Dogs pant all the time and everywhere, but they seem to do it even more in the car, so why do dogs pant in the car? Panting is a dog’s cooling mechanism, just like sweating is for humans. But if your dog seems to be panting a lot during car rides, we must look at why and methods for preventing excessive panting.
Heavy panting in the car is often associated with restlessness or an anxious dog, which can be a road hazard. So always ensure you buckle your dog in with a seatbelt for dogs to keep them from distracting you on the road.
A little bit of panting in the car is normal until accompanied by signs like wheezing, whimpering, or shaking. Knowing signs that your dog’s panting is more than just cooling off will help make car rides more comfortable for you and your canine buddy.
Why do Dogs Pant in the Car? 7 Common Reasons
Dogs pant in the car for physical reasons like cooling down when it’s too hot, motion sickness, medical conditions or behavioral ones like excitement or travel anxiety. Some breeds also have a high drooling tendency, causing their slobbery panting habits in the car. Most panting in the car is normal, but it’s concerning if dogs do it excessively.
1. Overheating and dehydration
Without sweat glands, dogs struggle to expel excess heat, which is why dogs are prone to heatstroke. Cars can get painfully hot, causing increased panting in your dog. After buckling your dog’s seatbelt, turn on the AC or roll down the windows slightly to cool the car.
Temperatures above 32°C (89.6°F) are usually too hot for dogs, and their body temperature should never exceed 38.5°C(104°F). Signs of overheating to look out for in dogs include excessive panting, fast and noisy breathing, collapsing or convulsing, bright red to blue gums, and vomiting.
Panting to cool down is normal, but you’ll need to help your dog thermo-regulate if it gets too heavy. First, give your pooch some water because it may be dehydrated. If that doesn’t help, place a cool, moist towel over their head and neck. If all fails, it’s best to seek medical attention.
3. Stress and anxiety due to travel anxiety
Even the most well-behaved, relaxed pups can turn into a stressed mess during car trips. Anxiety causes a spike in heart rate, consequently leading to increased panting. Unfortunately, most dogs have a nasty case of travel anxiety if most trips end at the vet or even due to motion sickness.
Other signs that your dog is stressed include yawning, licking lips, and increased vocalization. Due to separation anxiety, dogs can get particularly stressed if they stay alone in the backseat. Behavioral panting signifying stress, will fall steadily upon gradual desensitization and rewarding calm behavior.
4. Dog Car Excitement
Some dogs love car rides, and all the new sights and smells kick-start their adrenaline. So does the anticipation of going on an adventure! Dogs get excited about car trips when they associate it with a positive experience like going to the park or lots of treats. An excited dog is adorable but not a good idea when driving as it can distract the driver.
The increased heart rate due to over-excitement causes rapid and shallow dog panting. Your excited pooch will also whine and show restlessness which you can manage by limiting their movement in a crate or seatbelt.
5. Motion sickness
Dogs can get sick from hitting the road, just like humans. Car sickness makes your dog uncomfortable and creates a negative association with car trips, causing travel anxiety. If the issue is motion sickness, your dog will stop panting momentarily before they vomit.
Puppies mostly experience motion sickness because parts of their ear canals involved in balance aren’t fully developed yet, causing conflicting signals from the eyes. While most puppies “outgrow” motion sickness, some dogs carry it to adulthood, causing them to pant, drool, vomit, shake and yawn.
A common sign that your dog has nausea is not only when they pant but if a dog suddenly begins to drool.
6. Dog breeds and the shape of the head
Some dog breeds have a harder time with heat than others. Of course, dogs with thick coats are common ones. Brachycephalic, short-nosed breeds, like pugs, will pant a lot more in car rides because their short muzzle doesn’t allow the air enough time to cool in their airways before it reaches their bodies.
Some dogs drool a lot and pant more in the process. Breeds such as Bloodhounds, Newfoundlands, Mastiffs, and St. Bernards drool a lot because they have “flews” or heavy, loose upper lips. These heavy lips or jowls mean they can’t get enough air into their mouth to cool off, especially if they have big bodies.
7. Medical issues or pain
Dogs can pant to deal with physical discomfort because of pain or illness. Dogs in acute or chronic pain often pant and have excessive licking, whining and reduced appetite. Check your dog for cuts and bruises if you suspect the panting is pain-related.
Dogs with heart problems often pant heavily as they struggle to get enough oxygen into the lungs. Other medical issues like Cushing’s disease, respiratory issues like laryngeal paralysis and lung tumors can also cause excessive panting.
Rapid panting is a sign of many possible conditions, including an allergic reaction to dog food or a bee sting. So always be alert if your dog begins to suddenly pant heavily for no obvious reason.
Ensure you take your dog to the vet if you notice excessive panting and other symptoms like decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting, shaking, and reluctance to lie down. Panting due to illness persists even out of the vehicle.
Car rides can be extremely stimulating for your dog. The sounds of traffic, the road turns and bumps all bombard your dog, and it doesn’t know what’s happening. Don’t forget that dogs have heightened senses, with hearing over four times better than humans, making them easily overstimulated.
Why Does My Dog Pant in the Car When It’s Not Hot?
Behavioral panting in dogs may have nothing to do with how hot it is but with how they feel. Dogs pant when it’s not hot to deal with emotional and physical stressors like anxiety and pain both in and out of the car.
Some symptoms of dog anxiety in cars include:
- Excessive panting and salivation
- body language distress signals like Yawning
- Licking the lips
- Reluctance to get into the car
- Tail tucking
- Ears pinned back
- Barking or whining
How do you Calm a Dog from Panting in the Car?
Making car rides a pleasant and comfortable experience for your dog calms them from panting in the car. Teaching your dog how to like cars by counterconditioning or desensitization, preventing motion sickness, and giving your dog a travel buddy helps reduce car panting.
Training your dog to enjoy car rides and reducing anxiety
Desensitization is a step-by-step process of gradually introducing your dog to the car at its pace. Start a few feet away from the car, let your dog jump in voluntarily, and give a treat when they do. The next step is introducing elements preceding a drive, like starting the engine and rewarding your dog when it doesn’t react.
Counterconditioning replaces negative associations with the car with positive ones. The key is showing your dog that a car is where good things happen. Use treats to reward good behavior in the car, wiggle in some play time if you can, and take a trip to a happy place like a park.
Travel with a friend to keep your dog company if it has separation anxiety. You can also spray pheromones in the car to help keep your dog calm by mimicking the odor of a nursing mother. For severe cases of anxiety, consult your vet for supplements like L-theanine (Anxitane™) .
One study shows by American Veterinary Medical Association that aroma therapy with lavender oil can reduce car anxiety in dogs naturally and cheaply.
Make the car trip comfortable
Reducing physical stressors like excessive heat in the car makes car rides more comfortable for your dog. Other ways to make car rides more comfortable include:
- Ensuring your dog is properly hydrated
- Ensuring the AC is on to keep inside temperatures low
- Lowering windows to allow for fresh air
- Taking regular potty breaks to ensure your dog doesn’t strain its bowels
- Limiting your dog’s access to food a few hours or minutes before the ride
- Take at least 20 minutes to exercise your dog before rides to reduce overstimulation and excitement in the car.
- Distracting your dog with a KONG or puzzle toy.
Consult your vet
If you suspect your dog’s panting is medical, it’s best to see a vet. All medical issues need early treatment before they get worse.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why do dogs pant so much?
Dogs pant as their main method of cooling down but may also pant because of anxiety, excitement or sickness. A spike in heart rate because of anxiety or excitement leads to excessive panting. Dogs with heart problems also display heavy panting to get more air into the lungs.
Why do dogs pant at night?
Dogs pant at night because of anxiety, excitement, too much heat, or pain. Senior dogs and puppies have difficulties regulating their temperature and may pant more at night. Signs such as restlessness, whining, and decreased appetite show your dog is panting at night due to sickness or anxiety.
Dogs pant in the car due to heat, anxiety, excitement, pain, and sickness. The best way to reduce your dog’s car panting is to reduce the physical and psychological stressors. Take your dog to the vet if the excessive panting happens with clinical signs like lethargy and decreased appetite.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.