Do Dogs Pant When in Pain?


At a glance, a dog panting is a common sight. Many dogs pant for completely innocuous reasons. 

Can dogs pant when they are in pain? ¹

But pet owners may still wonder, “Do my dogs pant when they’re in pain?”

The short answer is yes. Dogs do pant to express discomfort. 

But while it’s often a simple case of overheating, panting—especially excessive panting—can actually mean a wide variety of issues. 

This includes injury, heart disease, respiratory infections, kidney failure, and even cancer.

Before you panic, however, find out how you can help your panting pups if they’re showing signs of heavy panting.

While you prepare your dogs to go to their vet, here is a guide of recognizing whether your doggo’s pants indicate pain or overexcitement. 

Read on.

Why Do Dogs Pant When They’re in Pain?

If your dog is panting, it’s likely a signal that it’s feeling discomfort. 

Usually they pant or breathe rapidly through the mouth to clear away mucus or phlegm, which keeps their airways open and reduces said mucus in their breathing channels.

Panting is different than rapid breathing. 

The average breathing rate of a dog is 10-30 breaths per minute and may increase up to 10 times if they’re breathing rapidly. 

It’s also different from labored breathing, which is usually accompanied with crying or whining.

So do pay attention to your furry friend’s breathing patterns. 

Animal behaviorists believe dogs pant to tell us “hey, something’s wrong!” They don’t not have the ability to speak so they use their breathing to communicate instead.

Dogs pant to cool down

Panting doesn’t always indicate pain.

In fact, if you ask most people why dogs pant, they would say it was because they were too hot. 

This is because a dog doesn’t have sweat glands that function like a human’s does. 

So they cool themselves by letting moisture into their mouths and tongues evaporate. The cooler air from outside is exchanged with hot air in their lungs.

But to show what sophisticated behaviour panting is, in the next section I will list other reasons why dogs pant.

3 reasons that dogs pant

Here are the three most common reasons for dogs to pant:

  • It’s in their nature. Some breeds pant more often than others. For example, German shepherds and Golden Retrievers are known to pant regularly.
  • It’s overheating. When your dog’s body temperature rises too high, they may overheat. There’s a simple solution for this: giving them something to drink or turning on a fan to cool down.
  • It’s attention-seeking. If your dog is not showing signs of distress and yet it’s panting, it might just want your attention. So give them a treat or rub their belly.

Is my dog panting in pain?

If after you have tried giving them water or treats the panting remains heavy and excessive, then yes, there’s a good chance your dog is in pain.

While painting may point to a serious condition such as stress, anxiety, hyperthyroidism, or diabetes, a serious illness generally develops over a long period of time. 

If you know your dogs inside out, this shouldn’t take you by surprise.

But if it happens suddenly, think about what recently happened. It may give you answers.

  • Did your dog just take a walk? If you have just brought them back from walking and they’re suddenly panting, they might have been injured during the walk.
  • Did your dog eat something? There’s a chance you might have missed what your dog ate. Maybe they found a bug and thought to try chewing on it. Check their stomach.
  • Did your dog meet other dogs? Injuries often happen from aggression. If your dog met another and they don’t trust each other, they might have fought and got injured.

If your dog seems uncomfortable, he may be suffering from pain. 

Check his paws and legs to look for signs of injury. If you find anything suspicious, call your veterinarian immediately.

If your dog doesn’t seem to be in distress, keep an eye on him. He may be panting because he wants attention or comfort. 

Try rubbing his belly or giving him a treat.

First Aid for Your Dogs

Your first instinct may be to take your dog to the vet when they’re in pain. But if you want to be sure, there are ways you can help your dogs when they pant in pain.

1) Observe your dog

You can tell a lot from a dog’s body language. 

If you notice unusual behaviors like limping, excessive paw-licking, rubbing, or sleeping on one side, your dog may be injured.

Don’t forget to check your dog’s toenails if they’ve split or cracked. The soles of their feet and the space between their toes might be cut as well.

If you see any of these symptoms, then your dog does need the veterinarian immediately to treat possible broken bones, torn ligaments, strained muscles, or even internal bleeding.

2) Stop physical activities

If your pet is panting too much during physical activities like jumping, running, playing fetch, or even just walking around the house, stop immediately. 

You don’t want aggravate them further.

You should instead take your pet somewhere calm and quiet, let them rest, and perform your observation and examination as we’ve outlined before.

3) Keep a record

Help your dog and their veterinarian by documenting everything. 

Perhaps you can take pictures of something physically odd about your dog’s body that might cause them to pant. Or maybe you can record their panting.

This way, your vet has an idea why your dog is behaving different and administer the proper treatment. 

If, by any chance, you can’t immediately see the vet, having a record of your pup’s pains can save time in their journey to recovery.

Your Dog’s Other Pain Indicators

It’s not just panting that suggests pain in dogs. Looking for other symptoms can give you a clue as well. 

So if you find them doing more than just panting, it’s likely that your canine companion is in pain. Here’s what you should look for:

1) Tongue color

If your dog’s tongue is pink in color, it means they’re completely fine. 

However, you should be careful if it’s red as it might mean overheating, fever, hypertension, or bacterial infection. 

Yellow or pale colored tongues mean more serious diseases such as liver diseases, anemia, or internal bleeding.

Purple tongues indicate lack of oxygen or cardiovascular issues. 

So if your dog is panting and their tongue is purple, bring them to a vet right away.

2) Limping

If you’re dog is limping, they’re more than likely to be injured. 

You can look at his paw pads, examine his gait, and watch how he moves around. If there’s anything abnormal, take him to the vet immediately.

Some dogs seem to walk around with pain in their joints, especially older ones. If you think your dog is limping because of arthritis, talk to your veterinarian about options like anti-inflammatory medications.

3) Vocalization

When you hear your dog whimper or howling, they might be in distress. It could be psychological but it’s just as likely to be an injury.

Pay attention to how they usually sound and then compare it to how they’re behaving now with different vocalizations that they produce.

4) Appetite loss

Your dog doesn’t want to eat or only eats a little? 

Watch out. 

They might be feeling unwell. Symptoms may vary when it comes to appetite loss but the most common cause is a stomach ache, which can be anything from constipation or diarrhea.

Stress, too much exercise, and eating too fast or too little can also lead to gastrointestinal distress. 

So, as you consult your vet, you might want to prepare easily digestible food for your dogs.

5) Behavioral changes

Pain can change a dog’s temperament. Certain behaviors are often signals of pain. Is your dog suddenly uninterested in play time? Does your dog suddenly not want to sleep alone in their bed? Is your dog pacing restlessly?

All of those behavioral changes may suggest that they’re uncomfortable or even experiencing pain. So, again, pay attention to their behavior and recognize the warning signs.

Quiet Dogs May Be in Trouble Too

So does this mean if our dog is quiet, they are free from pain? Well, that’s what you have to observe and examine.

Some dogs are conditioned by their training. If they’ve been maltreated in the past and taught not to make any sounds for any reason, they might stay quiet even when they’re in pain.

That’s why we still encourage you to familiarize yourself with your pup’s behavior. What is normal for your dog may not be the same as other canines. So you should keep an eye out.

In general, however, if your dog is sleeping or resting, it’s normal for them not to pant. Healthy dogs don’t pant as much as when they’re in pain, unless they’ve exerted themselves from physical activities.

Panting can mean excitement and happiness, too. So if your dog is eager to spend time with you and they’re still panting, it may just mean they’re happy to see you!

In Conclusion

Your dogs are trying to tell you something when they pant. But as dog owners, it’s up to you to interpret their panting. If combined with other symptoms, panting may mean discomfort or sickness.

There’s also a wide range of diseases that become the reason for your dogs to pant excessively. It could be anything from a simple cut on their feet or sore joints to allergies, dental disease, or even cancer.

To determine what issue your dog is experiencing, always take note of any changes from their usual routines. And then of course you should contact your vet and accompany your beloved pup there.

Photo credits

¹ Photo by Vitor Fontes on Unsplash