When Panting Is Abnormal

By: Tyler Foreman, DVM

TVMA Member
Rowlett, TX

Published July 2018

Almost all dog lovers know why their furry friends pant after taking a stroll in the stifling Texas summer heat, but have you ever wondered why panting is the primary way our canine companions cool down? Or why they only sweat through their paws and noses? And have you ever asked why your dog would start panting in the middle of the night for no reason? If you said yes to any of the above questions, keep reading.

What Is Panting?

Panting is a key mechanism for heat reduction. The movement of air during panting is strictly limited to the upper airway, which ends where the trachea (windpipe) begins branching. As a result, cool outside air absorbs heat from the body during panting and allows for evaporation of saliva in the mouth and airway, thus slowly lowering body temperature1 (Goldberg et al., 1981). Panting is an inefficient way to cool down, especially in the stifling heat so common in Texas. A primary reason panting is inefficient is because dogs evolved to retain as much of their body heat as possible, which is the main reason why dogs only sweat through their paw pads and noses.

Pain and Anxiety-Induced Panting

If your dog is randomly panting in the middle of the night in your perfectly air-conditioned home, what could possibly cause such a behavior? The three most common reasons for panting when there is not an obvious temperature-related cause are from pain, anxiety and disease.

When dogs show signs of stress or pain like during a Texas summer thunderstorm or from aching joints, their bodies rapidly increase cortisol production, leading to excessive panting. Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glandsendocrine glands that produce a variety of hormones including adrenaline and the steroids aldosterone and cortisol that is helpful in dealing with normal amounts of stress. Under usual circumstances, cortisol is helpful in regulating metabolism, salt and water balance and blood sugar, just to name a few functions. If produced in excess, the additional cortisol will increase metabolism, thus leading to an internal rise in body temperature and excessive panting2 (Dresche and Granger, 2005). Any source of stress, fear or pain for your dog can cause the same effect. In addition to elevations in cortisol, medications such as prednisone that mimic cortisol can cause panting as well.

Disease-Related Panting

In cases of disease, any process that causes an increase in the respiratory rate (number of breaths per minute) often will give the appearance of panting once breathing is rapid enough. Such disease processes include heart failure, lung ailments and metabolic abnormalities just to name a few. One disease that increases cortisol levels is Cushing’s disease. Not only will dogs affected with this condition experience excess panting but they also will develop a pot-bellied appearance, have excessive thirst and urination, and their skin and coat will look unthrifty.

How To Identify Panting

The best way to know if your dog is experiencing panting or rapid breathing is to first know the normal breathing rate, which at rest is between 10 to 40 breaths per minute. If at any point you are unsure if the breathing is abnormal, call your veterinarian.

Whenever you see your four-legged family member starting to pant, remember that it could be a possible sign of discomfort, overheating or disease. Your veterinarian can provide insight on why your dog may pant with no obvious explanation, so be sure to discuss any questions about panting during your next visit with your other family doctor.


References:

1. Goldberg, Marcia B.; Langman, V.A.; Taylor, Richard C. “Panting in Dogs: Paths of Airflow in Response to Heat and Exercise.” Rspiration Physiology. March 1981, Vol 43, Issue 3, 327-338.

2. Dresche, Nancy A. and Douglas A. Granger. “Physiological and Behavioral Reactivity to Stress in Thunderstorm-Phobic Dogs and Their Caregivers.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science. December 2005, Volume 95, Issues 3-4, 153-168.

Tyler Foreman, DVM, is a graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Foreman practices at Rowlett Veterinary Clinic in Rowlett.

23 Responses

  1. Audrey says:

    I just got a 2 month old akita mixed I noticed for no reason he is panting like he is hot it is 37 degrees out side and cool in my house why or what could he be panting from

  2. Janet McDougal says:

    My Pomeranian pants (mostly in the evening) and it scares me. Vet did full blood panel; x-rays and said everything is “fine”! Everything is NOT fine because he just began this in October and we’re in Maine whettre it’s cold. Any suggestions, please??? Thank You!

  3. Janet McDougal says:

    I also meant to say that it’s winter and cold (mostly down in single number of degrees). We run our thermostat on 69 degrees (!!!) and we wear sweatshirts and sweaters to try to keep Mordecai from not panting! I know panting can be sign of pain, stress or disease. He’s been to Vet “several” time and had just about every test in book! I’m extremely worried!

  4. Rena says:

    My dog pants rapidly when I take her in the car. She is right beside me and I keep the car cool so she is not hot.
    She is 9 years old. The vet said she is pre diabetic and had to lose weight which she has. I don’t understand the term “pre diabetic”.

  5. Susan Shumate Abee says:

    My Wire Hair pointing Griffon, soon to turn 13 has starting panting often at night. It can’t be from overheating as I live in Michigan and it is very cold outside. And I keep my house cool. And the heat is turned down to 62 at night. He woke me up tonight and for behind my bed and I had a heck of a time getting him out. Then I let him outside. And have him some hemp oil when he came back in. This has been going on more and more.
    Nothing wrong with his appetite. His coat is beautiful. He has water available at all times.
    Help.

    • lillith says:

      like others, my pup Libbi began panting heavily in association to 2 health crisis – pancreatitis bout #2 (Dec. 2018), & Vita D poisoning (Dec. through Feb 2019). that was a year ago. the panting has returned beginning Feb- March 2020 to where she is waking me up at night to go out or just shaking the bed by the force of pants (memory foam???).

      a year ago March 2019, she began drinking excessively, to almost double her previous intake. she also exhibits licking of fabric, yawning, clingy – sitting or sleeping on me – behaviors consistent with anxiety. she seems to pant less while occupied by “no hides” bones. a little over 18-20 months ago, she began insisting on treats at night, and i can hear her tummy growling wildly within 1-2 hours of dinner. all blood and urine testing was normal so vet rx Adaptil, which almost seemed to accelerate her rate of breath. so that’s going back. i also use the two finger touch technique which did use to calm her but seems to have no effect now.

      what do we rule out next, Cushings, Thyroid disorders, or just treat for anxiety? i feel so helpless watching her panting uncontrollably.

    • kay says:

      this is happening with my dog right now does anyone know how to help

    • Charlotte Spencer says:

      My Yorkie is 4.5lbs. 9yrs and 4mths. She has had difficulty the last 1.5 years with getting choked on her food. I have had to do the himelec maneuver several times. She has actually died a couple times. I’ve also had to dig food from her throat or push it pasted her windpipe. I’ve noticed an increase in urination & thrist& even though she eats good acts as though she’s starving. Panting is her newest symptom, Increased now at rest & middle of night . Any help appreciated

  6. Karen Stone Baker says:

    I have a 22 month old Biewer Terrier that weighs 6 lbs. She is very timid and things like the vacuum cleaner scare her. She has a very heavy coat of hair. Lately she has been panting very hard at various times during the day for no apparent reason. She’s a very picky eater and I have noticed she seems to be drinking more water than usual and she’ll lay on the cool tile floor. Any suggestions as what might be going on with her?

  7. Suzanne says:

    My 7 year old Mixed breed dog has become more and more heat intolerant. She pants when the weather goes above 65 degrees after mild exertion. I had a CBC done for her, and her ALKP is elevated (439.0). I am worried that she has Cushing’s disease. I have an ultrasound scheduled for this Tuesday. Will it help in the diagnosis?

  8. Linda brustowicz says:

    I’m having the same problem with my pomeranian
    Vet said it’s his trachea its clasping she gave him a medication that’s surpose to open his airways but it doesn’t I’m. So afraid I might lose him I don’t know ×hat
    Else to do

  9. Teresa Marlow says:

    I have same issue with my dog, he seems fine most of the time,runs, plays, eats but does this panting mostly at night. Used to be once in awhile but has been more frequent. The vets when I have taken him in past say heart etc fine. We are in lockdown now so vet trips only for urgent things, so not sure if should take him.

  10. Bev Boling says:

    I have an 8 year old American Bulldog. Two months ago she had a large mass removed from her abdomen attached to her spleen which the vet said had not spread when he removed it. However she starts panting in the evening while resting. She eats well and drinks water. I take her walking everyday and she seems to pant more on her walks now as well. Before her surgery I noticed she was panting some as well but doing it more now. Any suggestions?

  11. Alex Tayao says:

    May dog is nursing a puppies , but I think there something wrong with my dog ,she been panting severely, sometimes she has cough, ang I could feel on top of her head there palpitations on veins

    • Sharon says:

      9 year old male Staffordshire rottie mix. Has had three ACL surgeries. Has always been a couch potato but enjoys long walks in the park. Wakes up at night only (never while sleeping during the day) panting heavily regardless of temperature in the room. Allows me to pet him but cannot seem to “calm” him down. Panting can last up to 15 minutes. When he stops panting, his breathing continues to be heavy, loud and labored for a while. When he awakens in the morning, he’s fine. No obvious residual effect (except that I am exhausted from getting up in the middle of the night). Have tried CBD oil, pain meds, melatonin, calming meds. Nothing seems to work. Vet took blood tests that didn’t show anything.

    • Dean says:

      My dog is 13 he does have hip problems which I do give him a shot every month to help him out but he has really started to pant at night sometimes he will be up most of the night panting.
      We sleep with the window open we live in Manitoba Canada so it’s cool at night.
      Just wish our pets could talk so you can take care of there problem He’s such a good dog don’t want to lose him right now I’m hoping for a few more good years left in him.

  12. […] to pant after an intense round of fetch or a walk on a summer day, there are a few situations where excessive panting may not be normal […]

  13. Kat says:

    I’ve been going through all this heavy scary panting since last May. Ends up my 14 yr old maltipoo had Cushings. Took care of that all good then panting started up again past week. I keep up with Cushings testing. Test came back great so I think it’s pain related. She has arthritis and think by end of day she just hurts. Giving her 50mg-100mg Gabapentin at night definitely helping. Doing it on as needed basis. She is 11 lbs.
    could be anxiety for other dogs. Maybe a rescue puppy/ dog. Bc don’t know their true past.
    Hopefully this helps. Bc it’s so scary to watch and not understand why.

  14. Wow, it would never have occurred to me that pain from aching joints can cause dogs to excessively pant. My dog will be turning ten in a couple of months, and he has been panting a lot recently. I’m worried that he might have some issues with the bones in his legs. It seems like it would be a good idea for me to schedule a visit with a veterinarian so that I can make sure my pet gets the proper care he needs.

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