Panting is normal in dogs, especially after physical exercise to help them cool down. However, panting can be displayed for other reasons too which can help us to understand what's going on.
Dog's don't sweat like we do, to help cool themselves down - they sweat a little through the paws and ears, but not through their skin. By panting, they inhale cooler air and exhale warmer air and together with water evaporation from their mouth and upper respiratory tract, helps them to cool down. Once they have regulated their body temperature, this kind of panting should stop.
Look out for the signs of heat stroke though, usually displayed through excessive panting that doesn't subside, red gums, drooling, disoriented. Young, elderly, overweight, sick and brachycephalic dogs are more at risk of heat stroke.
Behavioural panting is usually displayed when the dog is particularly stressed or anxious about something; new environment, car journey, other people, other dogs.. and is usually paired with other behaviours such as yawning, lip licking, stretching, shaking or hiding.
This type of panting is a response to elevated cortisol levels (the "stress" hormone).
Excessive panting can be a sign of something more serious, such as heart or lung disease, hormonal disorders, laryngeal paralysis or brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome.
If you find that your dog is panting unnecessarily (when resting or when the temperature isn't the reason), a visit to the vets to rule things out is advised.
If your dog is in pain, they may pant and be particularly distracted by the area that is painful, such as their paws, legs or tummy.
Brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs, boxers or frenchies, may suffer with brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) due to their restricted airways, and as they can't pant the same way as other breeds, they are at greater risk of over heating and heat stroke.
New food, medication or environmental allergies may trigger a reaction or anaphylaxis, which may restrict your dog's ability to breathe. They may also present with lethargy, vomiting, shakes or restlessness. Veterinary advice should be sought.
Cushing's Disease is when the adrenal gland produces too much cortisol for the body to handle, seen more frequently in dogs who have a higher stress level. Other symptoms of Cushing's Disease can include increased thirst, increased hunger, weight gain, thinning of the fur, skin changes, and a pot belly.
Overweight dogs have difficulty regulating their body temperatures, especially after exercise as their bodies have to work harder than normal. Overweight or obese dogs should be seen by a vet, or a canine nutritionist (I'm happy to help!) to assess the underlying cause of the excess weight. Obesity can lead to other health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, organ failure, joint issues and life expectancy is decreased.