Most dog owners will have noticed their dog panting now and again, in other words sticking their tongues out and breathing rapidly for short lengths of time. This is ostensibly to cool down, but why do dogs pant, and are there any other reasons?
Human skin is covered in pores which release sweat when we are hot. The sweat evaporates off the skin, making us cooler. Dogs, on the other hand, can only sweat through hairless parts of their body, such as their noses and the pads of their paws. Not only that, but being covered in fur is a bit like wearing a jumper all year round, especially for long or thick coated breeds.
Dogs’ bodies have two methods of cooling down. One is called vasodilation and involves the blood vessels close to the skin widening. This allows for greater blood flow close to the skin’s surface and for heat to be expelled. The other way is by panting, which is when the dog will breathe in and out quickly with their tongue out. By doing this they rapidly take cooler air into the body to bring their temperature down. Drawing air over the wet tongue also has a similar cooling effect to sweat on human skin.
Of course, these methods are only effective if the air temperature is lower than the dog’s body temperature. This is one of many reasons why you should never leave a dog in a car.
If it is warm and your dog is panting a lot be sure to offer them plenty of cool, fresh water and consider a cooling jacket.
Even in winter, you may find that your dog pants after intense physical exertion such as running or chasing. This is perfectly normal and is just their body’s response to the need for extra oxygen.
If the panting continues for an unusually long time it could be that your dog’s fitness is below par or they are suffering from a cardiac or respiratory issue. Seek veterinary care if you have any concerns.
Nervousness or excitement
When your dog is very excited, nervous or frightened they might experience a raised heart rate. This will increase the need for oxygen and cause them to pant. Look to the source of their emotional response in order to resolve this.
While panting is generally a normal, healthy physical behaviour, if there is no obvious cause and it continues for unusual lengths of time it might be best to seek veterinary attention. There are numerous potential underlying causes of excessive panting, some of which can be life-threatening.