Why and what to do ?

Like humans, dogs oxygenate their blood through respiration, which consists of an inspiratory and an expiratory phase. This phenomenon is to be distinguished from panting, a normal physiological process which aims to lower the body temperature of the animal. A dog breathing fast or hard (increased respiratory rate or unusually long or intense panting) may have an underlying disease.

Who has never been worried when they discover their doggie slumped and puffing like a locomotive after a frenzied foot game? And that oversized tongue hanging down? Do not panic, a dog that breathes heavily is, in most cases, a hot dog!

panting in dogs

Panting: a normal process in dogs

Panting in dogs consists of breathing with the mouth open and the tongue hanging out, quickly and emitting a rather loud noise of breath. This is a normal physiological phenomenon in canines. This allows them to regulate their body temperature. Thus a dog pant when:

  • He is hot
  • He has just made an effort that has increased his internal temperature due to the activity of the muscles

Unlike humans, dogs have very few sudoriferous (sweat-producing) glands. When it is hot, therefore, it cannot sweat to cool itself; he does that with his tongue! The panting of the dog indeed allows temperature exchanges between the animal and the atmosphere, by evaporation of the humidity of the oral cavity (like the evaporation of sweat on our skin).

So if your dog is breathing heavily and panting when it’s hot or just playing fetch or jogging, that’s normal! Put him in the shade and offer him a drink.

When the dog’s panting is abnormal

Be careful, however, if the external temperature is very high and your dog has played sports or been locked in a car, intense panting can be a sign of heat stroke. The rectal temperature is then very high (above 40°). The dog may show signs of agitation or, on the contrary in the most serious cases, an alteration of his consciousness. You can cool your dog by wrapping him in a damp cloth before taking him immediately to the veterinary emergency room.

Some dogs also pant when stressed or in pain. Other signs are then present such as licking of the lips.

A harsh gasp can be a symptom of laryngeal paralysis. This disease linked to a malfunction of the larynx in the throat is common in Labradors.

Dogs of brachycephalic breeds (French Bulldog, Pug, English Bulldog, etc.) tend to pant a lot, often loudly. What is considered normal for these breeds is actually a sign of chronic respiratory failure related to respiratory obstructive syndrome in brachycephalic breeds. If your animal is in this case, a consultation with a specialized veterinarian is necessary to determine if your dog can benefit from surgery to help him breathe (resection of the soft palate, enlargement of the nostrils, etc.).

Neal Bryant/Shutterstock

Respiratory failure in dogs

Some dogs breathe quickly without panting. This sign, more discreet, can nevertheless reflect a serious pathology.

The normal respiratory rate in dogs

The respiratory rate corresponds to the number of respiratory cycles (inspiration/expiration) per minute. Concretely, you just have to observe your dog and count how many times his chest rises per minute. You can also put your hand on his ribs to do the count (especially in long-haired animals where breathing movements can be more difficult to observe).

The respiratory rate of a resting dog is between 10 and 25 movements per minute. The larger the breed, the lower its respiratory rate.

When the dog’s respiratory rate goes into overdrive

An increased respiratory rate may be a sign of respiratory failure, itself linked to a disease (pulmonary, viral or parasitic infection, oedema, tumour, heart disease, anemia, etc.). A high frequency can also be due to fever or pain. In all cases, additional examinations are essential to determine the cause of the increase in the dog’s respiratory rate: imaging (radiography, ultrasound, scanner, etc.), blood tests, analysis of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, etc. other symptoms are often associated (cough, loss of appetite, etc.).

Respiratory distress is manifested by a dog that makes rapid and very large respiratory movements, often with its mouth open. His mucous membranes may turn blue. In this case, it is important to calm the animal and take it to a veterinarian without delay.

A dog that breathes fast or hard is not necessarily sick! Resting respiratory rate is a good indicator of lung health.

Isabelle Vixege

veterinary doctor


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