My Golden Retriever Pants a Lot: Should I Be Worried?


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If you have a Golden Retriever, you have inevitably noticed it panting at times. Sometimes Golden Retrievers will pant more, other times less. But, often, it can be concerning if it seems to be out of the ordinary. So, why exactly do Golden Retrievers pant so much? 

Golden Retrievers pant to cool themselves and oxygenate the blood. Dogs have far fewer and less efficient sweat glands than humans, and exercise, play, stress, pain, and sickness increase oxygen demand and body heat. Panting increases oxygen intake while cooling the dog using evaporative heat loss.

All dogs pant. So, for the most part, panting is typical for Golden Retrievers and nothing to be overly concerned about.

However, as a pet owner, it is essential to understand panting to know when the behavior is typical and not out of the ordinary and when panting might be a cause for concern. 

This article will explore what panting is, when and why your Golden Retriever pants, when it’s normal to pant, and when panting might indicate a cause for concern. 

What Is Panting? 

So, all dogs pant. Golden Retrievers pant. Even humans can pant. But what is panting, and what purpose does it serve? 

Panting is breathing with short, quick breaths with an open mouth. With dogs, the tongue most often protrudes. Humans most often pant to catch their breath after intense bursts of energy like a sprint. 

Panting serves two purposes. 

First, panting is a way to get oxygen into the blood. For example, when your dog runs and plays with another dog, its body uses more oxygen than resting. To cope with the extra demand and to keep the muscles oxygenated and going, respiration increases, and the dog pants to draw in more air. 

Stress and excitement can also increase the heart rate and the need for more muscle oxygen, thereby increasing the respiratory rate (panting or heavy breathing) to meet demand. 

Second, panting in dogs is a cooling mechanism. Unfortunately, some mammals, including dogs, lack the same sweat glands that humans do. And that makes them ineffective at cooling themselves because they cannot sweat to the same degree we do. 

So, dogs pant to cool themselves. Panting is a cooling method for dogs using evaporative heat loss. As a dog’s body temperature increases, so do its respiratory rate. 

Cooling happens from the exchange of hotter air from the lungs with cooler external air and from water evaporation in the lungs, mouth, and nose. 

Panting as evaporative cooling expends a large amount of water. So, it is vital to ensure there is plenty of water on hand to rehydrate so it can maintain effective heat regulation. 

Next, we explore instances when panting is normal. 

Golden Retriever Panting: Instances When It’s Typical 

As explained in the section above, panting is a normal biological process for the most part. In mammals that do not sweat, panting is how they cool themselves and supply additional oxygen to the lungs, muscles, and heart upon increased demand. 

Normal panting can occur in various instances, including cooling, happy excitement, during play, and in reaction to stress, anxiety, or fear. 

Cooling Off

As discussed, Golden Retrievers pant to cool themselves. Panting as a cooling mechanism can often be seen during hot weather when the Golden Retriever attempts to regulate its body heat. 

However, anything that causes an increase in body temperature will cause an ensuing rise in respiratory rate and panting to induce evaporative heat loss. Maybe it’s too hot in the house, or it can be a blow dryer used after a bath that is too warm and for too long. 

Happy Excitement

Dogs can pant slightly when happy or excited. For example, when I take my Golden Retriever Bailey to doggie daycare, he gets very excited while I’m getting ready (he knows the routine) and on the drive there. 

Happy panting is due to the anticipation of something good happening to your dog. It could be a walk, a treat, or doggie daycare. 

The slight increase in panting is due to the higher heart rate and a corresponding slight increase in the need for oxygen and cooling. 

Often this panting is so slight that you may not even notice it. It’s more along the lines of light breathing but distinguishable by the dog’s tongue hanging out. 

Exercise and Play

Golden Retrievers are highly active dogs that love to burn energy through play and physical exercise. Often, you will see a Golden Retriever panting after a walk, run or romp with his best doggie friend. 

We work up a sweat during exercise, and our Golden Retrievers work up a pant. Different process, same purpose – cooling and increased oxygen demand.  

Play is physically demanding and increases the oxygen demand on the heart and muscles. It also increases core body temperature. Panting helps oxygenate the lungs and blood to meet the increased oxygen demand for your dog’s heart and muscles. 

Play increases the need for oxygen and cooling, which increases panting

Of course, it’s also to cool them. For example, let’s say you take your Golden Retriever for a run. You sweat, your Golden Retriever pants. Both are for the same purpose, to cool your body. 

Your Golden Retriever loses heat through water evaporation from its lung, mouth, and nasal passages. That’s evaporative heat loss to regulate body temperature, and it’s a good thing and very typical. 

Stress, Anxiety, or Fear

Panting often occurs when your Golden Retriever is stressed, anxious, or stressed. Common triggers could be separation anxiety, loud noises, vet visits, or anything that may elicit a stressful or fearful response. 

Whereas excitement from a car ride or trip to doggie daycare can elicit a heightened response in a happy way, stress, anxiety, and fear trigger a flight or flight response. 

If you have ever seen your dog run and cower due to fireworks, this is a fear response triggered by flight or flight. That stress response can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes.

In an article on the flight or fight response in dogs (source), renowned dog trainer Adrienne Farricelli lists a cascade of physiological reactions that may occur:

  • an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow to muscles, blood sugars, clotting, and muscle tension – all useful in ensuring muscles are primed to fight or to sprint away as fast as possible
  • an increase in breathing and panting due to higher oxygen and cooling demands
  • a decrease in appetite (digestion is a high-energy activity and is not useful when dealing with a threat – having blood flow to muscles is more important)
  • the pupils become more dilated – increasing vision
  • senses become more heightened – increasing reaction time and the ability to sense the threat in the environment
  • raised hackles (raised hair along the backbone), also called Piloerection
  • decreased ability to concentrate on complex tasks – complex tasks require greater focus and reaction time
  • decreased impulse control
  • decreased inhibition control (the dog may react quicker and bite)

From the list of symptoms, it is very apparent that stress, anxiety, and fear increase body temperature. However, it also creates a host of other reactions that increase the demand for more oxygen in the muscles and heart. 

And as discussed earlier, dogs pant to regulate body temperature and increase the supply of oxygen to muscles and the heart. Similarly, in humans, when we are experiencing anxiety or fear, we may also sweat and breathe heavily for the same reasons. 

The flight or flight response is typically a normal response to fearful stimuli.

According to Harvard Health,

This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the “fight-or-flight” response because it evolved as a survival mechanism. The flight or flight response enables people and other mammals (such as dogs) to react quickly to life-threatening situations. 

Source

Some forms of stress are milder, such as separation anxiety, which does not elicit a full-blown fight or flight response. In turn, a loud clap of thunder may cause a full-on flight response with a very scared dog that most likely runs and hides.

In either case, the dog will pant as a normal reaction to that stress to cool and calm itself and to bring the body back into homeostasis.

BAR had major stress and anxiety from neuter surgery, and he hated the cone, so he panted a lot

Age

As your Golden Retriever gets older, you may notice it pants more. Elderly dogs may have more difficulty getting around due to joint issues such as arthritis.

An older Golden Retriever may also have more difficulty going up and down many stairs, staying cool, and exercising. As a result, your elderly Golden may pant more due to discomfort and the normal effects of aging.

In most cases, the additional panting during older age is not a concern; however, if you believe your Golden Retriever is having pain or other issues, it would be beneficial to discuss solutions such as pain medications and supplements with your vet.

In contrast, puppies may pant due to the youthful exuberance of being a puppy. Puppies are easily excited, very playful, and very active, so they pant a lot.

Golden Retriever puppies can be especially crazy at times and are known to be one of the most active dog breeds. So how crazy are Golden Retriever puppies? Find out in this article if you’re interested: Golden Retriever Puppies: Are They Crazy?

However, there are instances when panting may indicate something concerning or that requires intervention. Therefore, abnormal panting is discussed next. 

Golden Retriever Panting: Instances When It’s Cause for Concern

While it may be typical to see panting when your dog is hot, exercising, playing vigorously, or even when happy, there are instances where panting may be concerning. 

Pain

Dogs are very good at hiding pain. In the wild, hiding pain is a valuable survival tactic. It prevents other animals from perceiving weakness, which could be detrimental to an injured or sick animal. 

However, hiding pain can be problematic to the health and well-being of domesticated animals like dogs. Often pet owners can have difficulty noticing signs of pain due to the dog’s evolutionary ability to hide the pain. 

Excessive panting for no apparent reason can be one sign of pain in Golden Retrievers. If your dog is panting excessively and there doesn’t seem to be a typical reason for the panting, then look for other signs such as:

  • Decrease activity 
  • Decreased appetite
  • Whining
  • Difficulty getting up, jumping, or using stairs
  • Licking or focusing on a paw or area of the body
  • Behavioral changes like growling or snapping when getting close

If you believe your Golden Retriever may be in pain, it is important to get the dog to the vet as soon as possible to determine the cause and alleviate your dog’s pain as quickly as possible.

Medical Conditions

Excessive panting can also be due to a medical condition or even the medication to treat the condition.

Conditions that could trigger excessive panting include: 

  • Fever – from illness or infection
  • Surgery such as being spayed or neutered – due to pain and anxiety
  • Toxicity from grapes, Ibuprofen, or alcohol poisoning such as from wine or beer
  • Cushing Disease excessive production of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Diseases such as cancer, heart disease, or respiratory issues with the lungs
  • Obesity may cause the dog to pant due to increased insulation from the fat and the added weight, making movement more strenuous
  • Arthritic joints or joint issues, especially in older dogs
  • Injuries
  • Bloat
  • Medications

If you suspect your dog is panting due to a medical condition or as a side effect of a particular medication, give your veterinarian a call to determine if there is a need to bring your Golden Retriever to the clinic.

Tips To Manage Panting in a Golden Retriever 

While panting is perfectly normal in most instances, there are some things we can do to ensure that panting does not become excessive.

The following suggestions are meant to keep our Golden Retrievers as cool and comfortable as possible (which reduces excessive panting) and are preventative to ensure panting does not become excessive in response to potential issues (such as injuries or overheating).

Provide Lots of Water

Always make sure there is plenty of water available for your Golden Retriever to drink. Availability of water is especially important on days when the temperatures are very hot – your Golden Retriever will pant more to cool itself, and it will need extra water to ensure it can do that adequately.

Supplying water is the most important action you can take to help manage your Golden Retriever’s panting.

Keep It Cool in the Summer

Summer can be especially taxing on a Golden Retriever. Goldens have a double coat, which gives them an extra layer of insulation. Great for cooler temperatures, not so much for hotter days.

In addition to providing enough water, ensure your Golden Retriever has access to shade outside or can be indoors. If there is no air conditioning indoors, consider running a fan to help circulate the air and provide some cooling. If you have a basement, consider letting your Golden Retriever sleep there.

Save walks and exercise for early in the morning or later at night when temperatures are cooler. During the day, it can get very hot, and it does not take much at very hot temperatures to cause issues for Golden Retrievers.

Lastly, if you have a pool or access to a lake, it is a great way to allow your Golden Retriever to get some exercise while staying cool. Even running the sprinkler in the backyard (BAR will lay down on the grass in the sprinkler to stay cool) or even a kiddie pool will work.

I threw some product recommendations for summer cooling in my Must-Have Dog Gear if you’re interested. Yes, they make “kiddie” pools specifically for dogs.

Finally, consider reading my article on Golden Retrievers in hot weather. In that post, you’ll learn exactly what temperatures are too hot, how to keep your Golden Retriever cool, and how to prevent and deal with heatstroke. Read about it here: Golden Retrievers In Hot Weather: What’s Too Hot?

Watch for Toxins

Toxins can be a long list and include grapes, dropped medications such as Advil, macadamia nuts, onion, garlic, etc. The list is quite large of what can be a potential toxin to a Golden Retriever.

In summer, be mindful of gardens. Gardens can contain certain fruits or vegetables that may be toxic or pose issues to your Golden Retriever. Certain flowers or plants can pose issues as well. So, can fertilizers and pesticides for weeds.

BAR checking out our garden box in the yard – there is a fence around it now to prevent access

It never hurts to dog-proof the yard in the summer and to spend some time being mindful of potential risks indoors as well.

For example, I routinely scour the floors and countertops for potential issues. I’m looking to ensure that no pill bottles are left on the countertops and toxic fruits like grapes are in a bowl and out of reach.

Provide Gentle Reassurance

There is nothing we can do about thunder or other loud noises. However, we can offer comfort and gentle reassurance when our Golden Retrievers become frightened, anxious, or stressed.

And no, providing comfort when your dog is scared does not reinforce the behavior, contrary to old-school advice. Instead, some comfort and reassurance help our dogs feel safe and secure, calming them, which helps return the body to balance from a flight or fight state and panting back to normal levels.

For dogs that are very anxious during thunderstorms or have general anxiety, such as with car rides, there are tools made to comfort them.

For example, thunder vests are heavy weighted vests that many have had success with during thunderstorms – it’s almost like swaddling your dog. I’ve placed one in my recommended product page (link at the end of this post.)

I’m fortunate, as Bailey has no fear of thunderstorms or fireworks. He doesn’t particularly like them but is not overly fearful. However, we are approaching his 2nd birthday, so that could change.

Monitor Exercise

If you exercise with your Golden Retriever, such as going for runs, it’s important to watch panting as a sign of a run being too much for your dog. Specifically, excessive panting combined with your dog lagging behind can be an indicator of too much.

Also, bring 2 to 3 times the water you normally drink on your run for your Golden Retriever. Your dog will need more water than you due to its inability to cool as effectively. This is good advice for walks, or any activity, on days when it is hot.

I wrote an article on running with your Golden Retriever, and you can check it out here: Need a Running Partner? How About Your Golden Retriever

Examine Regularly

As discussed earlier, Golden Retrievers (dogs in general) are very good at hiding pain. Therefore, a good routine is to examine them occasionally to ensure they do not have injuries or hot spots.

A great time is during baths when the fur is wet and matted. Also, it is wise to routinely examine the paws for abrasions, cracks, and cuts.

Baths are a great time to examine your dog. BAR just finished playing, hence the panting

In the winter, I use a paw balm (found on my recommended products page at the bottom of the post), and I have recently found it works well in the summer when walking and running mileage increases.

Examining the skin and fur during brushing is also a good time to look for ticks, parasites, and skin issues, like sores or hot spots. Also, examine the ears. If you brush your Golden Retriever’s teeth, check its teeth for any dark or brown spots indicating cavities.

Summing It Up

Golden Retrievers are naturally active dogs and possess a double fur coat. As a result, the breed tends to pant more than other dog breeds because they must work harder to regulate their body temperature, especially on hot days.

Most types of panting are perfectly normal and are little cause for concern.

However, suppose your Golden is panting excessively or without any obvious trigger. For example, it could signify an emotional (anxiety or stress) or medical condition requiring attention.

Therefore, you should always be aware of your Golden’s panting behavior to determine whether it’s normal or a sign of an underlying problem. If you suspect your Golden Retriever has an underlying issue that is the cause for excess panting, then don’t hesitate to seek help from your vet.

Woof-woof!


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