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Panting in Dogs – Is it Normal ?

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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We've all seen our dogs panting – those rapid, shallow respirations characterized by open-mouthed breathing and protruding tongue. Panting often occurs after a long walk or brisk play, or sometimes while resting during hot summer afternoons. We've seen it so often we've accepted it as commonplace. But should you ever be concerned when your dog pants?

That all depends. Panting may be common, but it may represent a more severe, even life-threatening illness and should not be ignored.

Why Dogs Pant

There are many causes of panting. Most commonly it is in response to environmental changes, such as anxiety, fear, excitement, or heat. However, if panting is excessive or your pet is in distress, it is important to identify the underlying cause. Some of these causes are:

  • Respiratory Disorders. It might be an upper respiratory tract problem such as nasal blockages, growths in the nose or back of the throat, or a collapsing trachea. In the lower respiratory tract, problems might include an inadequate exchange of gases, fluid in the lungs or lung disease. Disease of the chest cavity might include air, fluid or masses in the chest cavity, or diaphragmatic hernias.

  • Cardiovascular Disorders. The heart might be affected with disorders such as heartworm disease, pulmonary embolism (blood clot), or heart failure.

  • Hematologic Disorders. Blood disease is sometimes a factor. Common disorders are anemia and carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Neurologic Disorders. Diseases of the nervous system can also affect the respiratory center. Some of these might involve head trauma, brain tumors, or abnormality of the respiratory muscles.

  • Miscellaneous Disorders. Some other problems that can affect breathing are heat related illness, drug poisoning, high altitude, abdominal pressure caused by pregnancy, fluid in the abdomen, and some diseases.

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