All dog owners recognize this behavior, as their dog has done it at one point or another, but what causes this strange habit? Humans only pant when they’re very tired, but that is not always the case for dogs. Sometimes they will pant for no discernible reason.
Dogs pant both when they are healthy and when they are ill, so it can sometimes be hard to tell which is which. When dogs pant when they are healthy, it is often because they are too hot.
In these cases, the panting is a means to cool themselves off. This works because dogs don’t have sweat glands similar to humans. They do not sweat all over their bodies, and they actually only sweat on the pads of their feet. So the only other way, which is their main source of cooling, is that they can cool themselves off, without sweating, is to pant.
This works for a similar reason to why sweating works. When a human sweats, the air around them evaporates the sweat on their body, causing the surface of the skin to cool as the moisture is pulled away. With dogs, this process works through the tongue. The dog provides a steady stream of air to the liquids in it’s mouth in order to lower it’s body temperature.
This largely works to cool their head, though the panting itself expels warmer air from their lungs and brings in slightly cooler air. Though this does little in comparison to the tongue cooling, it does make a small difference. Although panting will largely do a good job of cooling the dog off, it is sometimes not enough, and the dog may develop heat stroke.
This is especially true when the dog is panting excessively. Even during long walks or runs, you will notice a distinct difference in the dog’s panting. If you are concerned that your dog has heat stroke, then it is a good idea to take them out of the sun and give them some water immediately. Follow this up by contacting your vet right away.
A dog’s cooling system largely runs on water to fuel it. Since it is based on cooling the fluids in their mouth, if their mouth is dry, then it becomes hard for them to cool down. The more water a dog has available to drink, the easier that their panting will cool them off.
When dogs pant after a long run, it is for the same reason that humans will. Their lungs are tired and they are trying to get more oxygen into them. During warm days, it can be for this reason and for cooling purposes. Especially since the body gets hot during exercise.
Dogs that are brachycephalic, or have short, wide faces, such as pugs, tend to pant more than other breeds. This is because it is actually harder for them to breathe. Many of these dog breeds were bred this way because dog owners thought that the look was cute. In the wild, these dogs would not last very long on their own.
Sometimes, however, panting may be a sign of something serious. While heat stroke is the most common illness that causes dogs to pant, it is not the only one. Seizures, as well as lung and heart diseases, can cause a dog to pant. These can be dangerous, as they can come on suddenly and you may be fooled into believing that they are caused by heat or exercise.
If your dog is panting for any reason, make sure they have access to fresh, cool water to drink. If you believe that your dogs panting is excessive, and not as a result of their natural cooling system or exercise, then a Veterinarian would be the best person to diagnose the situation and let you know the real reason behind their behavior. Sometimes it is as simple as a strange habit of that particular dog.
For most dogs, however, the reason behind panting is pretty benign. Without many sweat glands, they have little other way to cool themselves off when they are too hot. It may look silly when they’re panting and their tongue is hanging out, but there isn’t a lot of reason for concern when your dog is panting.