Dog Panting: Normal vs Heavy Panting Explained [24 Causes]

While it’s normal for dogs to pant, especially when they’re hot, excited, or energetic, heavy panting goes beyond the usual panting associated with these situations. Heavy panting may indicate underlying issues such as overheating, chronic health problems, or life-threatening trauma.

Normal vs. Excessive Panting

Normal panting is a physiological response that helps dogs regulate their body temperature. Dogs pant to cool themselves down since they don’t have sweat glands like humans.

Normal panting is characterized by open-mouth breathing, a slightly parted tongue, and a moderate amount of saliva.

On the other hand, heavy panting is excessive and may occur even when the dog is at rest. It can be a sign of an underlying health issue and should be monitored closely.

Heavy panting may be rapid, uncontrollable, and accompanied by other symptoms such as changes in the color of the gums, restlessness, or abnormal breathing sounds. It can indicate conditions like heatstroke, heart failure, pain, illness, or anxiety. When heavy panting is observed, it is important to assess the situation and consult a veterinarian.

1. Reduced stamina and exercise intolerance

When a dog’s stamina is compromised, it affects their ability to engage in physical activity and maintain a normal exercise routine. Consequently, dogs may experience panting as they struggle to meet their increased oxygen demands during exercise.

Exercise Intolerance and its Impact on Panting:

Exercise intolerance refers to a reduced ability to perform physical activities without experiencing excessive fatigue or discomfort. 

Symptoms of Reduced Stamina and Exercise Intolerance:

In addition to panting, dogs with reduced stamina and exercise intolerance may display other symptoms, including:

  • Lethargy and decreased energy levels
  • Reluctance to engage in physical activity or play
  • Increased heart rate during exercise
  • Fainting or collapsing during exertion

Diagnosis and Treatment:

Vet will examine and run diagnostic tests to identify the underlying cause of reduced stamina and exercise intolerance in dogs. 

This may include blood tests, imaging studies, electrocardiograms (ECG), and physical evaluations. 

Once the cause is determined, appropriate treatment strategies can be implemented, which may involve:

Medications to manage underlying medical conditions

Tailored exercise programs to gradually improve fitness levels

Dietary adjustments to support overall health and energy levels

Use of ramps to help your dog access areas.

2. Upper Respiratory Infections (URIs)

Dogs can develop infections in their upper respiratory tract, including the nose, sinuses, and pharynx. 

Upper respiratory infections in dogs are typically highly contagious and can be caused by viral and bacterial pathogens that enter the oral and nasal cavities 

These infections can cause symptoms such as: 

  • nasal discharge
  • coughing (dry-sounding cough or a cough that sounds like hacking)
  • sneezing
  • throat irritation
  • panting
  • respiratory distress: In severe cases or if left untreated, URIs can progress and cause panting at rest, open-mouth breathing, gasping, and other signs of difficulty breathing. 

3. Kennel Cough

Kennel Cough, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs that results in inflammation of the trachea and bronchioles 

Here’s how Kennel Cough can lead to panting in dogs:

Persistent Cough: The hallmark symptom of Kennel Cough is a persistent, forceful cough that can sometimes sound like a goose honk. This coughing can be frequent and intense, leading to increased respiratory effort and panting as the dog tries to catch its breath.

Tracheal and Bronchial Inflammation: Kennel Cough causes inflammation of the trachea and bronchioles, resulting in airway irritation and narrowing. This inflammation can make it more difficult for dogs to breathe properly, leading to increased panting as they try to compensate for the compromised airway.

Exertional Stress: Dogs with Kennel Cough may experience exertional stress due to persistent coughing and compromised respiratory function. Increased panting can be observed when dogs engage in physical activity or become stressed, as their respiratory system is already compromised by the disease.

Secondary Respiratory Complications: In some cases, Kennel Cough can progress to bronchopneumonia, particularly in puppies, debilitated adults, or aged dogs. Bronchopneumonia is characterized by inflammation and infection in the lungs, leading to further respiratory distress and panting.

4. Pneumonia 

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs and airways that can result in respiratory disturbance and breathing difficulties in dogs. 

The condition can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, and protozoa, as well as by aspiration of vomit or improperly administered medications.

When dogs have pneumonia, the inflammation in their lungs and airways can lead to difficulty breathing and a reduced ability to inhale oxygen. 

In response to this respiratory distress, dogs may pant to increase their breathing rate and attempt to obtain more oxygen. Panting allows for a faster exchange of air in the lungs and helps dogs compensate for compromised respiratory function.

pneumonia in dogs

5. Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal collapse is a progressive disease of the trachea or windpipe, that commonly affects toy and small breed dogs, such as Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, and Toy Poodles, particularly those that are middle-aged or older. 

The condition involves the weakening and flattening of the cartilaginous rings that support the trachea

One of the main clinical signs of tracheal collapse in dogs is chronic coughing. 

When dogs with tracheal collapse experience coughing episodes, it can lead to increased respiratory effort and panting as they struggle to breathe properly. 

The panting is a compensatory mechanism to increase the intake of air and oxygen into the lungs and alleviate the respiratory distress caused by the collapsed trachea.

Tracheal collapse can cause other clinical signs in dogs, including: 

  • wheezing
  • cyanotic episodes (turning blue)
  • gagging or retching associated with coughing. 
  • respiratory distress 
heavy breathing in dogs

6. Chronic Bronchitis

The inflammatory process associated with chronic bronchitis leads to changes in the lower airways, including increased mucus production and neutrophilic inflammation. 

Excessive mucus production in the airways can obstruct the smaller bronchi, impairing the normal flow of air. This obstruction can result in increased respiratory effort and panting as dogs try to compensate for the decreased airflow and maintain adequate oxygenation.

Panting is a common response in dogs with respiratory distress as it helps increase the intake of air into the lungs. 

The panting serves to improve oxygenation and remove carbon dioxide from the body. Therefore, when dogs with chronic bronchitis experience breathing difficulties due to airway obstruction, they may pant more frequently as a compensatory mechanism.

7. Rhinitis 

One of the primary functions of the nasal passages is to filter the air before it reaches the lungs. 

When the nasal passages are affected by rhinitis and deteriorate or fail to function properly, the filtration function is compromised. This can expose the lungs to higher loads of dust and microorganisms, leading to potential respiratory issues.

When dogs have rhinitis, their nasal passages may be obstructed due to inflammation or excessive mucus production. This obstruction can affect normal breathing and hinder the dog’s ability to adequately cool down through panting.

Dogs with rhinitis may exhibit panting as a response to pain or discomfort associated with the condition. 

8. Lung tumors

Lung tumors in dogs can lead to panting due to several reasons. 

  1. the presence of a tumor in the lungs can physically obstruct the airways, making it difficult for the dog to breathe properly. This obstruction can result in increased respiratory effort, leading to panting as the dog tries to compensate for the reduced airflow. 
  1. lung tumors can cause inflammation and irritation in the respiratory system, which can trigger a panting response as the body attempts to alleviate discomfort. 
  2. lung tumors may induce an immune response or release substances that affect the respiratory centers in the brain, leading to abnormal breathing patterns, including panting.

Here is a list of lung tumors in dogs:

Bronchoalveolar Carcinoma: This is the most common type of primary lung tumor in dogs, originating from the bronchoalveolar cells of the lungs.

Adenocarcinoma: Another common primary lung tumor in dogs, adenocarcinomas develop from the glandular cells of the lung tissue.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This type of lung tumor arises from the squamous cells lining the airways.

Sarcoma: Although rare, sarcomas can develop in the lungs of dogs. Sarcomas are malignant tumors arising from connective tissues.

Metastatic Lung Tumors: In some cases, lung tumors in dogs may be secondary tumors that have spread (metastasized) to the lungs from primary tumors in other parts of the body.

lung tumors in dogs

9. Dyspnea

When dogs experience dyspnea, it indicates an underlying respiratory or cardiovascular problem that affects their ability to breathe properly. 

Here’s how dyspnea causes panting in dogs:

Respiratory Conditions: Dogs with respiratory diseases or infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, may develop dyspnea. These conditions can lead to inflammation or blockage of the airways, restricting airflow and making breathing more challenging. Panting can occur as dogs attempt to compensate for the reduced oxygen intake.

Heart Conditions: Some heart diseases, like congestive heart failure, can cause fluid accumulation in the lungs. This fluid impairs the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, resulting in dyspnea. Dogs with heart failure may pant in an effort to increase oxygenation and alleviate respiratory distress.

Dyspnea in dogs can also be associated with conditions like heartworm disease, laryngeal paralysis, certain types of cancer, or even pain. 

10. Tachypnea

Tachypnea refers to an increased respiratory rate or fast breathing in dogs. It is important to note that tachypnea itself does not necessarily indicate distress in dogs, unlike dyspnea, which is associated with labored breathing. 

Here’s how tachypnea can cause panting in dogs:

Pain and Stress: Tachypnea can be a primary symptom of pain and stress in dogs. Painful conditions such as osteoarthritis and Cushing’s disease can lead to tachypnea, which may trigger panting as a response to discomfort.

Illnesses Affecting Blood pH: Tachypnea can occur with illnesses that lower the pH of the blood. Conditions like kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, ethanol toxicity, and Addison’s disease can result in panting as a compensatory mechanism.

Respiratory Conditions: In some cases, tachypnea in dogs can be associated with upper respiratory causes. These may include airway obstructions, brachycephalic airway disease, or infections that affect the respiratory system.

11. Laryngeal paralysis

Laryngeal paralysis is a condition characterized by the dysfunction of the larynx, which is the voice box in dogs. 

The larynx normally opens to allow air into the trachea (windpipe) and closes to prevent the inhalation of food or water. In laryngeal paralysis, there is a loss of function in the nerve controlling the larynx, resulting in the narrowing of the airway and difficulties in breathing.

Here’s how laryngeal paralysis can cause panting in dogs:

Increased Respiratory Effort: Dogs with laryngeal paralysis have difficulties breathing deeply due to the narrowed airway. 

Stress and Heat Intolerance: Dogs with laryngeal paralysis may experience an increase in panting during times of stress or in hot and humid conditions.

Exercise Intolerance: The restricted airflow and compromised respiratory function make it challenging for affected dogs to engage in physical activities. 

laryngeal paralysis in dogs can present with other clinical signs, including: 

  • dry cough
  • voice changes
  • noisy breathing 
  • regurgitation or vomiting
  • significant increase in panting or loud breathing

12. Cushing’s disease 

Cushing’s disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, is a hormonal disorder that occurs when the adrenal glands produce excessive amounts of cortisol, a stress hormone. 

In most cases, Cushing’s disease in dogs is caused by a pituitary adenoma, a benign tumor in the pituitary gland located at the base of the brain.

Here’s how Cushing’s syndrome  can cause panting in dogs:

Increased Cortisol Levels: Excess cortisol in the body can lead to an array of systemic effects, including increased panting. 

Heat Intolerance: Dogs with Cushing’s disease may experience reduced heat tolerance. Elevated cortisol levels can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature effectively. 

Muscle Weakness and Exercise Intolerance: Cushing’s disease can also result in muscle weakness and exercise intolerance in dogs. As the disease progresses, dogs may find it more challenging to engage in physical activities, leading to panting as they struggle to meet their oxygen demands during exertion.

Cushing’s disease in dogs can present with other clinical signs, including: 

  • increased thirst and urination
  • increased appetite
  • hair loss or poor regrowth
  • pot-belly appearance
  • thin skin, and recurrent skin infections

13. Anaemia

Anemia is a medical condition characterized by a reduced number of circulating red blood cells (RBCs) or a decrease in hemoglobin, which is the oxygen-carrying component of the blood. 

Panting in dogs is a common clinical sign associated with anemia, and it occurs due to: 

  1. When dogs have anemia, there is a decreased oxygen-carrying capacity in their blood. This leads to inadequate oxygen supply to the tissues and organs, including the brain. In response to low oxygen levels, dogs instinctively pant to increase their respiratory rate and intake more oxygen. 
  1. Anemia can cause increased heart rate and respiratory effort as the body tries to compensate for the lack of oxygen in the blood. The heart beats faster to pump a larger volume of blood, while the respiratory rate increases to enhance oxygen exchange in the lungs. This increased respiratory effort leads to panting as dogs breathe rapidly and shallowly.

14. Dementia

Dementia in dogs, similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, is a progressive condition that affects the brain as dogs age. 

The exact cause of CCD is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve changes such as the accumulation of harmful proteins (beta-amyloid plaques) and poor blood flow to the brain 

CCD leads to cognitive difficulties in dogs, including memory loss, difficulty learning, disorientation, and changes in behavior. 

While panting is not a direct symptom of CCD, it is possible that dogs with dementia may exhibit increased panting due to stress, anxiety, or discomfort caused by their cognitive decline. 

15. GDV and bloat

Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) and bloat in dogs is a serious and life-threatening condition that occurs when a dog’s stomach becomes dilated and distended with gas or fluid, and then rotates on its axis, trapping the gas or fluid inside

When a dog experiences GDV or bloat, several physiological changes occur in the body, which can contribute to panting. 

  1. The distension of the stomach puts pressure on the surrounding organs, including the diaphragm, which is the primary muscle involved in breathing. This pressure can restrict the movement of the diaphragm and make it difficult for the dog to breathe normally, leading to increased panting as a compensatory mechanism to facilitate oxygen intake.
  1. The rotation or twisting of the stomach in GDV can compress the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the abdominal organs, including the diaphragm and lungs. This compromised blood flow can result in reduced oxygen supply to these vital structures, causing the dog to pant in an attempt to increase oxygenation.

16. Heart issues

Common heart issues that can lead to panting in dogs:

Cardiovascular Disease: This condition can manifest as exercise intolerance, weakness, coughing, difficulty breathing, increased breathing rate, abdominal swelling (caused by fluid pooling in the abdomen), loss of consciousness due to lack of blood flow to the brain (fainting), or a bluish tinge to the skin.

Heartworm Disease: Heartworm disease, caused by parasitic infection, can affect the heart and lungs of dogs. It can lead to panting as well as other symptoms such as coughing, exercise intolerance, weight loss, and difficulty breathing.

Valvular Disease: Valvular disease in dogs refers to the degeneration or malformation of heart valves. When the heart valves weaken, they may fail to close properly, causing blood to leak around the valves. This can lead to panting and may eventually progress to heart failure.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM): DCM is a condition characterized by the weakening and enlargement of the heart muscle, resulting in poor heart function. Dogs with DCM may experience panting along with symptoms such as exercise intolerance, coughing, rapid breathing, and fatigue.

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF): CHF occurs when the heart is unable to pump blood effectively, leading to fluid accumulation in the lungs or abdomen. Dogs with CHF may pant due to respiratory distress caused by fluid buildup. Other signs can include coughing, exercise intolerance, weakness, and decreased appetite

17. Arthritis

Arthritis is inflammation of a joint and is commonly associated with degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis. 

While panting is not a direct symptom of arthritis, it can occur as a result of the pain and discomfort associated with the condition.

Arthritis causes joint pain and stiffness, which can limit a dog’s mobility and activity level. As dogs experience pain and discomfort when moving, they may pant in response to the physical exertion and to cope with the discomfort. 

In addition to pain, dogs with arthritis may exhibit other signs such as: 

  • lameness
  • joint swelling
  • muscle atrophy
  • reduced range of motion 

Managing arthritis in dogs involves a multimodal approach that may include pain management, weight control, exercise modifications, physical therapy, and, in some cases, medication or supplements to support joint health.

18. Medication allergies 

When a dog is allergic to a medication, their immune system reacts negatively to the drug, resulting in an allergic response. 

This response can manifest in panting as a result of the dog’s body trying to cope with the allergic reaction and the associated discomfort or distress caused by the medication.

Other signs of an allergic reaction to medication can include: 

  • itching
  • hives
  • swelling
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • difficulty breathing or collapse 

These symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the allergic reaction and the specific drug involved.

If a dog exhibits panting or other concerning symptoms after starting a new medication, it is crucial to consult a veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian will evaluate the dog’s condition, consider the medication’s potential role in the symptoms, and may recommend discontinuing the medication or providing appropriate treatment.

Allergic reactions to medications can be serious and potentially life-threatening in some cases. 

19. Poisoning or ingestion of toxic substances 

When a dog ingests a toxic substance, whether it is a poisonous plant, household chemical, medication, or any other harmful substance, it can have detrimental effects on the body’s tissues, organs, or processes. 

The specific symptoms and severity of poisoning can vary depending on the type of toxin involved and the amount ingested.

Poisoning or ingestion of toxic substances can cause various physiological and neurological reactions, leading to increased respiration and panting as the dog’s body tries to cope with the toxic effects and eliminate the toxin from its system

Panting may also be associated with other symptoms of poisoning, such as gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, or blood in urine and stool.

Other signs and symptoms may also be present, depending on the specific toxin and the dog’s individual response. These can include vomiting, drooling, weakness, tremors, seizures, difficulty breathing, and changes in behavior or consciousness.

If you suspect that your dog has ingested a toxic substance or has been poisoned, contact your veterinarian, an emergency veterinarian, or a poison control center to discuss the situation and receive guidance on the next steps to take.

20. Heat stroke

During heat stroke, a dog’s body temperature rises to dangerous levels, causing dysfunction in their central nervous system and impairing normal bodily functions. 

Panting intensifies as the dog’s body attempts to cool down by evaporation of moisture from the respiratory tract and skin.

Panting in heat stroke is often heavier, more labored, and accompanied by other signs such as: 

  • excessive drooling
  • seeking shade
  • reluctance to move
  • increased heart rate
  • restlessness
  • agitation 
  • anxiety
  • whining
  • trembling
  • increased thirst 
  • panting serves as an indicator of the dog’s physiological response to the heat stress, indicating their attempt to regulate their body temperature.

Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition for dogs and should be taken seriously. If a dog is exhibiting signs of heat stroke, immediate veterinary care is a priority. 

While transporting the dog to the veterinarian, measures can be taken to help cool them down, such as misting their body with cool water, placing them in front of a fan, or providing cool water to drink if they are able to swallow safely. 

However, it is crucial to avoid using very cold water or ice packs, as rapid cooling can lead to shock.

21. Anxiety, fear, and stress

When dogs experience anxiety, fear, or stress, their body’s stress response is activated. 

This response involves the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, which can lead to various physiological changes in the body. One of the effects is an increase in the dog’s respiration rate, resulting in panting.

Anxiety, fear, and stress can manifest in different situations for dogs, such as veterinary visits, grooming procedures, loud noises like fireworks, or other stimuli that they perceive as threatening or uncomfortable.

 In these situations, dogs may exhibit signs of panting along with other behavioral and physiological indicators of distress, such as: 

  • pacing
  • trembling
  • salivating
  • dilated pupils
  • increased heart rate
  •  increased blood pressure

Panting serves as a visible sign of the dog’s emotional state and can be an indication that they are trying to cope with the anxiety, fear, or stress they are experiencing. 

22. Pain

Pain in dogs can result from various causes such as injury, illness, inflammation, or underlying health conditions. When a dog is in pain, the body’s stress response is activated, which can lead to an increase in respiration and panting as a way to cope with the discomfort

Panting in response to pain is often accompanied by other signs that indicate the dog’s discomfort, such as: 

  • restlessness
  • vocalization
  • changes in posture or gait
  • decreased appetite
  • lethargy
  • aggression

23. Obesity

When dogs are overweight or obese, their bodies have to work harder to carry the extra weight. 

The excess body fat can put additional strain on their respiratory system, making it more difficult for them to breathe efficiently. This can lead to an increase in respiration rate and panting.

Obesity is often associated with reduced fitness and exercise intolerance in dogs. Lack of regular physical activity and decreased cardiovascular fitness can contribute to panting during even mild physical exertion. 

Furthermore, obesity is linked to various health issues such as: 

  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • orthopedic problems like osteoarthritis.

It’s important to note that excessive panting alone is not a definitive sign of obesity. However, it can be one of the indications that prompt further investigation. As a veterinarian, I would evaluate the dog’s overall body condition, including body weight, body condition score, and waistline appearance, to assess if obesity is a contributing factor to the panting [6].

Signs of obesity in their dogs include: 

  • visible layer of fat
  • difficulty in feeling the ribs
  • lack of a defined waistline. 

24. Environmental Factors

Environmental factors can also play a role in excessive panting. 

For example, overheating, high humidity, and exposure to pollutants such as cigarette smoke can cause dogs to pant excessively. 

Dogs that are exposed to extreme temperatures or subjected to strenuous exercise may pant excessively as a way to cool down. It’s important to provide your dog with a comfortable living environment and avoid exposing them to harmful pollutants.

Recognizing the Signs of Excessive Panting/ Time for Vet visit

Panting is a natural way for dogs to regulate their body temperature and cool down when they’re hot or excited. 

However, excessive panting can be a cause for concern and may indicate an underlying health issue. In this article, we’ll discuss how to recognize the signs of excessive panting in your dog.

Changes in Panting Patterns

If you do notice changes in your dog’s panting patterns, such as panting that persists for long periods or occurs at odd times, it’s worth paying attention to and it is time for the vet visit.

For example, if your dog normally pants after a walk or during playtime, but suddenly starts panting while lying down or watching TV.

If your dog starts panting during the night or when they’re resting, it may indicate Medical Conditions: 

  • pain
  • heatstroke
  • heart disease, obesity
  • respiratory issues
  • medication side effects
  • anemia
  • poisoning
  • allergic reactions
  • Cushing’s disease

Liver Weakness: liver activity is typically highest between 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. If a dog pants during this time schedule a vet visit ASAP.

Accompanying Symptoms

Excessive panting can be accompanied by other symptoms, such as: 

  • coughing or wheezing
  • rapid breathing
  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite 

Diagnosing the Underlying Issue

Your vet will likely perform a physical exam, take X-rays or perform blood tests to determine the underlying cause of your dog’s panting.

During the physical exam, your vet will check your dog’s heart rate and breathing rate to determine if they are within a normal range. They will also listen to your dog’s heart and lungs for any abnormalities. 

If your vet suspects a heart condition, they may recommend an electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure your dog’s heart activity.

Blood tests may also be performed to check for any underlying medical conditions, such as anemia, diabetes, or thyroid issues, that could be causing your dog’s excessive panting.

Your vet may also conduct other diagnostic tests, such as an ECG or an ultrasound of your dog’s heart, to determine if there are any underlying medical conditions that are causing the excessive panting. An ECG can help identify any irregularities in your dog’s heart rhythm, while an ultrasound can provide a detailed image of your dog’s heart to check for any structural abnormalities.

Excessive panting in older dogs can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, environmental factors, or anxiety and stress. By understanding the causes of excessive panting in older dogs, recognizing the signs, and getting prompt veterinary attention, you can help your dog feel more comfortable and improve their quality of life.