Why Do Dogs Pant? - LUV My dogs

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why Do Dogs Pant?

  Have you ever seen a clever pooch wipe his face with a bandana on a particularly hot day? Probably not. Dogs are built to handle the heat very differently than their owners are.

  Dogs pant. They pant when they’re hot, they pant when they’re excited, they pant when they’re scared, and sometimes they seem to pant for no good reason at all (from our point of view, at least). When a dog is panting more than expected, should an owner be concerned? The answer is "maybe."
  Excessive panting can be a sign of a medical problem, including obesity, heart problems, diseases of the lung, laryngeal paralysis, canine cognitive dysfunction and other disorders that cause anxiety, steroid use, Cushing’s disease, and more. If your dog has begun panting at what appears to be inappropriate times, the first thing you should do is make an appointment with your veterinarian.
  My normal work-up for a dog that is panting a lot includes a history, physical exam, chest X-rays, a blood chemistry panel, complete blood cell count, urinalysis, fecal examination, and heartworm test if prevention and testing is not current. Depending on my findings, I might also recommend an EKG, blood pressure testing, a laryngeal exam under light sedation, and additional testing for Cushing’s disease.
  Most dogs, especially those with thick coats, are really built for cold weather. Dogs just can’t dissipate heat as well as animals that can sweat. With any type of exercise, even my thin-coated boxer quickly turns into a pooped-out panter in the summertime. So, while you might feel that the temperature indoors or out is on the cool side, your dog could very well be thinking, "Who turned up the heat?" Pay attention to your dog’s behavior. If he is seeking out cool places in the house or yard and doesn’t pant when he finds one, you’ve probably found your answer.
  This type of heat intolerance becomes even more profound as dogs age. I’ve met many an elderly dog that seems to be on his last legs during the summer months, but bounces back when winter arrives.
  While they do sweat from their paw pads and other less furry areas, the primary way dogs cool off is through panting. Panting is very rapid, shallow breathing that enhances the evaporation of water from the tongue, mouth and upper respiratory tract. Evaporation dissipates heat as water vapor.
  Magic? Pretty close. A panting dog can take 300 to 400 breaths per minute (the normal canine breathing rate is 30 to 40 breaths per minute), yet it requires surprisingly little effort. Because of the natural elasticity of the lungs and airways, panting does not expend much energy, nor does it create additional heat. Pretty cool, indeed.


Here are a few of the more common reasons.

Dogs arent't like people
  Obviously, dogs have a vastly different physiology than people. For one thing, dogs have fur - the equivalent of a coat. Imagine you’re running around in the hot sun, with a coat on, and you can’t take it off! After a while, you’d start to sweat and look for something to drink -- the cooler the better.

Science of Sweat
  Water locks in heat and carries it away from your body. That's why we sweat when we get hot—our bodies are regulating our temperatures, forcing excess heat out in beads of sweat. Since we have unobstructed pores all over our bodies, sweating comes pretty easily. Dogs, however, don't have that luxury. The only place where a dog can sweat is his foot pads, and the rest of his body is covered in a fur coat that he can't take off. Since he can't sweat, what's a hot dog to do?

Dangerous signs- heatstroke
  Panting is a sign that your dog is excited, hot, or both. But panting is also a warning sign. If your dog is taking a break from exercise and continues to pant heavily, this could be a sign of heatstroke – a medical emergency. Move your dog to a cool spot or indoors immediately. When playing with your dog outside in hot weather, it’s vital to bring along water for her to drink too. 

Keeping Cool
  This is why dogs pant: to keep cool. When a dog opens his mouth and pants, he's releasing moisture the best way he can. This is why your dog's breath is so hot and moist—not particularly appealing, perhaps, but it's his body's most efficient way of dispensing that extra body heat. A dog's mouth breath is actually warmer than his nasal breath, so when he opens up that trap, his tongue actually expands and he pushes heat straight out of his body.

Dangerous signs- poisoning, allergic reaction
  Panting can also be an important sign that something is physically wrong with your dog, especially if there is no discernible reason as to why she is panting. When accompanied by other signs like lethargy and vomiting, panting can be an indicator that your dog has ingested poison or is having a severe allergic reaction that is affecting her ability to breathe. This is especially important to watch out for if your dog is on any kind of medication.

Heavy Panting
  Of course, panting isn't always just how your dog stays cool. Certain medical conditions can cause your dog to pant—not necessarily because he's hot, but because he's out of breath. Heart failure, injuries and respiratory disorders like pneumonia can make him pant more than usual. If your dog isn't chronically ill, he may have exercised too vigorously, or become overheated. An overheated dog is going to pant relentlessly in an attempt to cool down, but as his doting owner, you can step in and help.

Dangerous signs- illness
  Another possible reason your dog suddenly starts to pant is as a symptom of illness. A sudden increase in heart rate and panting to catch her breath can be a warning that your dog has a heart problem. Other illnesses that can cause your dog to suddenly start panting include respiratory problems like pneumonia and Cushing’s syndrome (adrenal glands producing too much cortisol).

Cooling Off
 If your dog appears to be overheated and panting too much, there isn't much he can do, but you can help him cool down. For example, hold him in front of a fan or air conditioner to help his body cool down. Give him a bath in cool water, and give him cold water to drink. He may even enjoy licking an ice cube to cool off. Don't cool him down too fast, though, or it will be a shock to his system—he needs to have his temperature lowered gradually. If you suspect overheating or heatstroke, take him to a vet as soon as you can.

Head for cover!
  While relaxing indoors, a dog may suddenly start panting if an electrical storm passes by. This is a normal fear response -- dogs are easily startled by loud noises and bright flashes of light (such as with thunder and lightning). Dogs also look to people to know how to act, so if you act normal during a storm, they’ll be less prone to panic. Still, if your dog feels the need to hide under the bed (or under your legs), allow her to do that until she feels that the worst is over.



In short, if your dog is panting a lot, get him checked out by your vet, but don’t panic. As a friend recently put it, the dog may simply have "excessive panting syndrome." You won’t find that diagnosis in any veterinary textbook, but it seems to fit the bill in many cases.

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