Panting serves the very important function of helping dogs release heat. Unlike humans who can sweat to reduce internal body temperature, dogs are dependent upon panting to regulate body temperature since they have far fewer sweat glands to release heat than do humans. When the temperatures climb and your dog is exercising, panting is a normal and effective way to reduce internal body temperature. But sometimes panting can be a sign of serious injury or illness. How do you know when excessive dog panting needs further evaluation?
Certain breeds of dog are more prone to excessive dog panting than others. These include the brachycephalic breeds which literally means “short head”. Brachycephalic breeds which include bulldogs, pugs, and the Pekingese have short, pushed in faces. They’re also prone to respiratory problems due to small nasal passages and windpipes that are shorter in length which makes temperature regulation through panting more difficult. This problem is multiplied if a brachycephalic dog happens to be obese. These breeds of dogs pant more when exposed to warmer temperatures and must be watched closely for signs of heat stroke.
Serious reasons for excessive dog panting include heat stroke, congestive heart failure, anemia, obesity, pain, fever, and infection with heartworms. These are all conditions that need to be assessed and treated immediately. How can you tell whether your dog’s panting is normal or due to a condition that needs evaluation by a vet?
The best way to determine the cause of dog panting is to be familiar with what’s normal for your particular dog. Changes in the frequency or intensity of panting in the absence of significant exertion or exposure to heat could signify serious illness or injury. If you observe your dog panting for no obvious reason or if he continues to pant longer than ten minutes after an exercise session or exposure to heat, it’s time for closer examination.
First ask yourself what your dog was doing before you noticed the excessive dog panting. Had he just eaten or had he just returned from outdoors? If he has recently eaten a meal or come in from outside, it’s possible he could have swallowed an object that’s partially obstructing his windpipe or eaten a poisonous substance. The other alternative is that he may be injured. Inspect your dog closely for signs of injury or evidence of respiratory obstruction. Check his gums. If they appear pale or blue in coloration, your dog may not be oxygenating tissues normally or may be bleeding internally. If your dog has been exposed to high temperatures, consider the possibility of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
Once you’ve excluded an injury or poisoning, look for any signs of infection. A high temperature can cause excessive dog panting. Keep a thermometer available so you can check your dog’s temperature as needed. The ideal way to take your dog’s temperature is to use an ear thermometer. If your dog has a temperature above 102.5 degrees Farenheit, he may have an infection and should be seen by your vet as soon as possible.
If your dog is older, consider the possibility of congestive heart failure, particularly if you notice the panting is more pronounced at night or if your dog shows reduce exercise tolerance .This is another condition which needs immediate evaluation by your vet.
By being aware of your dog’s characteristic patterns of panting, you’ll be more apt to notice excessive dog panting should it occur and take timely action. It could save your best friend’s life.