When is Panting Abnormal?

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When we observe a dog who is panting, we tend to take it for granted because this behavior is so darned normal. But, is it always normal? While most panting occurs as a means of counteracting overheating (the canine version of sweating), it can also be prompted by a whole host of other reasons.

Normal panting

Dogs rely on panting as their primary means for getting rid of excess body heat. Panting allows evaporation of water and heat across the moist surfaces of the lungs, tongue, and surfaces within the mouth. So it makes physiologic sense for a dog to pant on a warm day or following exercise. Dogs do have sweat glands on the undersides of their paws and within their ears, but these glands really have only minimal cooling capabilities.

Abnormal panting

Panting is considered abnormal when it occurs for reasons other than heat dissipation, and can be recognized by one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Appears excessive compared to the dog’s normal panting pattern
  • Occurs at inappropriate times (when the dog is not overly warm)
  • Sounds raspier, louder, or harsher than normal
  • Appears more exertional than normal

Listed below are some of the more common causes of abnormal panting:

  1. Anxiety, stress, or fear

Panting is one of the primary behaviors exhibited by anxious, stressed, or fearful dogs. This “behavioral panting” may be accompanied by other indicators of fear, stress, or anxiety such as pacing, yawning, whining, reclusive behavior, a tucked tail, hiding, clingy behavior, flattened ears, drooling, lip licking, a crouched posture, dilated pupils, trembling, food refusal, and even loss of bladder or bowel control.

  1. Pain

Excessive panting is a common symptom of discomfort or pain. In fact, dogs who are uncomfortable often exhibit panting well before more obvious indicators of pain, such as whining or limping, arise.

  1. Heart failure

When the heart is doing an inadequate job of pumping blood around the body, the tissues become deprived of oxygen. One of the best ways to correct this oxygen depletion is by increasing the respiratory rate, and this often results in panting.

  1. Lung disease

The lungs are where the transfer of oxygen to the bloodstream takes place. When lung disease prevents this from occurring, oxygen deprivation results. Just as is the case with heart failure, the natural response of the dog is to breathe faster and harder which translates into excessive and exertional panting.

  1. Anemia

Anemia is defined as a decrease in the red blood cell count. Given that red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen to the body’s tissues, it makes sense that moderate or severe anemia results in oxygen deprivation. Just as is the case with heart failure and lung disease, the dog’s natural response to this is escalated respirations and panting.

  1. Laryngeal paralysis

The larynx is the opening to the windpipe (trachea). It contains cartilage flaps that operate like saloon doors- opening wide during breathing and closing during swallowing. With laryngeal paralysis, one or both of the laryngeal cartilages fail to open normally, creating turbulent, restricted airflow and panting that is often raspy sounding and much louder than usual.

  1. Cushing’s disease

Cushing’s disease is a hormonal imbalance that occurs primarily in middle aged and older dogs. It is caused by the overproduction of cortisone (steroids) by the adrenal glands. One of the earliest and most common symptoms of this disease is excessive and inappropriate panting. Successful treatment of the Cushing’s disease typically resolves the abnormal panting.

  1. Cortisone (steroid) therapy

Treatment with prednisone, prednisolone, or other forms of cortisone mimics Cushing’s disease (see above). Many dogs receiving steroids demonstrate excessive and inappropriate panting that typically goes away within a few weeks after the medication is discontinued.

Abnormal panting deserves attention!

Observation of abnormal panting should prompt an office visit with your veterinarian, even if everything else about your dog appears to be perfectly normal. The sooner the cause of the abnormal panting is discovered, the greater the likelihood of a good outcome.

Does your dog experience abnormal panting? If so, do you know the cause?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.





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6 Comments on “When is Panting Abnormal?

  1. Jasmine had episodes of panting and pacing, which at the end never really got figured out. There were many theories, many diagnostics, many attempts for treatment and management but nobody came up with definite diagnosis.

    Integrative approach helped minimizing them but they never got truly resolved.

  2. Pre-whelping panting is also a situation, and while certainly NOT abnormal, it does well to recognize it and be prepared for it’s consequences: a “bunch of puppies” or a “clutch” of kittens.

    If the excessive panting continues after the whelping is complete, it is well to have your veterinarian check her out to either to exclude or treat eclampsia – if necessary.

  3. Our dog’s abnormal panting is caused by geriatric onset laryngeal paralysis poly neuropathy (GOLPP).

  4. Dr. Kay, your writing is par excellence! “Spot Speaks – When is Panting Abnormal?” even covers behavioral panting, accompanied by other indicators of fear, stress or anxiety.

    Thank you for providing the best dog health care tips and veterinary advice for dog owners!

  5. Oddly enough the flip side of Cushings, which is Addison’s, causes panting also. At least it did in my long departed Addisonian.


  6. Dr Nancy,
    Thank you so much for addressing panting. I have realized it is a real indicator of things which may be going on with my dogs and as you said, a lot of times it is the first way to tell something’s not right.
    Your advice and knowledge are so appreciated!