Tank, my Lab, and I returned from our weekly agility class and plopped down in the living room to relax. Two hours later, I noticed that Tank was still panting as if he had just exercised. That didn’t seem right. I watched him carefully the next day and saw he was panting heavily even after he just walked outside for a break. The veterinarian diagnosed laryngeal paralysis and recommended corrective surgery.
What if I hadn’t noticed? Tank could have collapsed and died from lack of oxygen. Dogs pant all the time for various reasons. How do you figure out if something is actually wrong? Sometimes dogs pant because they are anxious about something, and other times panting can be a symptom of chronic disease. Here’s what to know about why your dog might pant.
Reasons A Dog Might Suddenly Pant
Heavy exercise: It’s normal for a dog to pant after exertion, and you can expect his breathing to return to normal after he rests. If he gets regular exercise, he’ll recover more quickly. Hard exercise, such as chasing a ball, will cause more panting than a stroll around the block.
Heat: Dogs don’t sweat, so the only way they can cool themselves is by panting. On a hot day, limit your dog’s exercise, especially if he is a snub-nosed (brachycephalic) breed such as a Pug, Bulldog or Boxer. These breeds can quickly succumb to heat exhaustion, even after no exercise at all on a warm day. If your dog is drooling excessively, doesn’t want to get up and walk, seems confused, has a rapid heartbeat, or suddenly collapses, heatstroke may be the cause. Read more here.
Anxiety/Fear: Panting, yawning, blinking, lip licking, and pacing are all signs of stress. Thunderstorms, car rides, or meeting new dogs can all cause anxiety, and your dog’s physical signs and body language are the only way he can tell you he’s uncomfortable.
Insect or snakebite: A bee sting can cause an allergic reaction in a dog, just as it does in humans. In addition to panting and drooling, the bite site might swell. In an extreme case, the dog may collapse. The same signs might indicate snakebite.
Poison: Snail bait, rat poison, antifreeze, and other household items can quickly make your dog really sick. Signs include panting, seizures, lethargy, and vomiting. If you suspect your dog has ingested something toxic, take him to the veterinarian immediately, even if it’s late at night.
Injury: You throw the ball for Rex, and he suddenly cries out as he runs after it. As he limps back to you, he is panting and whimpers when he puts weight on his rear leg. Even a minor injury can be painful and cause him to pant.
Bloat: This life-threatening condition requires immediate veterinary care. It is most common in large, deep-chested dogs. If your dog is panting, salivating, biting at his sides, pacing, and retching without vomiting, bloat is a possibility, especially if he has recently eaten. Read more about bloat.
Diseases That Cause A Dog To Pant
If none of the above situations apply, panting might be a sign of chronic pain or a disease that affects breathing, especially in older dogs. The following conditions may cause your dog to pant in pain or from respiratory difficulties.
Arthritis: This painful condition can cause panting when your dog moves around, even if it’s just to resettle himself on his bed. The most obvious signs are limping or difficulty standing up and lying down.
Heart disease: If the heart doesn’t pump properly, the body doesn’t get enough oxygen, causing pets to pant. Other signs include lethargy and exercise intolerance. Read more about heart disease.
Obesity: Overweight dogs may have difficulty breathing when active, causing them to pant. Obesity also aggravates arthritis because stiff joints must carry more weight.
Laryngeal paralysis: In this condition, the vocal folds in a dog’s throat cease to work properly, either not moving at all or moving out of sync when he tries to breathe. An affected dog will tire easily, be sensitive to heat, pant excessively, and take an abnormally long time to recover from exercise. Read more about laryngeal paralysis.
Cushing’s Disease: This disease of the adrenal gland has signs that include hair loss, increased appetite, increased drinking and urination, and panting. Read more about Cushing’s disease here and here.
Finding the cause of your dog’s panting is not always an easy task, and an urgent situation can present the same signs as a not-so-urgent problem. Always consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Terry Albert is an award-winning writer and pet portrait artist in Poway, California. She has been active in rescuing homeless dogs for more than 20 years and has served on the board of directors for several nonprofit organizations.
Published July 25, 2018