Dogs pant. They pant when they’re hot, they pant when they’re excited, they pant when they’re scared, and sometimes they seem to pant for no good reason at all (from our point of view, at least). When a dog is panting more than expected, should an owner be concerned? The answer is "maybe."
Excessive panting can be a sign of a medical problem, including obesity, heart problems, diseases of the lung, laryngeal paralysis, canine cognitive dysfunction and other disorders that cause anxiety, steroid use, Cushing’s disease, and more. If your dog has begun panting at what appears to be inappropriate times, the first thing you should do is make an appointment with your veterinarian.
My normal work-up for a dog that is panting a lot includes a history, physical exam, chest X-rays, a blood chemistry panel, complete blood cell count, urinalysis, fecal examination, and heartworm test if prevention and testing is not current. Depending on my findings, I might also recommend an EKG, blood pressure testing, a laryngeal exam under light sedation, and additional testing for Cushing’s disease.
If a dog gets a clean bill of health but is still panting a lot, what might be going on?
Most dogs, especially those with thick coats, are really built for cold weather. Dogs just can’t dissipate heat as well as animals that can sweat. With any type of exercise, even my thin-coated boxer quickly turns into a pooped-out panter in the summertime. So, while you might feel that the temperature indoors or out is on the cool side, your dog could very well be thinking, "Who turned up the heat?" Pay attention to your dog’s behavior. If he is seeking out cool places in the house or yard and doesn’t pant when he finds one, you’ve probably found your answer.
This type of heat intolerance becomes even more profound as dogs age. I’ve met many an elderly dog that seems to be on his last legs during the summer months, but bounces back when winter arrives.
In short, if your dog is panting a lot, get him checked out by your vet, but don’t panic. As a friend recently put it, the dog may simply have "excessive panting syndrome." You won’t find that diagnosis in any veterinary textbook, but it seems to fit the bill in many cases.
Dr. Jennifer Coates