Your dog can’t speak back to you, but your relationship with him is built on sound, body language, and physical touch.
Petting is a natural way of expressing affection to your dog, but you may sometimes notice that he’ll pant while this happens. But why is that so?
Your dog may be excited, nervous, or physically uncomfortable when panting. If it seems excessive or abnormal, this may be a sign of a bigger health problem.
Read on to learn the reasons for your furry friend’s panting and ways to address it when it becomes a problem.
Why your dog is panting when you pet him? (4 reasons)
Your dog can pant for good and bad reasons, but finding the reason for this heavy breathing means paying close attention to what is happening while you pet them.
It also means considering your pet’s surroundings.
#1 Nervousness or anxiety about being touched
Your recent adoption may mean your dog is not yet used to your touch as you’re petting them.
If you dog is panting when you are close, it may be an expression of its nervousness around new people.
Consider any background history you may know about your dog: do they exhibit a fear of people? Did they live through a traumatic event?
Do not take it personally. Understand that it will take time for your new dog to get used to you and your touch.
Through body language, your dog is safely communicating pre-existing anxieties about people.
#2 Excitement or happiness
Panting can also signify quite a different emotion: excitement!
The experience of touching and being touched has been shown to raise serotonin levels for you and your dog.
You might have just spent time running with your dog, playing fetch, or doing other exercises they enjoy. They pant in these situations the same way we breathe heavily after a brisk run.
Observe if their panting is coupled with jumping around or wagging their tail. These signs may mean your dog is simply happy to be petted.
Dogs have far fewer sweat glands than humans, which are also inefficient at expelling heat.
Instead, canines naturally cool off with a process called thermoregulation. This is put into action as panting.
The heat in their body is released through their mouth and tongue, where the moisture evaporates. In the same breath, they inhale cooler external air.
Consider if you and your dog are outside on a sunny summer day. While you can sweat, your dog must react to the heat by panting.
A dog with a thick coat is even more likely to pant because he has less capability to let out heat as moisture.
Dogs bred for colder climates like Siberian Huskies or Akitas have coats especially developed to retain heat.
#4 Pain and discomfort
Panting, coupled with a dog’s whimpering, shaking, limping, and licking or pulling at an area of their body, can be a sign of pain or injury.
A combination of body signals like these may be your dog telling you about discomfort when the reason for their pain isn’t apparent.
Consider petting them gently in different areas of the body to see if their panting persists or changes.
When is excessive panting a problem?
Think about yourself breathing heavily after a long run. Wouldn’t you be concerned if you’re winded for a very long time after an otherwise regular exercise?
When you know your dog’s normal activities and regular breathing patterns, the following noticeable changes in their panting may signal more serious problems.
Change in sound and frequency
Learn what normal breathing sounds like for your dog’s breed before considering their panting a problem.
For example, brachycephalic, or “short-headed,” breeds like French and English Bulldogs, Pugs, and Shih Tzus have noisier breathing due to the more restricted airways in their short or flattened snouts.
Their regular breathing may already sound more like snorting. Any panting that sounds raspier and louder than normal is cause for concern.
A dog’s regular breathing rate at rest is usually between 10 and 40 breaths per minute, with an average of about 24 breaths per minute.
Identify your dog’s rate at rest and compare it to the rate of their panting after a normal exercise. An increased frequency of their panting, even above normal, could signify health issues.
Longer duration of panting or excessive panting
Most panting lasts for only a couple of minutes, but panting that lasts over 20-30 minutes is generally considered irregular.
Your dog is struggling to take in air for a prolonged period of time. A longer period of panting may be coupled with the appearance of a blue-black tinged mouth or tongue.
This means your dog is not getting enough oxygen, and you should contact your veterinarian immediately if this happens.
Panting at abnormal times or at rest
Does your dog’s panting persist when they should be winding down for a nap or after they’ve cooled down from outside?
Your dog is panting when it should be breathing regularly. If they already seem resolved of overheating and discomfort, panting at odd times is a stronger indication of health issues.
This prolonged panting can take a toll on your dog’s body because they are letting moisture out through their mouth for a long period of time. This can result in depletion of oxygen and also water.
More exertion than normal
Labored panting can look like your dog’s entire body is being expended for breathing.
Their neck will stretch out, and their head will bend forward to keep taking deep breaths. Their mouths may be open wider to take in more air.
Their chest may expand more than usual as their lungs try to take in greater amounts of air. Your dog’s breathing may look difficult when it should look natural or effortless.
What to do if your dog pants hard?
When you have decided your dog’s panting is different and a reason for concern, you can try several methods to help them catch their breath.
Comfort your dog
Anxiety as a cause of panting can be resolved by physical contact or a time-out in a quiet place.
Move them to a comfy bed or a well-padded crate where they are more comfortable, and surround them with their favorite toys.
Continue to pet your dog in longer, more gentle strokes and speak to them gently. Your calming presence alone might be enough to calm them down.
Address heat issues
A cool bowl of water can often put an immediate stop to a dog’s panting when it is hot outside or after strenuous exercise.
Again, bring them inside immediately if you believe overheating is the cause of their panting. Consider investing in a cooling mat for them to lay on during the summer months.
If your dog is panting more often and has a thick coat, consider bringing them to a dog groomer for a de-shedding treatment.
Removing excess hair, especially in the summer, can help your dog feel more comfortable in the heat.
Reduce stressful surroundings
Many dogs will pant out of anxiety for loud noises, especially for fireworks on the 4th of July. Provide them with a weighted jacket such as a ThunderShirt or a familiar blanket.
You can also try calming treats and essential oils. Lavender oil is one that can be rubbed around your dog’s ears as aromatherapy to calm them down.
Another source of anxiety can be unfamiliar dogs or people. If possible, create space between your dog and the perceived stranger. Lead them to a quiet room where they can calm down.
Consider training your dog to get to know the dog or person over time by repeatedly meeting them for 10-15 minutes until their panting quiets down.
Your dog won’t see them as a stressor if you reward them for being friendly.
Call a vet if it continues
Body language such as limping, licking an area of pain, and difficulty moving around coupled with abnormal panting can point to health issues.
Carry your dog to the vet immediately if you believe your dog has a physical problem.
There are several physical problems tied to difficulty breathing. These include, but are not limited to:
Common in medium and large breed dogs, especially Retrievers, this is cartilage collapse caused by weakening in the laryngeal, or voice box, muscles.
Initial signs of this include change in shortage of breath, change in the sound of the bark, noisy breathing, and coughing.
Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome
This refers to a particular set of breathing abnormalities affecting brachycephalic dog breeds.
These include stenotic nares (small nostrils), hypoplastic trachea (trachea is small in diameter), and an elongated soft palate (which blocks the trachea).
Dogs with these problems will have noisier breathing or even snort more often.
Cushing’s syndrome, or hyperadrenocorticism
This health condition is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland. The adrenal glands in a dog’s body will overproduce cortisol in response.
Symptoms include excessive panting, lethargy, and increased hunger or thirst.
With heart failure, dogs will have difficulty breathing due to pulmonary edema or fluid accumulation in the lungs.
Coughing may also be caused by an enlarged heart bumping against the trachea. Dogs with heart failure will tire quickly and breathe with exertion.
Petting is an enjoyable and natural way of bonding with your dog. Doing this often, or just spending time around your dog will help you adjust to your dog’s normal behaviors.
Panting is an instinctive way of breathing that can be a helpful sign of behavioral or physical problems.
Figure out what your dog is saying to you when it sounds unusual. Tune in to their body’s natural rhythms.
As much as we wish our pets could talk back to us, a strong bond with your dog and reading their body language is the next best thing.