Panting is a normal dog behavior, but many dogs seem to pant much more when they are in the car. Why do dogs pant heavily on car rides, and is it something to be concerned about? Let’s find out.
Why Do Dogs Pant Normally?
If you pay attention, you may notice that most dogs pant a lot of the time. That’s because panting plays several essential roles in a dog’s health and comfort. Here are some of the reasons that dogs pant in normal conditions:
- As a result of exercise. When you exercise, you find yourself breathing heavily through your mouth. Dogs do the same thing. When they are physically exerting themselves, they breathe through their mouths to get more oxygen into their lungs
- To control their temperature. Unlike people, dogs cannot sweat to reduce their temperature. While their bodies do cool down a bit through the pads of their feet, the primary way that a dog can cool themselves off is by panting. They release warm air from their mouths and inhale cooler air that reduces their body temperature
- They are happy. In some cases, a dog’s pant can simply be a way of showing happiness. When a dog has bright eyes, relaxed ears, and a happy tail position, panting may simply be an open-mouthed smile, indicating that the dog is in a good mood
- They are excited. Dogs can pant when they are excited. When they are experiencing a lot of stimulation and having a good time, panting can indicate excitement and anticipation
- They are stressed. Just like in people, there can be a fine line between excitement and stress. In both cases, your heart rate and respiration increase. You may feel hot or cold (or both), and your senses are especially sensitive. Dogs often pant in response to stress as part of their physical reaction to the situation
- They have a medical condition. Heavy panting may also be a sign of pain, distress, or illness. There are times when panting may be a cause for concern, and we’ll look at that more closely below
As you can see, dogs pant when they are happy, and they pant when they are sad. They pant when they are warm and when they are active. It’s no wonder that dogs pant in the car since they pant so often and for so many different reasons.
Why Does Your Dog Pant So Much in The Car?
As you can see, there may be many reasons for a dog to pant in a car. Here are the primary reasons that dogs may pant more in the car than they usually do.
- They are warm. It’s no surprise that the inside of a car may be much warmer on a hot day than the outside temperature. Dogs pant to cool off, so they may pant more inside a vehicle than outside of it
- They are excited and happy. Many dogs love car trips and find them exciting. There may be all kinds of interesting smells coming in through the window, or they may feel like they are on their way somewhere fun and exciting, like the beach or the dog park
- They like the wind in their face. Many dogs love to stick their head out the car window and feel the wind in their faces. The rush of air brings them many exciting smells, feels good in their fur, and cools them off. They may keep their mouths open or pant just to get more out of the sensation of the wind
- They are stressed and anxious. On the other hand, many dogs associate car trips with stressful events like visits to the vet. If a dog has had motion sickness or unhappy experiences in the car in the past, it may leave them with stress and anxiety about car trips, and they express the anxiety through panting
- They are in pain or distress. Many dogs do get motion sickness, and panting may be a sign that they aren’t feeling well and are uncomfortable
In other words, for many dogs, being in the car is an experience that triggers a lot of the feelings that would typically make them pant. Whether they are happy or nervous, a car ride offers even more excitement and stimulation than they usually experience, and greater panting reflects that.
When Should You Worry About Dogs Panting in the Car?
As you can see, extra panting in the car is not usually a cause for concern unless it’s accompanied by other signs of unhappiness or distress. If your dog pants a lot in the car and is also:
- Whining or crying
- Shaking or shivering
- Crouching or hiding
- Has their ears down
- Has their tail between their legs
These can be signs of distress or pain and should be taken seriously. Make sure the car is at a comfortable temperature, provide plenty of water, and reassure your dog. When in doubt, take your dog to the vet and discuss the symptoms and your concerns.
Because panting is such a normal dog behavior and can be triggered by so many physical and emotional experiences, it’s perfectly normal for a dog to pant more when they are in the car. In most cases, this isn’t anything to be concerned about unless accompanied by other signs of distress. Many dogs enjoy traveling in the car because they like being with you and being part of the family. After all, they like the wind and all the exciting new smells, and because many car trips take dogs on fun adventures. In that case, panting is just a sign that your dog is having a good time and enjoying the journey.