Is Your Dog Panting or Hyperventilating? How to Tell the Difference

Dogs breathe heavily all the time, so how can you tell when their breathing is a cause for concern? It all comes down to the difference between panting and hyperventilation.

Panting is your dog's way of cooling their body down by exchanging warm air for cooler air. Since dogs can't sweat, panting helps them maintain a comfortable body temperature. Panting is perfectly healthy, and most dogs will pant when they're too hot or even when they're excited.

Hyperventilation is a different beast. Characterised by short, rapid and laboured breaths, hyperventilating is a sign that your dog is in distress or that something's wrong with their respiratory system. Unlike panting, hyperventilation should be considered a health problem and usually warrants a visit to a vet.

But how can you tell the difference between the two? Here are four questions that'll help you work it out.

Has your dog just been active?

Barring well-trained athletes, almost everyone gets out of breath after strenuous physical activity. The same goes for your furry friend.

If your dog is breathing heavily after a vigorous walk, run, or play session, it's likely they're just panting to cool down and reset their respiratory system.

Conversely, there's cause for concern if your dog suddenly starts breathing heavily while resting. This is more likely to be hyperventilation caused by an adverse health condition.

Is your dog's mouth open or closed?

When a dog pants normally, their mouth will usually be wide open. You'll often see your dog sticking their tongue out too, in an effort to cool their body down.

If your dog's mouth is closed, on the other hand, this is a sign of abnormal breathing. Dogs often hyperventilate through their noses or with their mouths only partially open.

Does the panting turn into coughing?

Coughing is usually a sign that something is wrong with your dog's respiratory system, and the same goes for wheezing or spluttering.

If your dog's heavy breathing begins to evolve into more serious symptoms like these, they may be in respiratory distress. This is true even if the panting started out normal—after exercise, for example.

Is your dog's mouth discoloured?

Take a look at your dog's tongue and gums while their mouth is open. If your dog is panting healthily, their mouth should be a typical shade of pink.

If your dog's gums or tongue are starting to turn blue, however, you'll want to contact a vet as soon as possible. Discolouration around the mouth area is a sign of oxygen deprivation, which can have very serious consequences if left untreated.

Is your dog getting distressed?

Your dog's behaviour can also be a good indicator of whether they're panting or hyperventilating. A panting dog is usually a happy dog, especially if they're panting after playtime. Your pooch may lay down to rest and remain tired until they get their breath back, but they should return to normal fairly quickly.

Hyperventilating, on the other hand, often causes distress. A dog who is in respiratory distress may pace up and down, whine or cry or appear generally panicked. They may also collapse instead of laying down normally. 

For more information, contact a local vet