What Panting Means (Not All Panting is the Same)

By Guest Blogger Lore Haug DVM MS DACVB

We all know dogs pant for thermoregulation. But panting can provide information about the dog’s emotional state as well. Dogs pant when under heat or physical stress or psychological stress. Panting also can appear associated with any type of arousal or exertion (e.g. excitement, aggression, or anxiety).


Figure 1: This is a relatively neutral, temperature related pant. The dog’s facial expression is alert but relaxed. While there is some caudal retraction of the commissures of the lips, the lips themselves have a downward relaxed droop. Additionally, the span of the tongue and protrusion of the mouth are commensurate with the amount of lip retraction.


Figure 2: This dog also shows a relaxed pant. Again, the ears and facial expression are relaxed. The eyes are soft and there is no excessive wrinkling or tension of the skin and muscles on the face. The dog’s lips have a pronounced downward droop and there is no extension of the tongue out of the mouth.

pant-fig3  pant-fig4

Figures 3 and 4: This is a relaxed pant related to heat and exertion.   There is marked protrusion of the tongue with expansion of the tip into the “spoon” appearance.   While there is notable caudal retraction of the lips, there is again a lot of downward droop. In the second photo, this downward droop makes a pucker at the commissure as the retraction of the commissure causes the lip to slightly fold over or bulge outward. Again, otherwise the skin and muscles are relatively smooth and the eyes are soft – no exposure of the sclera . This dog would exhibit normal frequent and “full” blinking of the eyes.


Figure 5: Compare this photo to Figure 1. In this photo, the dog is showing more anxiety compared to Figure 1. The tongue is extended about the same amount; however, there is more caudal lip retraction and more “upward” lift of the lips themselves. There is more tension and wrinkling of the skin and muscles along the muzzle and particularly under the eyes. Additionally, the ears are slightly dropped at the base.


Figure 6: This is another dog with an anxious element to the pant. The level of retraction of the commissures of the lips is excessive as compared to the amount of tongue extension.   The dog’s mouth is open relatively wide, yet there is very little “spooning” or expansion of the tip of the tongue as would be expected for more effective heat dissipation.


Figure 7: This photo shows an almost pure anxiety/fear related pant. There is marked lip retraction with no protrusion of the tongue. The lips are vertically elevated (no downward droop) to the point that almost all of the dog’s teeth are visible. (Compare this to all the other photos where there is NO exposure of the upper canine teeth.) The scleras are visible (“whale eye”) and the ears are rolled back in a high stress position. This dog would likely show little and/or abbreviated blinking.

Dr. Lore Haug is a veterinary behaviorist in Houston, TX