Why does my dog pant?

March 29, 2024 - 6 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.

Ever scratched your head wondering about your dog's panting habits—what's normal and when to worry?

You're in good company. The soundtrack of my shepherd panting away in our air-conditioned room was a mystery that kept me up at night (literally). It turns out his winter coat hadn't caught the memo about unseasonably warm temperatures. In his case, a cooling mat definitely helped.

But sometimes panting is more than just a case of dogs being dogs, and could hint at deeper health woes. So how can you tell?

Before we start, just one thing: You know your dog best. If you're worried about your dog's excessive panting—especially if it's sudden, extreme, or coupled with other symptoms—call your vet ASAP. They'll be able to give you advice tailored to your dog's specific age, stage, and condition.

OK, let's get started.

Why do dogs usually pant?

To cool down

Dogs pant primarily to cool down.

Unlike humans, dogs have very few sweat glands, located primarily in their paw pads. This means they can't sweat through their skin to regulate their body temperature. Instead, dogs pant to evaporate moisture from their tongues, nasal passages, and the lining of their lungs. They're cooled as air passes over the moist tissue.

Craving a more technical explanation? Here's a quote from a great study on the topic of heatstroke in dogs:

"Activation of the panting center is the initial compensatory response to increased ambient heat in dogs, which allows large quantities of air to be brought into contact with the wide evaporative surface area provided by the moist mucous membranes of the nasal turbinates and the oral cavity."

The study also goes into detail about how some cooling can be achieved via "radiation" and "conduction," where your dog's body heat dissipates in contact with other surfaces or sources. It's also probably the reason your dog prefers to chill in a dirt hole under that tree rather than that fancy elevated dog bed on the patio. (Bonus mystery solved!)

But cooling by radiation or conduction has its limits. When temperatures really start to rise—or your dog just finished a mini-zoomie-session around the kitchen—panting is the most efficient way to cool down.

They're anxious or stressed

Small happy dog portrait, close-up of cute brown puppy smiling outdoors in a park, funny emotional puppy with tongue sticking out

Did your dog start panting as soon as you pulled up to the vet's office?

Excessive panting can actually be a sign of anxiety or stress in your dog. When your dog's cortisol rises, their heart rate may also increase, leading to more rapid breathing or panting.

Other signs of anxiety in dogs include:

  • More frequent yawning

  • Licking lips

  • Mouth held in a tight line

  • Ears pinned back or fully upright

  • Increased visibility of the sclera (whites of the eyes)

  • Tail tucked

  • Guarded stance/cowering

  • Shaking

  • Increased vocalization

  • Excessive drooling

  • Pacing

  • Avoidance behavior (hiding, turning/looking/moving away, etc.)

In some cases, it's clear what the source of stress could be (e.g., it's their first car ride, or your 2-year-old niece is visiting and won't leave your poor dog alone). In other cases, it's not quite as obvious. Dogs do have incredible senses, so it's entirely possible you just can't smell or see what triggered them.

While it could just be the firecrackers your neighbor inexplicably set off in the middle of the day, these signs could also point to an underlying health issue. Call your vet!

They can't breathe well

pug on cushion

Some breeds suffer from a combination of structural abnormalities that result in a condition called "brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS)." BOAS makes it difficult for pups to breathe, which may result in more panting.

BOAS isn't limited to small brachycephalic breeds like pugs and Frenchies; some larger breeds like bulldogs and boxers have been known to suffer from the condition.

Unfortunately, irresponsible breeding has increased the severity of these anatomical changes over time, which makes it especially important to seek out a reputable breeder.

Your vet can determine whether your dog has BOAS and how you can manage the condition. If your dog's symptoms are severe enough, surgery might be required.

When panting signals a problem

Excessive panting might not just be hot air; it could flag health issues that need immediate attention. Here are a few to look out for.


Scruffs cool mat

Dogs experiencing heatstroke typically pant heavily. They may also:

  • Appear to be upset or distressed

  • Seem weak

  • Drool more than usual

  • Foam at the mouth

  • Have an increased heart rate

  • Vomit

And it doesn't have to be a blazing hot day, either. "Exertional" heatstroke can be brought on by a prolonged game of fetch, especially if your dog doesn't have an "off switch".

And some research indicates that dogs—particularly males and younger dogs—are just as likely to die from exercise-induced heatstroke as they are from being left in hot cars (yikes!).

Fortunately, there are ways to exercise your dog safely on hot days. Pay attention to their physical signals and the temperature outside, particularly if you're planning a hike or an extended play time. And know when to set limits if your dog just can't. Stop. PLAYING.


Dog laying on the floor next to opened chocolate bar

If your dog's gotten into something toxic—whether it's marijuana, chocolate, or those seemingly innocuous mushrooms growing outside—it can trigger rapid panting. Other signs of poisoning in dogs include:

If you suspect your dog has gotten into something toxic—or they're showing any concerning signs—act fast. Reach out to your vet, a nearby on-call vet, animal urgent care, or pet emergency hospital ASAP.

If your pet is not acting sick but you think they've been exposed to poison, you can also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) or Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661).

Heart issues

One of the more serious reasons why your dog might be panting heavily: cardiac issues.

Mitral valve disease (MVD), in particular, can cause difficulty breathing, even when your dog is at rest.

Here are some other symptoms of MVD in dogs:

  • Coughing

  • Reluctance to exercise or trouble recovering from exercise

  • Decreased appetite or lack of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Weakness

  • Collapse

If you suspect your dog has MVD—or they're experiencing any concerning symptoms like these—reach out to your vet ASAP. Heart issues can be serious, but treatment options may be available.

Cushing’s disease

Alaskan Klee Kai dog is sitting on a wood floor in front of a fireplace. This dog has Cushing's disease and one of the side effects is extreme thirst and panting. The red on his coat is from excess hormone secretions that are also caused by the disease

Cushing’s disease—often triggered by the overproduction of cortisol—is one of the most common hormonal diseases in dogs.

In addition to increased panting, dogs with Cushing's disease may experience:

Even if your dog is exhibiting all the signs of Cushing's disease, your vet will need to run tests to be absolutely sure before offering treatment options.


If your dog is suddenly panting, it could actually be a sign they're in pain.

Dogs are notorious for hiding signs of injury, but there are a few telltale signs that something's awry. They may even look like behavioral issues.

In addition to panting, you might notice:

  • Whining or groaning

  • Limping or favoring a limb

  • Reluctance to move

  • Changes in posture

  • Decreased appetite

  • Changes in sleeping patterns

  • Increased licking of a specific area

  • Irritability or aggression

Again, if your dog exhibits any of these symptoms or you're noticing sudden behavioral changes, repeat after me: call the vet!


Fat Pug

If your dog's carrying extra weight, you might also notice they're having a little more difficulty breathing. (It might be especially pronounced in brachycephalic dogs.)

Why? Well, beyond the obvious fact that a dog may be quite literally lugging around extra weight, one study suggests that "global stiffening of the respiratory system with decreased compliance of the lungs and chest walls is believed to be involved."

Not only is being overweight pretty uncomfortable for your pup, but it also puts them at risk of developing serious health issues, according to veterinary surgeon Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM, MRCVS.

"Obesity is a common problem vets see in the clinic every day," says Ronngren. "Keeping your pet at a healthy weight can significantly prolong their lifespan."

Keeping your pet at a healthy weight can significantly prolong their lifespan.

Not sure if your dog's overweight (or even how to weigh them at home)? Your vet can offer guidance, help you get a plan in place, and possibly refer you to a great pet nutritionist.

Distinguishing normal vs. excessive panting in dogs

The bottom line? It's pretty normal for a dog to pant after exercise or when it's hot out, and panting should settle down as the dog cools or calms.

Excessive panting, however, might look disproportionate to the dog's recent activity or ambient temperature. It might also include other concerning symptoms like the ones listed above.

In any case, it's never a bad idea to give your vet a call and find out what's normal for your dog!

How dog insurance can help

The bottom line? Don't silence your pup-parent sixth sense.

You might feel like you're overreacting by worrying about your dog's panting, but taking action for your dog's health now is usually safer (and less expensive) than dealing with it later on.

Kudos to you! Take it a step further and consider signing up for a dog insurance policy today. Pet insurance is designed to help you pay for unexpected accidents and illnesses that befall your dog, whether you have a purebred or a lovable mixed breed. Get your quote today!

Get a risk-free dog insurance quote

*pre-existing conditions excluded. See your policy for details.

Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.