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Why Is My Dog Panting Heavily?

It’s normal for dogs to pant, especially when they’re hot, excited, or energetic. Heavy panting is different, though, and may be a sign your dog is dangerously overheated, coping with a chronic health problem, or has experienced a life-threatening trauma.

Here are answers to three important questions every dog owner should know:

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  • What are the common causes of heavy panting in dogs?
  • What can I do about them?
  • When is it time to see the vet?

Why Dogs Pant Heavily: Common Causes and Treatments

Panting helps dogs cool off when they’re hot or engaged in vigorous exercise.

Dogs take between ten and thirty breaths a minute, depending on their size. Get to know what your dog’s everyday breathing and panting looks like so you’ll more quickly notice suspicious changes.

Some common reasons dogs pant heavily include:

Heatstroke or poisoning. It’s normal for a dog to start breathing harder or panting after exertion. And some dogs, like Boston terriers, bulldogs, and pugs, are prone to heavier breathing than other dogs because of their short snouts. However, heavy panting is also a sign a dog may be suffering from heatstroke or may have consumed a toxic substance.

If you can’t find any obvious reason for a sudden change in your dog’s breathing, take him to a veterinarian immediately. If you suspect heatstroke, first follow the steps at the end of this article to help cool your dog quickly and safely.

Chronic illness. Illnesses like heart failure, Cushing’s syndrome, or respiratory disorders can all cause heavy breathing or panting in dogs:

  • Heart failure: Like people, dogs can suffer from heart failure. And just like people, dogs may show some of the same symptoms, including breathing difficulty, reduced exercise tolerance, and coughing. How your dog’s heart failure is treated depends on the cause. But treatment may include medications such as ACE inhibitors and diuretics.
  • Cushing’s syndrome. This occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. Along with heavy panting, symptoms can include excessive hunger and thirst, hair loss, and a pot-bellied appearance. Treatment varies but may include adrenal-suppressing drugs or surgery.
  • Respiratory disorders. Several respiratory disorders, such as laryngeal paralysis, pneumonia, and lung tumors, may all lead to heavy breathing or panting. Treatment depends on the condition and how far it’s progressed.

Injury and pain. Dogs can’t tell us with words when they’re in pain. So, it’s up to us to know what to look for. Heavy panting is one sign your dog may have suffered an injury.

Other signs of pain or trauma in pets include enlarged pupils, reduced appetite, a reluctance to lie down, restlessness, anxiety, and licking or biting at the pain site.

Dogs may mask their pain with normal behaviors, such as wagging their tail. And an injury may be internal -- for example, as a result of being hit by a car. So if you suspect your pet may be in pain, don’t delay. Seek veterinary care right away.

Medication. Some medications, such as prednisone, may also lead to heavy panting in dogs. Talk to your veterinarian if you think your dog’s medication is causing heavy panting.

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