Panting is a perfectly normal part of life as a dog. Physiologically, it’s how dogs cool down (they don’t sweat like we humans do) and respond to exercise and excitement. When your assistance dog performs physically demanding tasks, is out in the heat, and plays, she’ll pant. However, seemingly unexplained, sudden, heavy, rapid, or continuing panting can also be a sign that something’s wrong.
Heatstroke and Panting
Heatstroke is one of the more common causes of panting. If your service dog’s been working or playing in hot and/or humid weather, she’s at increased risk, but even if she’s taking it easy outside in the heat without proper means to cool down, heatstroke can occur. Other symptoms may include lethargy, glassy eyes, diarrhea, vomiting, drooling, accelerated heart rate, a fever over 104 degrees, and seizures.
Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Prevention is essential, as is a quick response to cool your dog down and get prompt veterinary intervention. Read more about preventing and treating the condition here.
Other Common Causes of Excessive or Abnormal Panting
Ingestion of a toxic substance and allergic reactions may cause your assistance dog to start panting in an alarming manner. Lethargy and vomiting may be accompanying symptoms. These are especially likely if your dog is on any medications, which can cause overdose and allergic responses, as well as panting as a side effect (as with prednisone, for example). Poisoning and allergic reactions are life-threatening conditions that require emergency veterinary treatment.
Panting and difficulty breathing can also occur as a symptom of various illnesses. Any infection, disorder, or disease affecting the respiratory tract may be to blame, while heart failure, Cushing’s syndrome, or an external or internal injury causing pain are some other possibilities.
The fear response sometimes causes excited panting in dogs, too. Thunder and lightning, fireworks going off nearby, loud construction across the street, and other sources of big noises or flashing lights may trigger panting. Comfort your dog and, if possible, move her to another room or location to minimize exposure to the stressor.
When to Seek Veterinary Attention
Panting is most concerning when there’s no obvious explanation for it, when it begins suddenly, when it’s heavier or faster than usual, or when it doesn’t slow to a stop. In such instances, immediately contact your vet for advice or go directly to an emergency veterinary facility.
If you observe any other symptoms, take note of what they are, when they occur, how long they last, their severity, and other characteristics. These provide useful clues for arriving at a fast diagnosis and delivering timely treatment.
Get to Know Your Assistance Dog’s Normal Panting
Remember, most panting is just your dog’s response to heat or thirst, activity, or excitement; it’s not a cause for concern. Get her some water and let her relax, and the panting should come to a gradual stop.
The best way to ensure you can spot when something’s amiss with your service dog is to become well acquainted with her normal panting. Pay attention to when she tends to start panting, the pace and force, and how long it lasts. Of course, it’s normal for panting to vary depending on how hot your dog is, how vigorous her physical activity is, and other factors, but familiarize yourself with what’s typical.