Understanding Dog Panting: When Should You Worry?

Your pooch's floppy tongue flaps everywhere... dog panting throughout the day is a very normal sound in your home. Today, though, something sounds different. His panting and heavy breathing is more pronounced, and you're beginning to worry that something may be wrong with your furry friend. But, how do you know?

Is Heavy Dog Breathing Normal?

Some heavy dog breathing and panting is to be expected. According to Vetstreet, 30 to 40 breaths per minute is the average rate of breath in dogs. However, when dogs are stressed, overheated, or have vigorously exercised, they may breathe heavier than normal as a way to calm or cool themselves. Vetstreet reports, "A panting dog can take 300 to 400 breaths per minute." That's 100 times more than normal, which makes sense why you'd be alarmed. Normal panting isn't harmful: "Because of the natural elasticity of the lungs and airways, panting does not expend much energy, nor does it create additional heat." Since heat, weight and exercise bring on panting, take steps to keep your dog cool, calm and healthy, even when the panting is normal.

A brown and white Portuguese Water Dog looking at the camera on a hot summer day, panting.

When Dog Panting Becomes a Problem

While all dogs pant to regulate their body temperature, excessive or abnormal dog panting is a rightful cause for alarm.

Those breeds that have some (or all) of the components of brachycephalic airway syndrome will be predisposed to louder breathing. Vetstreet reports that the excess soft palate tissue "can be accompanied by other upper respiratory tract abnormalities that may predispose them to complete airway obstruction should their tissues become inflamed, which can happen in times of excess heat, stress, exercise and other situations."

Overweight dogs may experience heavy breathing more often than those of average weight, especially when the heavy-set dog is more active than normal, like on a walk or run with you, or in the heat. Keep your dog cool, continue light, quick and consistent exercise, and feed him a healthy, balanced diet to help him lose weight and lessen his chance for abnormal panting.

Laryngeal paralysis is another reason your dog's breathing may suddenly seem more pronounced. When a dog cannot open and close his larynx at the same time as he takes breaths, the sound will be louder and more pronounced. You may even notice some coughing with the dog panting.

What to Do for a Panting Pup

You can help regulate your dog's panting by keeping him cool and calm. If you plan on hiking for the day, make sure to bring lots of water and find shady spots for you and your pet to rest. If you find your dog's panting to be especially bothersome during excessive exercise, take it slow. Find a human to accompany you on your marathon-length runs, and invite your pooch for short treks around the neighborhood. When the summer heat is too hot, spend time in the air-conditioned indoors or provide shade for your pet to retreat to.

When it is hot outside, it can be a struggle to get proper exercise, and when humans don't want to exercise we can often overlook how necessary it is for your dog. Your dog can still get some great exercise without overheating in the warm summer months. Have a backyard? Put a kiddie pool out for him to romp around in, or a sprinkler for him to chase the water through. Near a lake, beach or dog park with a pond? Let him go for a swim. This will help cool him off while ensuring he is still getting the exercise he needs to stay healthy. Remember to bring clean, fresh water and not let him drink from the source.

If you're ever concerned that the panting you hear is excessive, contact your veterinarian immediately. It's never safe to take a guess when it comes to your dog's health, and the vet can help you determine if something is wrong or not. The vet can also help you create a plan on addressing heavy breathing if your dog has a medical condition. You want to enjoy your time with your dog and keep him healthy, so pay attention to those breathy pants, and your pooch will thank you.

Contributor Bio

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.

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