Panting is a completely normal thing to happen in dogs in short bursts. There are many reasons dogs pant, and it's normal for the panting to stop with rest. If your dog is continually panting it could be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
Breathing patterns in dogs
A dog’s normal breathing rate should be between ten and thirty breaths per minute, but can be up to forty in dogs who are playful or a little anxious. There are lots of things that affect breathing rate, including exercise and excitement levels, so an increased breathing rate or panting doesn't always mean you need to panic. It's completely normal for a puppy or excitable dog to have an increased breathing rate after running around in the garden or playing with a friend. This will settle down when your puppy or dog sits down for a rest, so often it's best to just watch for signs of slowing back down again.
Another common concern owners can have is heavy panting. Panting can be normal in dogs if linked to excitement or exercise. As long as this settles with time it's of no concern.
If you are unsure about counting breathing rates, take a video and send it to your veterinarian or use an online vet who can see in real-time if the breathing rate and pattern are normal.
Reasons for heavy panting
If your dog is panting continually, and it’s a very hot day, or she has been sitting in the sun for a long time she may have a condition called heat stroke. Brachycephalic breeds are most likely to suffer heat stroke because of their short noses and increased breathing effort required even at rest.
Other signs of heat stroke include:
Dark red gums
Vomiting and diarrhea
If you see heavy panting in combination with the other signs listed a vet visit is needed. Whilst dogs can die from heat stroke, the sooner treatment is started, the better the chances of a full recovery.
Treatment involves cooling your dog down with intravenous fluids, fans, and the use of room temperature water on the body. This needs to be done slowly over time to prevent the opposite condition occurring, hypothermia.
Congestive heart failure
Congestive heart failure from mitral valve disease is common in older, small breed dogs such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, and Maltese.
Larger breed dogs such as the Boxer, Doberman, and Great Dane can suffer from congestive heart failure as a result of dilated cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy has been linked to feeding grain-free diets, as discussed in our blog here.
When a dog is in congestive heart failure, she is unable to provide the body with enough oxygen, so she continually pants to try and increase the amount of oxygen getting into the bloodstream.
Other signs of congestive heart failure include:
Having difficulty standing or walking
Collapse or fainting
Pale pink, grey, or blue-colored gums
Heavy panting because of congestive heart failure is an emergency. Treatment involves providing oxygen therapy, medications to help remove fluid from the chest and abdomen, and blood tests to look at the kidney and liver functions. Your dog will need to be on lifelong medications if she is diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
Dogs are very good at hiding their pain, and excessive panting can be a subtle sign for us to pick up that our dog is actually painful. The pain can be anywhere in the body, so panting is not specific to pain in any one part, more a general sign of pain. A veterinarian can check your dogs health and find any cause for panting from pain.
If the continual heavy panting is due to pain, the panting usually improves with strong pain relief.
Panting can be a sign of a problem with the respiratory system. The respiratory system includes the throat, trachea (airway), and lungs.
Potential problems with the respiratory system that may cause excessive panting are:
Bacterial or viral infections, such as pneumonia
Fluid build up around the lungs (pleural effusion)
Foreign material stuck in the respiratory system
Smoke or toxic chemical inhalation
Drowning or near-drowning experience
Trauma to the respiratory tract can cause heavy panting. Broken ribs, penetration of foreign objects into the chest cavity (such as arrows or bullets), bite wounds, internal bleeding, or bruising can all cause heavy panting to occur. Thankfully these conditions are rare, and often you will be there to notice them as an owner.
How long should I wait to see if my dog’s panting settles?
A dog should be able to return to a normal breathing rate, even after exercise in around 15 to 20 minutes. This may take a little longer if your dog continues to run around and have fun!
Is there anything I can do at home for heat stroke?
Heat stroke needs veterinary care. Using fans or air conditioning in the car on the journey and applying a small amount of room temperature water to wet the coat can be helpful. Avoid ice or very cold water as this can cause shock.
How long do dogs in congestive heart failure live?
Unfortunately, dogs who have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure do not have long to live, even with medication and supportive care. The expected lifespan once at end-stage heart failure is around three to six months.
If your dog is panting heavily for more than a few hours without settling after long periods of rest, go to your veterinarian for a check-up. Some causes of panting such as stress, excitement and exercise are completely normal, but panting over a long period of time may be a sign that something else is going on as well. A vet check will be able to give you peace of mind about your dog's health.