A closer look: Excessive Panting in Dogs
Panting is a typical canine behavior. If a dog seems to be panting even in calm and cool environments, veterinary attention is warranted to rule out serious underlying conditions. Panting is the primary mechanism for cooling the body in dogs, as they do not sweat and otherwise conserve heat more easily than they can dissipate it.
Overheating is a common concern for dogs. If a dog is panting excessively and there is reason to believe it is experiencing heatstroke (i.e. showing signs such as dry, pale, or dark red gums, muscle weakness, vomiting, fatigue, collapse, and seizures), this is a life-threatening emergency that is rapidly fatal without medical attention.
If a dog shows other signs of having difficulty breathing, such as rapid, shallow breathing, an outstretched neck, coughing, wheezing, swelling of the airway, or collapse, emergency veterinary attention is also required.
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A variety of conditions and circumstances may cause a dog to pant excessively. These causes may be behavioral, physical, and/or environmental.
Behavioral causes include:
- Anxiety or stress (e.g. separation anxiety, noise, unfamiliar surroundings)
- Excitement, overstimulation
- Exercise or exertion
Normal panting should correlate with higher outdoor temperatures, activity, or excitement. Continuous panting should stop once the dog is no longer hot or exerting itself. If a dog has been exposed to very high temperatures (e.g. in a hot car) it may experience heatstroke, which is a severe condition requiring first aid and emergency care.
Panting due to anxiety is transient and should resolve when the stressful conditions pass or the dog becomes acclimated.
If a dog is panting continuously regardless of obvious stimuli, there may be an underlying health condition. The duration and severity of excessive panting varies depending on the cause. Other symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting, abnormal gum/tongue color, or evidence of pain or injury may indicate a more severe underlying health problem. Collapse or seizures require emergency care.
Testing and diagnosis
If panting warrants veterinary assessment, tests may include:
- Physical examination
- Diagnostic imaging (e.g. X-ray, ultrasound)
- Blood tests
- Infectious disease testing
- Sputum culture (for respiratory infection)
Treatment depends on the condition identified and can include:
- Cooling measures (for dogs affected by heat)
- Oxygen therapy
- Anti-anxiety medication
- Analgesics for pain
- Steroids (anti-inflammatory)
- Antibiotics, anti-viral, anti-fungal medication
- Cardiac medications
- Surgery (e.g. for hernias, pneumothorax)
- Medication adjustment
- Behavioral treatment and training -Lifestyle changes (diet, exercise)