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Why is my dog panting when it’s not hot?

Have you been enjoying a lazy day on the couch or a cool, fall breeze with your dog and noticed them panting, even with mild temperatures or low activity?

There are a number of reasons that you might find your dog panting that have nothing to do with the ambient temperature of the environment.

A dog panting when it’s not hot may be caused by anxiety or stress, pain, medical conditions, medications, or over-exertion.

Read on to learn more about possible conditions that might lead to your dog panting even when it’s not hot.

What is Panting?

A dog panting will look like a low, hanging tongue along with rapid and shallow breathing. Sometimes a panting dog might even look like they are smiling!

Generally, you might find your dog panting after an exciting game of fetch or an intense round of tug-o-war with their best friend. This panting serves a biological purpose; it helps to cool your dog down since dogs don’t use sweat to cool them off as we do. The increased rate of breath helps to exchange the hot air from inside the lungs with the cooler air from outside the body.

Dogs also release heat through their paw pads and nose to help cool themselves down.

However, as previously stated, there are other reasons a dog might be panting that owners should be aware of, as this could potentially be a symptom of an underlying issue.

Panting in cooler temperatures

The following could all be factors contributing to a dog panting in moderate to cool temperatures:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Pain
  • Medical conditions
  • Medications
  • Over-exertion

Anxiety and stress

Dogs communicate primarily with body language. When a dog is experiencing stress, panting may be accompanied by whining, pacing, shaking, or yawning. Your dog might also be presenting these behaviors as coping mechanisms, like humans biting their nails or shaking their legs when feeling nervous.

Try to identify any of your dog’s particular stressors such as thunder, meeting new people/dogs, or other loud sounds in their environment. Try to mitigate these stressors as much as possible.

Luckily, there are many ways to comfort our furry friends!

Try a thunder shirt, stuffed kong, or training game to try calming and supporting a stressed-out dog.

When introducing your dog to new people, always make sure the interaction is at the dog’s pace to ensure a pleasant and comfortable greeting.

You can even consult a dog trainer to use classical conditioning to desensitize your dog to “scary” sounds or situations around them.

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In extreme cases, anxiety in a dog may be treated by consulting a veterinary behaviorist who may suggest behavior modification training or anti-anxiety medication, as chronic anxiety may be a genetic condition.

Pain

A dog in pain may pant to try to communicate and cope with their uncomfortable situation. If you notice panting accompanied by any limping, licking of the extremities, whimpering, or sudden lack of activity or mobility, thoroughly check your dog for any obvious injuries. If needed, consult your veterinarian.

Medical conditions

Panting may arise with medical conditions that cause respiratory stress or fatigue. Some medical conditions with panting as a symptom include:

  • Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome – typically seen in dogs with short snouts and flat faces such as Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pugs, Shar-Peis, Boxers, etc.
  • Obesity
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Heart disease – due to the body not receiving adequate oxygen

Medications

Some dogs may exhibit panting as a side effect due to medication. This is a common side effect of prednisone and other steroids.

Even though this type of panting is not due to heat, it’s certainly not a bad idea to provide your dog with a cool, comfortable, and relaxing environment to calm their nervous system. If the panting appears excessive, consult your veterinarian.

Over-exertion

Your dog may display panting as a side effect of, not heat, but overexertion. Even with cooler temperatures outside, if your dog is running excessively chasing their favorite ball or playing with their favorite friend, this might lead to increased temperature INSIDE their body. This creates the need to cool down by panting.

So, while the external temperature may be cool, it’s the exertion of energy that has caused your dog to warm up and need to pant, which is a normal physiological response to physical exertion.

When exercising your dog, always may sure they have access to shade and clean drinking water.

How to determine the cause of panting

Responsible dog owners should always have an understanding of their dog’s baseline behavior. Knowing your dog’s “normal” can help you detect when something might be wrong. Things to be familiar with might include knowing your dog’s

  • Typical daily food intake or appetite
  • Average water consumption
  • Heart rate
  • Urination frequency
  • Defecation frequency (this might also include knowing what your dog’s poo normally looks like!)
  • General behavior (For example, if your dog starts suddenly becoming territorial of his/her space or resources, this could be an indicator that your dog is feeling vulnerable and something might be wrong).

Also, checking them daily for any physical abnormalities like wounds, bumps, or other injuries can be an important step in preventing the progression of underlying illnesses or trauma.

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Always consult your veterinarian if you detect abnormalities in your dog’s behavior or appearance.

A vet might choose to run certain diagnostic tests to determine any underlying cause of excessive, non-heat-related panting.

Some tests a veterinarian might run include testing for asthma, kennel cough, and respiratory infections, among other diseases or abnormalities. These tests might include obtaining x-rays of your pet, running blood work panels, or a urine or feces collection.

Providing care and treatment

Providing care and treatment for excessive panting, of course, starts with determining the underlying cause. It is critical to, first and foremost, KNOW your pet! Reasons for panting unrelated to heat vary greatly in their seriousness. The following steps will help you care for your dog:

  • Create a safe and calm environment for your dog to retreat to, like a kennel or special dog bed
  • Track any anxious behaviors
  • Identify your dog’s external stressors to prevent anxious behaviors (This can aid in any subsequent training or treatment.)
  • Monitor your dog for any abnormalities

You can also work with a trainer on husbandry behaviors so your dog is comfortable with you and the vet checking for abnormalities. This might include desensitization training to help them feel more at ease when getting teeth/gums checked, nails clipped, wounds cleaned, blood drawn, etc.

Never self-medicate your dog without consulting your veterinarian. If your dog is prescribed medication, always make sure to follow the veterinarian’s directions exactly to help prevent any adverse reactions.

Final thoughts

To recap, causes for a dog panting due to non-heat related reasons can include physical abnormalities, stress, and even having too much fun! Other symptoms to look for that might indicate an unseen problem include whining, licking, shaking, pacing, or lethargy.

At the end of the day, panting is a completely normal biological process dogs use to communicate and manage physical or mental conditions and to cool themselves down.

It is always important to understand how your pet normally acts, from how they carry themselves to how they interact with you and others. As stated previously, knowing your dog is the first and most important step to caring for them.

If you become concerned with your dog’s excessive panting when it’s not hot out, it’s critical to consult your veterinarian to determine any undetected issues. Getting proper care and treatment is the best way we can support our beloved fur kids and the best way to prevent the need for panting due to reasons other than external heat.