Is Your Dog Just Panting, Or Is it having Trouble Breathing?
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on April 2, 2019
Posted in Dog Allergies
The sight and sound of a dog panting is very familiar to dog owners—all dogs will pant at some point or another, letting their tongue hang out as they catch their breath after a strenuous run or on a hot day. Panting is a normal bodily process that dog owners should expect, but it can sometimes be worrisome, since it may appear that your dog is having trouble catching its breath.
More often than not, your dog’s panting is completely fine. Dogs can’t sweat through their skin (although they do sometimes sweat through their paw pads). Panting helps them circulate air throughout their bodies to cool down after exercise or when the temperature climbs. This panting is nothing to worry about.
However, certain types of panting can also indicate a health problem. A certain style of panting can actually indicate that your dog is suffering from an asthma attack and is having trouble breathing.
The important thing about panting is to make sure you can tell the difference between normal panting and panting that could indicate a health issue, so you’re able to take immediate action to protect your pup.
Understanding asthma in dogs
One underlying cause for excessive, intense panting is asthma. Asthma is a respiratory condition that is not always common in dogs (unlike cats, who are more likely to develop it).
The condition is closely tied to allergies. Exposure to a particular allergen in the air can result in an inflammatory response by the immune system, which leads to mucus or fluid production in the airways of the lungs, making it harder for your dog to breathe. These allergens can be a variety of substances, such as smoke, cleaning products, perfumes, pollen, dust and mold and many others.
Asthma has the potential to be a life-threatening condition if your dog is unable to breathe for an extended period of time, so it’s not something to take lightly if you suspect it.
If your dog is experiencing an asthma attack, its panting will differ greatly from the relaxed panting it does on a normal basis. Asthmatic panting is usually much longer and heavier. Your dog might open its mouth wider in an attempt to get more air. Its breathing will also be strained, and its chest may heave with the effort to get air.
Other signs of asthma in dogs may appear alongside the strained panting, including coughing or wheezing, lethargy and a loss of appetite. In severe cases, your dog’s gums may begin turning a different color, such as a very pale pink or blue. If you notice this, you need to take your dog into an emergency vet immediately, because the situation could quickly turn dangerous.
Once you notice the signs of asthma in your dog, you shouldn’t delay in taking it to the vet so it can be diagnosed and receive a treatment plan.
Treatment for asthmatic dogs
If your dog has been diagnosed with asthma, the best thing you can do the help prevent asthma attacks is avoid using its trigger allergens, if you know what they are. Avoid smoking near your dog, avoid using cleaners and perfume around your pup, use proper ventilation and install HEPA air filters during allergy seasons to avoid outside allergens from lingering inside the home. Bathing your pup can also help reduce asthma attacks in some cases.
If your dog’s asthma symptoms are persistent, it may require a bronchodilator to open the airways and reduce the severity of its symptoms so it can breathe more easily. Natural supplements may also help support proper lung function long-term and make it easier for your dog to breathe if its asthma is chronic.
Once you know your dog has asthma, you’ll want to be on the lookout for signs of an asthma attack and monitor your dog’s breathing capabilities so you can seek help immediately if necessary.
Other causes of heavy panting
In addition to asthma, other health conditions may cause your dog to pant more often and more heavily than normal. Noticing excessive panting may help you identify that there’s a health problem occurring and get your dog the help it needs sooner.
Other problems that can cause heavy panting include chronic conditions like heart failure, Cushing’s disease and pneumonia, as well as poisoning, heatstroke, and other conditions. Fear and anxiety can also cause your dog to pant heavily or abnormally at times.
It may not be easy to discern what the underlying problem is right away, but it’s important to stay vigilant and keep a close eye on your dog’s panting if you suspect that it is abnormal.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan