It is well-known that it’s normal for dogs to pant, especially when they’re hot, excited, or energetic. But sometimes panting can be a sign that something is very wrong. Heavy panting can be a sign your dog is dangerously overheated, coping with a chronic health problem, or has experienced a life-threatening trauma.

Everyone knows that panting helps dogs cool off when they’re hot or engaged in vigorous exercise.

Dogs take between 10 and 30 breaths a minute, depending on their size. Get to know what your dog’s everyday breathing and panting looks like so you’ll more quickly notice suspicious changes.

Some common reasons dogs pant heavily include:

Heatstroke or poisoning. It’s normal for a dog to start breathing harder or panting after exertion. And some dogs, like Boston terriers, bulldogs, and pugs, are prone to heavier breathing than other dogs because of their short snouts. However, heavy panting is also a sign a dog may be suffering from heatstroke or may have consumed a toxic substance.

If you can’t find any obvious reason for a sudden change in your dog’s breathing, take him to a veterinarian immediately.

Chronic illness. Illnesses like heart failure, Cushing’s syndrome, or respiratory disorders can all cause heavy breathing or panting in dogs.

Heart failure. Like people, dogs can suffer from heart failure and just like people, dogs may show some of the same symptoms, including breathing difficulty, reduced exercise tolerance, and coughing. How your dog’s heart failure is treated depends on the cause. But treatment may include medications such as ACE inhibitors and diuretics.

Cushing’s syndrome. This occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. Along with heavy panting, symptoms can include excessive hunger and thirst, hair loss, and a pot-bellied appearance. Treatment varies but may include adrenal-suppressing drugs or surgery.

Respiratory disorders. Several respiratory disorders, such as laryngeal paralysis, pneumonia, and lung tumors, may all lead to heavy breathing or panting. Treatment depends on the condition and how far it’s progressed.

Dogs can’t tell us with words when they’re in pain, so it’s up to us to know what to look for. Heavy panting is one sign your dog may have suffered an injury.

Other signs of pain or trauma in pets include enlarged pupils, reduced appetite, a reluctance to lie down, restlessness, anxiety, and licking or biting at the pain site.

Dogs may mask their pain with normal behaviors, such as wagging their tail. And an injury may be internal — for example, as a result of being hit by a car. So if you suspect your pet may be in pain, don’t delay. Seek veterinary care right away.

Some medications, such as prednisone, may also lead to heavy panting in dogs. Talk to your veterinarian if you think your dog’s medication is causing heavy panting.

Heavy breathing or deep, intense panting can also be a symptom of eclampsia, also called milk fever. Eclampsia is a dangerous condition that affects nursing mothers; low blood calcium levels lead to an inability to stand or walk and tremors. And allergies, infection, or irritation within the airways can cause wheezy, noisy breathing in dogs.

Remember, panting is normal for a dog after exercise, excitement, or when it’s hot.

Call your vet immediately if any of the following applies: your dog’s panting starts suddenly; you think your dog may be in pain; the panting is constant and intense.

Your dog’s tongue or gums suddenly appear blue, purple, or white — a sign your pet isn’t getting enough oxygen and if left untreated could be fatal.

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