How to Treat a Panting Dog

Panting is a canine behavior that serves to cool a dog's body when he's hot, though it also may be a symptom of fear or anxiety. Although dogs pant more frequently in warm weather than cold, some medical conditions and emergencies will cause excessive panting. Concerned owners should know how to check their dog's vital signs, and call the veterinarian if the dog is in distress.

Panting dog
Heat intolerance increases as dogs age.
credit: Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The Function of Normal Panting

Dogs pant to cool their bodies after exercise, or if the weather is warm. Though they are able to sweat through the pads on the bottoms of their paws, panting enables them to circulate air throughout their bodies. Panting can indicate excitement as well as fear. Dogs may pant during thunderstorms to express anxiety, according to PetMD. Dogs panting from heat or exertion should have access to fresh drinking water and a cool, quiet place to calm down. A brief dip in a cool lake or pond will help lower a dog's body temperature, decreasing the panting.

Causes of Excessive Panting

Panting may be a sign of physical distress. Heatstroke, a medical emergency, can happen if a dog is overheated without access to drinking water. Heatstroke can cause irreparable damage to a dog's brain, liver, nervous system and heart, according to Healthy Pets. If the panting is accompanied by vomiting or sluggish behavior, your dog may have ingested a toxin or is experiencing a severe allergic reaction. Steroids cause excessive panting and increased urination. Heart problems also may be to blame for excessive panting, and usually are accompanied by a spike in the dog's heart rate. Respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and Cushing's syndrome also cause excessive panting.

Canine Vital Signs

Dog owners can learn about canine vital signs, which indicate distress or health. A dog's normal body temperature is between 99 and 103 degrees and can be checked via the dog's rectum with a traditional glass or digital thermometer. A dog's normal heart rate varies between 60 and 140 beats per minute. The dog's owner can check his heart rate by placing a hand just behind the dog's left elbow and counting the beats for 15 seconds. That number times four will give the owner the beats per minute. A rested dog has a respiratory rate of between 10 and 35 breaths per minute. If a dog is panting heavily, his owner can check his vital signs to ensure that he's healthy.

Treating Excessive Panting

It is important that dog owners know their pet's unique traits and behaviors, and are able to discern normal panting behavior from the symptoms of a potential emergency. In the case of suspected heatstroke, the dog should be moved to a cool place immediately, preferably indoors. Any type of respiratory distress should be brought to the attention of a licensed veterinarian as soon as possible, as the syndromes that cause breathing difficulty can be fatal, according to Dr. Eric Barchas, whose practice is in the San Francisco Bay area. Excessive panting without an obvious cause always should be investigated by the vet to rule out serious health conditions.