Why Do Dogs Pant?

Why do DOGS Pant hero image

The simplest questions can have the most intriguing answers.

For example: Why do dogs pant?
There’s an obvious answer that most people are aware of.
Of course dogs pant to lose heat. Dogs don’t sweat so evaporation of saliva from the tongue is how they cool down.

But to think that heat control is the only reason dogs pant is to ignore important information our pet pals are telling us. For example, a dog panting in the vet’s waiting room isn’t hot, but anxious. Whilst the old dog panting at night may be in pain.

Let’s look beyond the obvious to some different scenarios and ask: Why do dogs pant?

Why Do Dogs Pant in the Car?

You have the air con on and the temperature’s comfortable. The dog can’t be hot, so why do dogs pant in the car?

If this is a trip to the park, then the dog is unlikely to be fearful. However, many dogs experience motion sickness and feelings of nausea which can cause panting. Your fur-friend will probably also drool heavily, covering their chin, chest, and your knee in salivary slobber. This is because they feel sick and find it difficult to swallow.

The anticipation of being sick can also make them anxious, which causes panting. In common with people, dogs can also condition themselves to expect to feel ill. So if the dog isn’t a good traveller and sees the car door open, they many anticipate being sick, their anxiety levels increase, and they start panting before even stepping into the car.

For top tips on how to help a travel sick dog check out How to Help Even the Worst Travel Sick Dog become a Waggy Traveller.

Why Do Dogs Pant at Night?

Have you ever noticed how problems prey on your mind more at night?
In the darkness of the small hours there’s little to distract you from the same thought going round and round in your brain.

Similarly, if a dog has an achy joint or toothache, in the dark of the night there’s nothing to distract them. Pain causes stress, and stress causes panting. Therefore, if your dog is fine by day but pants a lot at night, it’s as well to wonder if they are in discomfort.

Check the dog over. Be especially vigilant for ear infections and sore teeth, which are discomforts the dog can ignore by day. So if your dog is acting out of character by panting at night, take notice of the message they’re sending out and book a checkup with the vet.

Why Do Old Dogs Pant Excessively?

Is the dog in pain?
An older dog may have stiff arthritic joints and discomfort causes them to pant. But this isn’t the only reason.

As part of the ageing process, the airways can be affected. This can mean the lungs thicken and become less efficient at gas exchange. Or the larynx, which polices the entrance to the windpipe, becomes less supple and restricts the amount of air entering the lungs

Either of these things makes it more difficult to suck in oxygen and for it cross into the bloodstream. When blood oxygen levels fall, the brain sends out a message telling the dog to breathe faster. This, panting can be a sign of airway disease.

Of course, always see the vet if your pet has rapid or distressed breathing.

Why Do Flat-Faced Dogs Pant so Much?

Adorable as pekes, pugs, and Frenchies are, those flat-faces aren’t great when it comes to breathing. A combination of anatomical quirks make it difficult for the dog to breathe. These include:

  • An unnaturally narrow windpipe: Some breeds, such as Bulldogs, often have a hypoplastic trachea. In layman’s speak this means the tube through which the dog breaths is too narrow. Think of this like trying to empty water out of bottle through a narrow neck rather than a wide one, and you’ll see how it interferes with flow.
  • An overly long soft palate: A long soft palate acts like a curtain over the entrance to the windpipe. Remember, how on a blisteringly hot summer’s day you open the curtains wide to increase ventilation or close them tight to shut out the air. The same thing happens with a long soft palate.
  • Narrow nostrils: Just as we open the window wider to get more air in, so the width of a dog’s nostrils help them breathe. Unfortunately, our flat faced friends often have narrow, squidged nostrils which also restrict air flow.
  • Large tonsils: And adding insult to injury large tonsils take up yet more room at the back of the throat and further reduce air flow. (Add up all the implications and taking out pet insurance suddenly seems a genius idea.)

When taking a deep breath is difficult, the answer is to take more smaller breaths, which means panting.

Why Do Dogs Pant?

There’s more to panting than meets the eye!

Yes, dogs pant to lose heat. But they also pant when in pain, anxious, nauseous, or because they’re struggling to breathe.

From pain to a heart problem, panting could be a vital clue your dog needs medical attention. If your dog’s panting is out of character, take a video to show to the vet and book an appointment. And for those fur-friends with flat-faces, be especially careful with these guys in hot weather and keep them in the shade.

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