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Why Do Dogs Pant?

A panting dog with its tongue hanging out.
A dog panting.
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  • Originally Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Revised By: Phil Riddel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 July 2014
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Dogs pant to regulate their body temperature. They have fewer sweat glands than humans, and most are located along the base of their feet; because of this, it is difficult for them to lose heat through sweating. By panting, a dog can cool its mouth and tongue, along with blood that is circulated through the head, keeping its body temperature at a safe and normal level. Although panting can help these animals stay cool, they cannot protect themselves against extreme heat, and owners should carefully monitor their pets during warm weather to prevent heatstroke. When a dog pants heavily during hot weather, it may be a sign of distress.

Methods of Keeping Cool

Animals try to keep themselves cool during hot weather by various methods, but they all involve evaporation. In a gas, the molecules are moving about more than they are in a liquid, so a gas has more energy. To convert a liquid into a gas, energy must be supplied, and this comes from heat. When a liquid evaporates, it carries heat away with it, cooling the surface from which it evaporated.

Humans have many sweat glands, located all over the skin, so they can cool themselves easily by secreting a liquid that evaporates, taking heat away with it. The absence of fur and the large surface area make this a very efficient method. Some other animals lick themselves so that they can cool down through the evaporation of saliva. In dogs, the main method of cooling is panting.

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How Panting Works

The classic mouth open, tongue-lolling posture adopted when dogs pant helps to cool the mouth and tongue, but it also provides a draft of air to the major blood vessels of the head, which surround the nose. Panting helps to cool these blood vessels, keeping the brain from overheating and also circulating lower temperature blood through the rest of the body. The large surface area of the tongue, along with the rapid flow of air, maximizes cooling by evaporation, which is why dogs stick their tongues out when they pant. Panting also cools the respiratory system in the same way.

Overly rapid breathing can result in hyperventilation, but this does not normally happen with panting, as the breaths are shallow and do not involve exchange of gases in the lungs. A dog normally takes about 30-40 breaths per minute, but during panting, this increases to about 300-400. Dogs will switch from normal breathing to panting periodically in warm weather, but do not show any intermediate breathing pattern. Instead of increasing their breathing rate as the temperature rises, the switch to panting more frequently and for longer periods. Hyperventilation may occur, however, when the dog is unable to reduce its temperature through normal methods.

An apparent disadvantage of this method of keeping cool is that it involves using muscles. This movement produces heat as a byproduct, which could counteract the cooling effect. It seems, however, that the elastic properties of the respiratory system minimize the amount of muscle work that has to be done. Inhaling stretches the system, which then bounces back on exhaling. It has a natural frequency at which panting can take place with minimal muscular effort.

Signs of Distress

The normal body temperature for dogs hovers between 101° and 102°F (38° and 39°C). A temperature increase of merely three degrees, to 105°F (41°C), can lead to the early signs of heatstroke, and at this point, even if a dog pants, it may not be able to control its rising body temperature. At 108°F (42°C), dogs can suffer from major organ damage and death if the condition is not addressed immediately by a veterinarian.

Dogs pant after heavy exercise and during warm days, and this is entirely normal. Pet owners should watch out for other signs of heatstroke, which include accelerated or abnormal breathing and heart rate, a dry mouth and nose, heavy drooling, seizures, and pale or extremely dark gums. They should make sure that the dog has access to plenty of fresh, cool water, along with shade. Pets, and children, should never be left in a car, as the temperature inside can rise very rapidly.

If a dog is demonstrating symptoms of heatstroke, the owner should cool it down immediately with cool or tepid water and ice packs behind the legs, where large amounts of blood circulate. The pet should be given cool water to drink, but not too much, and should not be covered, as this traps heat. The owner should bring the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible for additional treatment, as some of the signs of heatstroke will only appear after it is too late, and only quick professional attention will save the dog's life.

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Discuss this Article

anon328653
Post 29

Why does my dog pant in the winter months?

anon300004
Post 27

Why does my jack russell pant when in the car?

anon274232
Post 26

For the past week, my French bulldog has been shaking and panting a lot and then today she won't eat. The only thing that has changed is my husband's mother and her dog have been staying for three weeks so my husband has not been paying to much attention to her and she all of sudden won't leave his mother's side. Usually she does exactly what she's told but she now just stands there and looks at us. What should we do?

anon273462
Post 25

Every sheltie I have ever owned, when they are relaxed and happy stick out the tip of their tongue. It doesn't hang to the side, they just stick it out like it's too big. Is this a breed thing? I always wondered if their jaw was too small for the tongue.

anon241620
Post 23

Help! My dog was panting like crazy this morning even though it was cool in the house and she wasn't running around or anything. She keeps shaking and taking shallow breaths.

Also, she is having odd behavior. She always sleeps in my room but she didn't last night, she went and sat in the garage when I got home from school, but she never does that; she loves being inside with us. My parents don't think anything is wrong with her, but I think there might be.

anon238905
Post 22

My friend's Pomeranian pants and sometimes it's because she's hot but it's also because she's excited, especially when the food comes out. She has always been excitable and loves having fun.

A good tip if you don't want your dog to pant due to excitement is point and snap your fingers. It can temporarily calm them down. It works for her much like telling a small child to settle down and behave.

anon229885
Post 21

I have a dog that has started to pant a lot and shake, but only when my daughter is in the room with her and any time she is not the dog is fine and nothing is wrong. We don't understand why all of a sudden she is doing this.

anon187320
Post 20

my terv pants when he's happy, before bed, when he has to potty, when he's playing, before a nap, when he's thinking, when he's working, sometimes when he's sleeping. You get the idea.

anon129651
Post 18

My da and i made a bet and i want to find out who wins bad! so, do dogs pant to keep themselves warm too? Animal Planet says that they pant to keep cool and warm. is this true?

anon114005
Post 17

I have a pug five months old. Nowadays my pug pants when he's just sitting, the temperature is pretty cool, the humidity level is decent and he hasn't been running around or anything. I don't take him out, he eats food four times a day with lots of fresh water.

anon110825
Post 16

My chihuahua pants for two reasons mainly. 1) when the weather is too hot for him and 2) when he's about to have explosive diarrhea. It scares me and he's been to the vet several times addressing the loose stool problem, but nothing seems to cure it. He doesn't have any stomach problems or intestine irritation and has access to fresh water all day. Help!

anon72243
Post 15

my pitbull pants at night after she licks her paws. she is a rescue dog and suffered seizures after being bait when younger. i believe she has outgrown the seizures but seems to pant a lot and have a lot of nightmares. she is now about nine years old. could this have been contributed to what she had gone through. should she see a vet?

anon67621
Post 14

wow, i rescued a puppy mill havanese (the one that was the breeder). She has been panting a lot at certain times of the day or night. What do i do?

anon50460
Post 13

sometimes, my dog pants when he's just sitting inside his crate. the temperature is pretty cool, the humidity level is decent and he hasn't been running around or anything.

anon47816
Post 12

why do you think dogs pant?

anon45091
Post 11

I have a miniature Manchester Terrier. she is 11 years old. She seems to pant continually, even when it is not hot outside or inside our house? How can I tell if this is for something other than being hot -- besides taking her to the vet?

tollila
Post 7

My dog was just diagnosed with a severe bladder infection, and also we found out he has indigestion. Once he took the Pepcid (Famotidine), his panting nearly stopped completely! He had been panting day and night for quite awhile, and we thought he was just hot since moving from Alaska to Washington. Obviously he was in distress and/or pain.

anon18246
Post 6

Hi I read in my Veterinarians magazine that dogs pant also because they are in pain. So please if your dog is panting and it is not hot or your dog has not done exercise, then have him or her checked out to make sure nothing is wrong and your pet is not in pain.

Right now my Akita/chow dog pants a lot and especially at night. Had her checked and she has anemia and we have her on thyroid medication to see if it helps her.

anon14197
Post 3

I have a Dalmatian terrier mutt and lately she has been panting a lot and it is not even hot in our house. What does this mean?

anon6715
Post 2

My dog a chihuahua, pants only at night when we put her in her Open pin. It's not hot ! Why is she doing this???

woobie2610
Post 1

hi, I have a min. poodle, and he sleeps with I and my daughter, but last night, he woke me up hyperventilating, which, alarmed me and my daughter, what could have caused this? needless to say i am very concerned, as he has done this on another occasion, thank you for your time,

Laura

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