Several times a week pet owners ask me, Why's my dog panting so much, lately? Is something wrong? That's a big question with many possible answers.
First, understand that we're discussing "panting" and not "respiratory distress", and any difficulty in breathing needs immediate veterinary care.
Panting is defined as rapid and shallow open-mouth breathing, usually accompanied by protrusion of the tongue, and is common in dogs (but unusual in cats). The respiratory rate during panting is 200-400 breaths per minute. For reference, normal breathing in an awake dog is about 30 to 40 breathes per minutes, or less than 30 when asleep (and not dreaming).
Second, understand that all dogs pant in order to cool themselves down, because dogs don’t sweat. The resulting increase in airflow through the moist respiratory tract causes evaporative cooling.
However, when dogs pant excessively, and/or at rest, we have to consider there might be an underlying disease such as:
Heat stroke or overheating
Pain, including arthritis pain
Fear or anxiety
Respiratory disease, including early laryngeal paralysis or mild Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome of Pugs, Boston Terriers, Pekingeses, Boxers, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus or any one of the other breeds with pushed-in or short faces
Heart (Cardiovascular) disease
Neurological disease affecting the respiratory center such as after a seizure or a brain tumor
Drug reaction, especially narcotics, corticosteroids, thyroid medication
Some types of toxins such as chocolate.
So where to start if your dog is panting excessively? Make an appointment to see your veterinarian. He/She may be able to put your mind at ease simply with a thorough exam. Sometimes chest x-rays or a blood profile is needed. Sometimes a short course of pain medications can be used to rule-out arthritis pain. Whatever the case may be, start with asking your vet, “Why?”
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