Why Do Dogs Pant?

All animals show changes in how they act in response to what’s happening around them - or how they are feeling inside. Some of these may be learned behaviours, developed through experience or training - while others are innate or instinctual.

Some of these may also be specific to a certain type of animal, while others are shared by many other species. One example of this is panting, which is used by birds, some reptiles and many mammals including dogs.

Keeping Cool

So why do dogs pant? Dogs may pant in excitement (for example when getting a treat or greeting their owner) or due to exertion - but for the most part, animals pant to regulate body temperature.

While humans do this through perspiration, dogs only release a small amount of sweat through their paw pads - so their main way to regulate body temperature is by inhaling cool air and breathing out hot. This allows water to evaporate from inside, acting as a natural cooling system.


When the body produces the stress hormone cortisol, leading the dog to take shallow, short breaths (behavioural panting). This can be due to internal factors, such as illness, confusion or memory loss.

Signs of stress-related panting may also include:

● Pacing
● Shaking
● Hiding
● repeated yawning
● whining

Stress can also be due to external factors, such as:

● Separation anxiety
● Loud noises
● Busy places
● Sudden changes in environment or routine

Dogs are emotionally sensitive - so panting can also be a response to their owner’s stress levels). Stress can impact your pet’s physical health - so if you are concerned ask your vet about how to calm them.

Health Conditions

Panting in dogs may signify an underlying health issue - but why do dogs pant when they are unwell? Pain or illness also releases cortisol, leading to shallow, rapid or excessive, heavy panting. This can also indicate a condition affecting their ability to breathe.

Breathing problems often appear in dogs with short snouts as brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, or BOAS. These “flat-faced breeds” often have difficulty panting, which increases their risk of heatstroke.

Symptoms Of Illness

Some dogs “suffer in silence” - making it difficult for owners to detect signs of illness - but if panting occurs at unusual times (such as when they normally rest) - or is accompanied by other symptoms, this could be an indicator.

● Unusual changes in mood or energy levels.
● Confusion or dizziness.
● Unusual behaviours like whining or circling.
● Changes in their appetite, thirst or toilet habits.
● Limping or difficulty walking.
● Drooling, nasal discharge or vomiting
● Unpleasant odours from their breath, skin or ears.
● Changes in their coat or skin, such as sores or dull, dry fur.

Some conditions that cause panting in dogs are relatively easy to treat, while others - such as Cushing’s disease, heart failure or metabolic acidosis - are progressive and can worsen over time if unaddressed. Some conditions that cause dogs to pant heavily can be fatal if not treated quickly.


Heatstroke in dogs can lead to organ failure and even death. You can prevent heatstroke by keeping your dog indoors during hot summer days, keeping them cool and hydrated - and never leaving your dog inside vehicles, which can rapidly overheat.

In addition to panting, symptoms of heatstroke in dogs include:

● Difficulty breathing
● Increased thirst
● Glazed-over eyes
● Rapid heart rate
● Foaming at the mouth
● Weakness or collapse
● Confusion
● Diarrhoea and vomiting
● Shaking
● Seizures
● Bright or dark-coloured mouth or gums

If you suspect your dog has heatstroke, call your vet immediately and move your pet to a shady, cool area and give them small amounts of cool water to drink. Once they have begun to cool down, gently pour room-temperature (never icy or freezing as this can cause shock) water onto them.

Poison Or Allergies

If you suspect your pet has ingested something poisonous, stay calm, remove your pet from the source and seek medical attention immediately. Advice may differ depending on the situation - so listen carefully and follow your vet’s instructions.
Panting can also be an adverse side effect to new medications or other allergies: These can range in severity: if you notice signs of anaphylaxis (hives, a swollen face or muzzle, drooling, vomiting or diarrhoea), call your vet immediately.

Abnormal Panting

We now know some of the answers to the question “why do dogs pant?” - but how can you tell when panting is abnormal? Knowing what is considered normal for your pet can help you to determine if your dog is experiencing something unusual.

What To Look For:

● Rapid panting (tachypnoea),
● If they pant heavily or with difficulty (dyspnea).
● Harsh or loud panting
● Panting without any sign of a positive cause, such as excitement or exercise.
● Panting accompanied by other physical symptoms such as coughing or lethargy.
● Panting that starts suddenly.
● Intense, excessive panting.
● Any signs that your dog could be at risk of overheating.
● Any reason you think your dog might be in pain.

If you are concerned about your pet’s health for any reason, don’t worry and wait: contact your vet who will be able to offer expert advice, x-rays or bloodwork to rule out any concerning causes and treatment for your pet if necessary. Hopefully there is no cause for concern - but making sure could save their life.

For tips ranging from health to how to use a dog crate, there’s more to discover here on our Pet Info Hub - or why not check out our range of accessories for your pet, including essentials like dog leads to help keep your pet safe on walks.

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