you determine whether he’s in pain and not just happy or excited. Dogs who are in pain may also experience symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, limping, loss of appetite, and other behavioral changes. If you think your dog may be in pain, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian. In the meantime, you can also explore some of our strategies for natural pain relief in dogs.
Do Dogs Pant When They Have a Fever?
Panting can also indicate an underlying illness or fever in dogs. If your dog has a fever, he will show a temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. His ears may also be hot and red, and he may be lethargic or shivering. If you notice any of these symptoms in combination with panting, take your dog’s temperature as soon as possible. If he has a temperature around 103 F, you can cool him down by applying cool water to his ears and paws with a towel, or running a fan near him. However, if your dog’s fever is 106 F or higher, you should immediately take him to a local veterinary emergency clinic for treatment.
The vast majority of the time, panting is just a sign that your dog is hot, happy, or excited. But you should still monitor your dog’s other body language and the context of the situation just to make sure he’s not stressed, sick, or in pain.