Does panting help a dog cool down? Expert Advice

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channeling some crazy cat lady vibes with her four lovable, but rebellious cats.

Take Note of What Your Dog Is Doing

Panting should correlate with the outside temperature or activity. Healthy dogs usually don’t need to pant in the absence of exercise or excitement.

Could your dog be stressed, excited, or hot? If so, this is probably normal dog panting. If your dog is panting or breathing rapidly during rest or sleep, however, this is often abnormal panting.

Is your dog lethargic or not eating well? Have they been coughing? Other symptoms are clues that can help distinguish normal panting from abnormal panting. These clues will help your vet diagnose the cause of your dog’s panting.

Humans are among the few mammals that rely on secreting water onto the surface of the skin to keep our cool — we sweat. But we didn’t always thermoregulate this way, and other animals employ a whole host of mechanisms to keep their cool. Let’s take a look at how animals — including us — have evolved to beat the heat.

But one of their primary methods is simply shuttling back and forth between warmer and cooler areas. And it’s not just lizards — Telemeco says doing the shade shuffle is widespread in the animal kingdom. This is known as behavioral thermoregulation, which is when animals don’t have an internal system for body temperature regulation and instead must modify their behavior.

Insects in general may be sturdy, but they’re not invincible to heat. While they do have some of the highest thermal tolerance of animals (with ability to withstand body temperatures of nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit!) insects can overheat just like any other animal. What happens when things get too hot to handle?

That being said, dogs and cats sweat, too! It just doesn’t keep them cool. Humans have a very specific kind of sweat gland called eccrine glands that allow us to cool off (more on that later). But in most other mammals, those glands are found in only one specific place, explains Kamberov.

“All [cooling] in mammals involves to a large extent the heat that’s needed to convert water from a liquid to a gas, and the energy that’s lost in doing that,” explained Yana Kamberov, an assistant professor of genetics in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in an interview with Science Friday.

The Science of Panting in Dogs

Panting can be a normal behavior for a dog, but it can also signal an underlying medical issue.

So how do you know when your dog’s panting is a sign that something’s wrong? Here’s what you need to know about dog panting.

Panting is a normal behavior for happy and active dogs. It helps dogs cool themselves down because they can’t sweat like humans do.

Panting allows a dog to rapidly inhale, humidify, then exhale the air, which increases the evaporation of water from your dog’s nose and lungs. The evaporation of water cools the body from the inside out.

A large amount of water can be evaporated in a short amount of time when a dog’s panting, so always make sure that your dog has access to plenty of fresh water on hot days.

This type of normal panting can be quite heavy, but the level of heavy breathing should correlate with the air temperature or amount of activity your dog is doing.

Dogs also pant when they are excited. Panting is a normal behavioral response when something exciting happens, like meeting new people or getting a treat. This type of panting can be rapid and shallow, and it’s often accompanied by whining.

Similar to dog panting that’s brought on by excitement, dogs also commonly pant and whine when they are stressed.

If you see your dog panting, take note of their body language. Are their eyes wide and weary? Are they looking away and yawning? These are some common body language cues that indicate your panting dog is stressed.

Assess the situation to determine how you can make your dog more comfortable to prevent them from becoming fearful or more stressed.

It is important to know that dog panting can indicate nausea, discomfort, and pain. Your veterinarian can assess whether your dog is panting because they are in pain by conducting a thorough examination and possibly diagnostic tests.

Medications, especially prednisone or other steroids, may cause increased panting even when your dog is not hot, excited, or stressed. This is a common side effect, and if your dog’s panting is excessive, you should talk with your vet.

Overheating, or heatstroke, will cause heavy panting in dogs, which can quickly lead to dehydration and death if untreated. Treating heatstroke requires emergency veterinary care.

Dogs that are overheated pant very heavily and will likely appear uncomfortable in some way. They could be restless, laid out flat, and/or not responding to you because they are so focused on cooling themselves.

You can prevent heatstroke on hot summer days or while hiking and spending time outdoors by taking frequent breaks, seeking shade, and offering your dog plenty of water. Do not have your dog out in high temperatures or for long periods of time. Dogs with short snouts should stay cool and hydrated on warm days as they are more prone to heatstroke.

NEVER leave your dog in a hot car. The interior of a car can reach scorching temperatures and threaten your dog’s life in as little as 10-15 minutes, even on mild days. Run the air conditioner or leave your friend at home when running errands.