Why Do Dogs Pant? by Dr. Jenny Kungl

A very common question for many pet owners is “why is my dog panting” and “how much panting is too much”?

To answer the first question we should look at the placement of certain glands in the skin of the dog.

  • There are apocrine sweat glands found everywhere there is a hair follicle but these are not known to be responsible for temperature regulation.  They are believed to be important for releasing oily material with pheromones (hormonal scents).
  • The eccrine sweat glands are found on the nose and paw pads. When they are active they leave those areas moist and wet.  They are believed to be active in periods when body temperature requires regulating and therefore aid in cooling of the body.
  • The sebaceous glands can be found covering all parts of the haired body and also in the ear canals but they are not known to function in temperature control.  They produce wax and oily material called sebum for lubrication and waterproofing of the skin.

So, our furry companions differ dramatically from us in that they are covered with fur, which they cannot remove and they are restricted in the areas on the body that they can dissipate heat from, mainly being the foot pads and possibly the nose and eyelids.

A remarkable organ in the mouth of the dog is the tongue.  Not only can it shower you in slobbery kisses but it is used on a daily basis for thermoregulation; temperature control.

When a dog opens his mouth to pant, there are multiple things occurring at once:

  • Mouth air is hotter than nasal air so a larger gradient of heat is lost.
  • Tongue can widen and flatten to increase the surface area for heat exchange.
  • Greater amount of moisture can escape from the mouth versus the nostrils allowing for more effective cooling.

So, in a normal, happy and healthy companion the act of panting is a normal physiological response to a rise in body temperature and/or excitement.

To address the second part of the question “how much panting is too much” we must have an idea of what ‘normal’ is for our companion.  Having this baseline allows an owner to pick up on any change early and promptly involve the expertise of your veterinarian in ruling in or out any underlying concerns or medical problems.

We see panting as a concerning complaint on a daily basis in the veterinary office. By taking a thorough history of your pet (days preceding and that day) and a detailed examination we have the ability to evaluate some very common reasons for excessive or persistent panting.

In the summer months we see heatstroke as a main cause for excessive or prolonged panting, but there are many other subtle causes for panting. These include; fever, pain, ingestion of a toxin, allergy (acute), fear (storms/fireworks), obesity, rapid changes in heart rate, heart disease, lung disease, metabolic disorders.

This list just touches on some of the most common findings in patients that seem to be ‘panting more than normal’.  It is not meant to be exhaustive but should basically show you that as an owner if you feel that something is not right and your pet is not settling there are things that can be investigated.

Should you suspect your dog is experiencing excess panting regularly, we encourage you to give our Brantford animal hospital a call so that a team member can discuss with you.