Dogs take in between 10 to 30 breaths per minute, a normal bodily function we call “panting”. Here are the basics about panting so you can differentiate between when it is a standard reaction to their environment and when all may not be well with your four-legged friend.
Although it may sometimes appear disturbing, panting in dogs is generally nothing unusual. Just as humans sweat in hot weather or when working out, dogs pant for completely normal biological reasons. You’ve probably noticed the “triggers” in your dog: She pants when excited, is taking part in rigorous exercise, or when overheated. Many short-snouted breeds such as boxers, bulldogs and chihuahuas pant more than most. However, if you notice excessive panting, regardless of your dog’s breed, it can be a warning sign and should not be ignored.
Why do dogs pant?
When we become over-heated, the human body regulates our temperature and cools itself by generating perspiration through our skin. Dogs are unable to do this, though they do sweat through their paw pads. Instead, canines pant in order to circulate air through their body to cool off. While this is perfectly normal, panting can also be a signal of something more dangerous than a simple cool off. You more than anyone is familiar with your dog’s regular breathing patterns. Be on the lookout for anything that seems out of the ordinary.
There are several underlying problems that may manifest in excessive panting in your dog as an early sign of trouble:
In hot weather dogs can find it challenging to maintain a regular body temperature. Without the ability to “wet down and cool off” through sweating, they increase the rate of their panting to cool down. If your dog is panting more rapidly than usual, this may be a sign that she is suffering from heatstroke. Other symptoms of heatstroke may include a lack of responsiveness, vomiting, or diarrhoea.
If you notice that your dog routinely becomes short of breath and begins panting more than usual, this may be a sign of an underlying illness. Ask your veterinarian to test for heart disease or Cushing’s syndrome (usually found in middle to older-aged dogs) which is caused by the constriction of the pituitary glands and an unhealthy increase in the production of the hormone cortisol.
Although the expression “curiosity killed the cat” is a popular proverb, it’s equally true in dogs. You’ve undoubtedly seen first-hand all how inquisitive and curious dogs can be, especially when out and about in new places. While this trait is normal for a pack animal, it can also sometimes lead them to danger. If you notice that your dog is panting for seemingly no reason, it might be a sign that they have ingested something harmful. If this behavior is coupled with vomiting or unresponsiveness, then this might be a sign of poisoning and you should seek veterinary advice. The leading causes of poisoning in dogs are anti-freeze, chocolate, rat and snail poison, human medications, toxic, plants, insecticides, and poisonous toads. Make every effort you can to keep your dog safely away from anything they might ingest while you’re not watching.
Situational and behavioral stress can send your dog’s defenses and bodily functions into overdrive. When exposed to loud and unpredictable noises such as thunderstorms, emergency sirens, and fireworks, dogs react as they would when they feel threatened. Just as humans experience rapid breathing and a racing heart when in danger, the canine equivalent is to go into a panting and pacing state to prepare their “fight or flight” response. These physical outlets also help them work off energy and deal with the stress. One of the best ways to calm your dog and reassure them is to simply behave normally. Dogs often mirror their owner’s behavior – if you remain calm, so will your dog.
It is vital to know what is normal and what is abnormal in your dog’s behavior, especially when it comes to panting. If you do notice that your dog’s panting has become more rapid or erratic as a result of being out in the sun, playing in the park, or without any discernible reason, it might be an important warning sign. Don’t take chances. Remove the dog from its current environment and seek veterinary attention.