Whether it's from playing in the sunshine with your dog, or a vigorous game of fetch, you'll probably have seen your four-legged best friend with their tongue rolling out of their mouths, panting heavily. It's natural to wonder why dogs pant, and whether or not it's a warning sign. First of all, don't panic - in most cases, a panting dog is a sign of a happy, well-exercised dog who is just being themselves. However, there are a couple of warning signs that it's worth watching out for, just in case.
The way that dogs are designed is inherently different from humans. After all, they're wearing the equivalent of a fur coat all of the time. When it comes to people, after running around on a warm day or exerting ourselves, we're usually sweating, taking off an item of clothing, or looking for a nice cold drink. When it comes to dogs, these are options that they don't have - when a dog is bouncing around, they're essentially working out with a heavy coat on.
Once a dog's body temperature has increased, they don't have the option of sweating to cool down in the way that people do. Dogs have some sweat glands, and this is through their paw pads, but panting is the real MVP when it comes to lowering a dog's body temperature. Panting circulates air around their body, helping to cool them down the natural way.
Of course, another way that dogs can cool down is similar to humans - where we might take a cold shower or have a long drink; some dogs will enjoy jumping into a body of water to get their chill back. However, this isn't recommended for all dogs - certain breeds, like the French Bulldog and the Pug, aren't meant for the water and cannot swim.
If your dog has been playing a fierce game of fetch, it's likely that their panting is from them having spent some of their energy. However, there is a big difference between panting and labored breathing. If your dog is breathing heavily while making a sound like crying or whining, or even a whistling sound, this can mean that something more serious is going on and that your dog might have problems breathing.
In some cases, you might find that your dog is panting even though they haven't done any exercise, such as when they're on a car ride. For some dogs, this is because they're excited and loving it. However, in some dogs, this is a prime example of anxiety or stress. For many dogs, this is why they pant in cars. It's important to check out your dog's body language to work out if your dog seems anxious or fearful. On the other hand, if your pooch's body language is positive, they may be having a rocking good time.
Some dogs like to pant when they're feeling happy - particularly in play. This is another time to check out your dog's body language. If they have bright eyes and are panting gently, and the tail is wagging, then your dog is probably just loving life. Think of it as the equivalent of a dog grinning at you!
When it comes to being hurt or feeling unwell, dogs will typically try to hide their discomfort. In some cases, and at certain levels, this becomes impossible. Panting can be an indicator that your dog isn't feeling very well, and will often come along with other symptoms like behavior changes, vomiting, or loss of appetite. If this has happened, it's best to contact your veterinarian immediately.
Your dog may also pant if they have a fever, for the same reason humans sweat in a fever - it helps to lower their body temperature. However, if your dog is on certain medication from the veterinarian, this might increase their respiration and induce panting. If your dog has eaten something that has upset their stomach, they may also pant before they vomit.
In general, while our four-legged friends aren't the best at communicating verbally, there are plenty of body language clues you can check out to see if your dog is panting for normal or abnormal reasons. If your dog looks happy, is playing, eating, and drinking normally, and it happens to be a warmer than average day, then panting is a perfectly normal situation. If you experience behavioral changes, your dog is crying or seems lethargic and uninterested while panting; it's probably time to get them checked out by a professional.
The final kind of panting to watch out for is when it goes from normal to abnormal - usually on a hot or sunny day. If your dog is overheating, you'll find that your dog's tongue and gums go bright red, they have wide eyes, and their tongue might look stretched out. When this happens, make sure your dog has water, and keep an eye on their heat exposure. If cool water and shade hasn't helped, or if you're in any doubt, call your vet.
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