Panting is usually seen as somewhat normal behavior in dogs, especially after a long walk or on extremely hot days when they are trying to cool off.
But, why do dogs pant in the car? I am sure that many dog owners have had this question pop into their mind.
Some dogs just love car rides and are absolutely enjoying themselves, especially if you let them stick their head out of the window — wind blowing in their fur, many wonderful new sights passing by — just delightful.
However, on the other hand, there are also doggies that absolutely hate car rides. It is hard to even make them get inside the car, and when you finally succeed, what happens is that you see your dog panting like there is no tomorrow.
It is normal to feel concerned, and as a responsible dog owner, I know that you don’t want to see your furry friend suffering.
However, we all know that sometimes it is necessary to make your dog ride in the car; therefore, let’s break down this problem and find possible solutions, so your next road trip is not that stressful for both you and your doggy.
Why Do Dogs Pant In The Car?
Like with everything in life, in order to solve a problem, first, you have to know what the problem is and what is causing it.
So, why do dogs pant in the car? While many people think it is because of stress or temperature (which can be true), there are actually several reasons that might be causing your dog to pant in the car.
We are going to name them one by one, explain why it might be the possible reason, and give you a solution and advice on how to help your dog.
If you are desperately looking for some answers, don’t worry because we are here to help. Keep reading and find out if what we have to say is exactly what your dog might be going through.
1. Car Anxiety
One of the most common reasons why dogs pant in the car is actually car anxiety. Dogs with car anxiety have a fear of riding in a car or in any other moving vehicle. It is quite normal for most dogs to feel this way because they can’t fully comprehend what is happening.
These dogs will most likely show some signs of distress or agitation, either physical or behavioral, due to their fear.
Excessive panting is one of the first signs of stress in dogs. It can also be followed by drooling or trembling and shivering. All of this will make breathing really difficult because the air can’t enter the dog’s body normally due to rapid breathing rates.
Car anxiety will also most likely cause your dog to resist entering the car, to fidget constantly while in the car, and even to look for a way out, or in some extreme cases, he also may try to escape. This is why you should be extremely careful so that this does not end badly.
In some extreme cases, car anxiety may cause your dog to vomit, urinate, or have diarrhea. But, usually, he will be either panting or barking and whining.
Treatment For Dog Car Anxiety
If you have noticed that your pup reacts in the ways mentioned above, chances are that he or she might be suffering from car anxiety. However, the good news is that there are some things that can help you and your dog with the fear of car rides.
Often, if you consult your vet, he may prescribe your dog some medication (anti-nausea meds or sedatives) to help reduce the anxiety. Along with medication, you will probably have to car-train your dog. Many vet behaviorists agree that the best way to deal with this fear is to use behavior modifications.
This basically means to introduce the cause of the stress (in this case — the car) and try to get your dog used to it without actually going for a ride. And, then you can start training your dog to associate the car with pleasure and happiness rather than fear and anxiety.
More on talking about underexposure to cars with dogs will be said later.
2. Heat Stroke
Overheating is probably one of the most obvious reasons for panting. It should always be a telltale sign of a hot car, and you should do something about it because if you don’t, it can lead to a heat stroke, which can be deadly for dogs.
Dogs do not sweat like us. It is true that they have some sweat glands on their paws and other key areas, but those are not enough to cool down their body temperature properly.
During panting, dogs use the evaporation of the moisture from their mouth, and are able to exchange hot air for cooler air much more quickly, and thus, lower their temperature.
Dogs will start to pant even if they are a little bit hot, and the panting will probably increase if their body temperature rises. Some short-faced dogs, like bulldogs or pugs, will become hotter much faster due to their specific face shape and structure.
Other than panting, some other signs of overheating and heat stroke include weakness, wide eyes, and a bright red tongue and gums.
Read Also: My Dog’s Head Is Hot – What Does This Mean?
How Do You Prevent A Heat Stroke?
In order to prevent overheating and a heat stroke, you need to keep your dog cool while in the car. One thing you can do is turn on the air conditioning, which will significantly lower the temperature in the car, and thus, also help keep the dog’s temperature in check.
Another reason behind a dog’s panting can be dehydration. It all comes down to their water intake, especially during hot summer days. However, during rides in a hot car, dehydration can be even more prominent, and it often accompanies overheating.
While panting helps your dog cool off, it also causes dehydration. And, if the dog didn’t drink enough water beforehand, it can be serious because it can make your dog weak and lethargic.
Solution For Dehydration
This one is pretty simple and straightforward. Keep your doggo hydrated. The only thing you need is to provide him/her with lots of clean and fresh water.
If you notice that your pup is panting, immediately give him water to drink, which should help him immediately. Just make sure that you bring enough water because they can drink a lot, especially when they are too hot and dehydrated.
4. Motion Sickness
Motion (or car sickness) is closely related to travel anxiety. However, while travel anxiety or car anxiety is more behavioral in nature, and related to the fear of rides, or caused by some negative experience that makes dogs scared, motion sickness is a much more physical reaction to a car ride.
Usually, puppies suffer more from it, just like small kids, while adult dogs should grow out of it. But still, it can happen if your pup is not used to riding in a car.
Other than panting, your dog can feel really nauseous and start vomiting, which can make your car ride a disaster. This happens because dogs have a different sense of balance and eyesight, and it is difficult for them to make sense of what they are seeing and feeling inside.
How Do You Prevent Motion Sickness?
The best way to prevent your dog from getting sick in the car is to drive slowly and carefully since fast driving and constant rocking can worsen the feeling of nausea.
Another thing that can help your dog is to block the view of the outside world. If your dog is in a carrier, you can try to cover it with something such as a blanket to create a dark place where your dog should feel safe. Hopefully, it will help prevent the feeling of being sick.
If your dog is not in a carrier, then you should prevent him from moving too much because it can also cause him to be nauseous.
There are special elastic seat belts that you can use to make sure that your dog is facing forward and not moving too much. However, make sure to never attach a seat belt to the harness!
Some dogs absolutely love car rides, and they get very excited to be going somewhere. This can also be the reason why your dog pants.
If he seems to be happy while panting, and his body language is not showing any sign of distress that would point to other bigger problems, then your dog might just be happy and excited to be going somewhere fun.
Solution For Excitement
Once your dog relaxes a bit, the panting should slow down or stop completely. If it doesn’t, there should not be much to worry about, but you can try to calm him down or get him used to car rides, so he doesn’t feel that excited all the time.
Pure discomfort can also be the reason why dogs pant in a car. Sometimes, back seats can be really uncomfortable to dogs depending on their size, and also the model of the car. If you have a large dog, they might not be able to sit up or comfortably lay on the seat.
Discomfort and frustration can cause your dog to pant in order to calm themselves down. Who could blame them? Even for us, sometimes long rides can be so stressful and uncomfortable that we can’t wait to just get out. Now, imagine how it is for them.
Solution For Discomfort
Sometimes, there is not much that you can do to help your doggo with discomfort, especially if you have a small car.
However, you can try to put your dog in an appropriately-sized carrier, which will provide them with space where they can get comfortable and hopefully make your car rides a little bit more manageable.
If you have a small- to medium-sized dog, you can also try to put your dog in the front seat, but you should be careful not to get distracted or have an injury caused by the safety bag in case of an accident.
7. Body Pain
Dogs can also pant because of body pain they might be having; for example, arthritis, back issues, or some physical injury that you didn’t notice. Panting is just one of the ways to express their pain and discomfort.
While your dog feels that pain probably all the time, it could be possible that riding in the car is causing it to be more intense, which then is reflected in the dog’s breathing, or better say, panting.
Solution For Body Pain
If you suspect that the reason why your dog pants is because he has some injury or pain, then the best advice I can give you is to not disregard it. See your veterinarian and get your dog checked. If there is something wrong, he will diagnose your dog, and work up the proper treatment to make your doggy feel better.
Your dog does not just pant if he is excited, but also, if he is overstimulated. This usually happens to energetic dogs and those that are very attentive, like herding breeds.
Cars passing by, people, other animals, or anything else in the environment can make your dog overstimulated, and as a result, pant.
Solution For Overstimulation
You might want to put your dog in the carrier or block his view of the outside world. One thing you can do is hang something on the windows, so they are unable to see what is going on outside. Also, you can get really creative and think of something that would help your dog.
Another tip: try training your dog to lie down while riding!
On the other side of the spectrum, underexposure may cause your dog to be afraid of the car, to pant, or cause many other issues. One of the main reasons why dogs suffer from car anxiety is because they haven’t been properly introduced or exposed to car rides.
It is essential to introduce your dogs, especially puppies, step by step to riding in a car. Just like it is important to socialize dogs with people and other animals, it is also important to include cars or other means of transportation in the socialization stage.
Solution For Underexposure
It is really simple, and basically what we have said before. Make sure to properly introduce your dog to the car, taking it step by step.
The treatment starts by just allowing your dog to sit in the car and get familiar with it, then gradually introducing short rides, and finally, longer trips. Make sure to always start with rides that end up at a fun destination, such as a dog park or on a play date.
This way, your dog will see the car as something good, and he will be excited to take a ride rather than fear it and experience all those negative reactions. You can also try to give your dog his favorite toy, or something that he really likes, so he is more excited and happy to be in the car.
10. Medical Issue
If your dog is panting more than usual, not just in the car, but also outside, and he is acting a little bit different from his normal self, then you should contact your vet because this can be a sign that there is something wrong with your dog’s health.
Some of the medical issues that are connected to panting are:
• Allergic reaction – Panting can be connected to an allergic reaction that your dog could be having after eating or being in contact with something that he is allergic to.
• Bloat – Bloat happens when a dog’s stomach fills up with food, liquid, or gas, and twists causing extreme pain. If you notice your dog panting, dry heaving, or vomiting, contact the vet immediately because this is a really serious medical emergency that requires professional help.
• Cushing’s disease – Excessive panting can be caused by a disease like this one, which is a condition in dogs caused by excessive production of cortisol – the stress hormone.
Solution For Medical Issues
The only solution, in this case, is to take your pup to the vet immediately. This is absolutely necessary because these are really serious medical issues that require medication and medical treatment.
When Should I Worry About Dog Panting?
For many dogs, car rides will cause panting. But, dogs can be panting because of many other reasons. Fireworks, moving, vet visits, separation anxiety, and many other stressful situations can also cause them to pant.
If you notice that your dog’s panting is intense and constant (even when not in the car), and you think that your dog is in pain because he is not acting as usual, or he starts panting abruptly, then you should definitely contact your veterinarian.
Even though dog panting can just be a normal way for them to cool off or calm down, still, you should always be careful, and most importantly, be aware of your dog’s body language.
Dogs can’t speak, and if something is wrong, they can’t tell you, but they will show you, and it is important for you to notice it in order to be able to react appropriately.
If you were looking for an answer to “why do dogs pant in the car?”, I hope that this article has helped you, and has been able to shed some light on this type of dog behavior so that the next time you experience this, you will know how to react and how to help your dog.