Everyone knows that dogs pant. It is one of their most defining characteristics.
But why do dogs pant, what does it mean, and can panting ever be a sign that something is wrong with your dog?
Let’s take a look at the meaning of panting, at what defines normal dog panting, and at when panting can be a warning sign.
We’ll also find out how dogs cool themselves and look at the possible reasons why your Labrador is panting so much.
Is your dog breathing fast?
Dogs and other mammals may breath faster than normal for a number of different reasons. The purpose of breathing is get oxygen into the blood stream.
This clever event is able to occur because deep within your dog’s lungs (and your own lungs too) is an amazing exchange system where oxygen can be transferred from the air into tiny blood vessels.
So, faster breathing can be a sign that your dog needs more oxygen, and we’ll look a bit more closely at that in a moment.
A normal breathing rate for an adult dog is up to 30 breaths a minute. A little faster is normal in puppies.
But panting is more than just rapid breathing. After all, people breath rapidly sometimes, but they don’t pant like dogs, nor do many other mammals.
Panting involves the dog’s tongue and mouth in a much more dynamic way. And the reason for that is because dogs have evolved an interesting and useful way to keep themselves cool
Why do dogs pant?
Panting is your dog’s cooling system.
Humans cool themselves efficiently through glands in their skin. These produce liquid which cools our bodies through evaporation.
But dogs have only a few sweat glands, in their feet. And cannot control their body temperature this way.
Instead, they have developed a unique cooling system which uses their mouths as very effective radiators.
The water evaporating from your Labrador’s open mouth as air is rapidly passed back and forward, cools him efficiently.
Just as we lose water from our bodies during this cooling process, so do our dogs. And a dog that pants for very long, will soon get thirsty.
Normal panting in Labradors
It is completely normal for a well constructed dog like a Labrador to pant during exercise, and play.
And for a short time afterwards. It’s how he stays nice and cool inside.
Panting is also a normal canine response to excitement or stress.
Excessive panting in dogs
A dog with a healthy conformation (body structure) shouldn’t be panting at rest, or when walking calmly around a cool house.
Sadly the same does not apply to some less healthy breeds – especially those with flattened faces.
Different dogs have different temperaments and different responses to stress. So, it is a good thing to take note of what is normal for your dog.
Because panting can also accompany health problems, excessive panting can be a warning that something is wrong.
It can be a sign that your dog is too hot, too stressed, in pain, or short of oxygen.
Many illnesses can cause one or more of these problems. So panting can be a symptom of a number of different health issues
Panting due to over-heating
Dogs can suffer from heatstroke, and it is important to be aware that excessive panting in very warm weather can be a serious danger sign.
Be careful playing with your dog or exercising him, in the heat of the day if the weather is hot.
Early morning or evening is a better time for exercise during the summer months, or if you live in a warmer climate.
Infections and the resulting fever can cause panting. If you have an ear thermometer, you can also take your Labrador’s temperature – it should be around 101 F (38 C).
Signs of pain in dogs
Dogs are very good at hiding signs of pain. This is a strategy that many wild animals use too, because signs of pain indicate vulnerability of weakness and could make an animal a target for aggression or predatory behavior from another animal.
However, a dog which is unwell or in pain may show behaviors that those who know him well find unusual.
Such as being strangely still, or very restless.
He may also pant excessively, or may start panting in situations where he would not normally pant.
If your dog is unusually restless, panting and seems uncomfortable, or has any other symptoms, and is panting at a time and in a place where he would normally be relaxed, you are right to be concerned.
It is best to phone your vet, describe the situation, and ask him whether or not he needs to see the dog.
Panting due to obesity
Excessive panting can develop in dogs that have put on too much weight.
Partly because obesity puts extra strain on your dog’s cardiovascular system, partly because it interferes with your dog’s ability to cool himself efficiently, and partly because it makes him feel uncomfortable.
So, if you think your dog needs to shed a few pounds check out this article.
Putting your friend on a diet, will make him a lot more comfortable, and a lot healthier too.
Why is my dog panting so much?
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Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
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