Panting is a well-known sound to anyone that has ever owned a dog, or even anyone that hasn’t! It’s so commonly associated with dogs that even young children often imitate panting when pretending to be a pooch. Half the time, we may not even realise our dog is doing it.
Panting occurs when a dog’s body reaches a high temperature and it needs to cool itself down. While a dog’s fur will help to keep them warm in the winter, it also means that their body temperature can rise very quickly, especially if they’re running around after a ball in the sun. Although dogs do sweat a little bit from their paw pads, their main defence against overheating is to start panting. This shallow, rapid breathing allows water to evaporate from their tongue and mouth, which helps to cool them down. A sedentary dog will take 30-40 breaths a minute but when panting that rate can escalate to as much as 300-400. Breathing at this increased rate does not escalate their body temperature due to the natural flexibility of a dogs lungs and airways.
But panting can also be a warning sign and it’s important that you’re able to tell the difference between what is and isn’t normal for your dog. Abnormal panting may be harsher or louder than regular panting and may occur when your dog isn’t in need of a cool-down. For example, your dog may use panting as a way to display stress or anxiety during fireworks or loud storms.
If your dog is in hot weather and trying to cool down by panting, keep a close eye out for other signs like glazed eyes, excessive thirst or their tongue and gums turning bright or dark red, as this may be a sign of heatstroke. Heatstroke can happen very quickly and the results can be catastrophic if it's not spotted quickly. Excessive panting could also be a sign of an allergic reaction or poisoning if accompanied by other signs like vomiting or lethargy. Panting could also be a sign of another underlying issue like pneumonia or a heart problem.
Getting to know your dog and their panting habits will help you to identify whether they are just trying to cool down or if it’s a sign of something more serious. As always, if in doubt, check with your veterinarian.