Why Do Dogs Pant?

Panting is when dogs breathe rapidly with their mouth open and tongue hanging out like a slobbery yo-yo. You know what we’re talking about. So other than as an effective method of drool distribution, why do they do it?

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Keeping their cool

Some dogs may occasionally pant when they’re excited or afraid, but the main reason is to help keep themselves from overheating.

In a recent IAMS™ survey,* a majority of dog parents believed that dogs have sweat glands. But dogs don’t sweat like humans do. “We have glands all over our body. Dogs can’t do that,” says Dr. Jo Gale, BVetMed CertLAS MRCVS, Senior Manager, Global Science Advocacy at Waltham Petcare Science Institute. “They have sweat glands on their paw pads, but that’s the only place.” They rely on panting to let out warm air and bring in cooler air. All that drool and fluid in their mouth helps dissipate the heat as well. It’s like a big soggy air conditioner. 

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Most mammals, and even many birds, pant to regulate their temperatures. Humans are some of the only creatures who cool down by perspiration. Imagine what dogs think of us losing fluid from all over our bodies, sweating through our clothes and needing to wipe our faces all the time. Fortunately, they love us anyway.

How to help your overheated dog

Panting is normal, but it expends lots of water, so make sure Fido’s bowl is full of clean, cool H2O, especially during warmer months. Dr. Tammie King, Applied Behavior Technical Leader at Waltham Petcare Science Institute, suggests “seeking out cool shade, giving them water and stopping physical activity.”

And it goes without saying — but we’re going to say it anyway — that you should never leave your dog in your vehicle on hot days. Even if they’re driving. Which you shouldn’t let them do either.

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Signs of an overheated dog

Some dogs run a higher risk of overheating. “It’s very easy for dogs to overheat on very hot days,” cautions Dr. Jo Gale. “Any dog with a squashed face — bulldogs, pugs, Pekingese — their nasal passages are not able to cool the air as much.” She added that dogs with heavy coats, overweight dogs, and very old or very young pets also can’t control their body temperature as effectively.

If your pooch seems to be panting more than usual or at unusual times, check to see if they’re having trouble breathing, are shaking, or their gums or tongue have noticeably changed color. If so, make sure they have access to water, get them to a cool place and contact your vet.

*Surveyed U.S. dog owners, age 18+ 

Sample Size: n=201 

Fielded May 8-10, 2020