Surgeon Shares How to Help Dogs Who Pant After a Surgery

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dog panting on a surgery examination table

Undergoing surgery can be a major event, not just for humans but also for our beloved pets and it’s only natural to notice some behavioral changes in them afterward.

In my experience as veterinarian surgeon, I have come across numerous cases of post-surgery panting in dogs. Some of these are completely normal and to be expected, while others indicate a more serious underlying cause. This article will guide you through the possible causes of your dog’s panting, how serious it is, and what you can do to help your dog feel more comfortable.

While panting is one of the normal ways that our dogs cool down and regulate their body temperature, heavy panting following a surgical procedure can also indicate stress, pain, or even be a side effect of medication. As a dog owner, it is essential to understand the reasons behind this behavior and determine when it’s a cause for concern.

Is it normal for a dog to pant after a surgery?

Yes, it can be normal for your dog to pant heavily after surgery as they recover from anesthesia and adjust to their post-operative environment. This behavior is often more noticeable during the first few hours, but it can last longer depending on factors such as the type and duration of the surgery, your dog’s age, breed, health condition, and even the ambient temperature.

For example, certain surgeries like chest or abdominal procedures might cause more panting compared to others. This is due to the nature of these surgeries and how they can affect a dog’s respiratory system, particularly during the recovery process. Other surgeries might be associated with more pain and, as such, result in more excessive panting.

The anesthetic drugs used during the procedure are another factor that can cause post-operative panting, as they can temporarily affect your dog’s respiratory system and slow down their breathing. As the anesthesic drugs work their way out of your dog’s body after the surgery, this panting usually subsides as your dog’s respiratory system returns to a normal breathing pattern. 

The stress and anxiety of waking up from a big procedure in an unusual environment is another normal cause of panting. Once your dog comes home and has had time to settle down, this panting should stop. 

However, be aware that if the panting following surgery is excessive it might indicate something wrong. It’s essential to monitor your dog closely during their recovery period and watch for any changes in their breathing patterns. If you notice persistent, excessive panting, or any other unusual behavior, make sure to consult your veterinarian, as it may indicate complications or the need for additional treatment. 

Is it a reason to be worried?

While it’s important to monitor your dog’s condition after surgery, remember that some degree of panting is to be expected as your pet recovers. As long as your dog is stable otherwise, then it’s OK to wait for 24 hours to see if the panting subsides; in most cases, it does.

However, it’s important to contact your veterinarian if the panting persists or worsens. Excessive or abnormal panting can indicate potential complications, such as infection, bleeding, organ failure, or an allergic reaction to medication. Keep an eye out for signs that something might be wrong such as:

If you notice any of these signs in your dog, contact your veterinarian immediately for guidance. They can help determine if any complications need to be addressed.

5 tips to help your dog

Keeping your dog comfortable after surgery is crucial for their recovery. If your dog is panting after surgery, here are some steps you can take to help them:

  1. Make sure your dog is in a cool and comfortable environment with proper ventilation. Fresh water should always be available and it’s essential to ensure they don’t overheat, as this can exacerbate panting.
  2. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions on post-operative care closely. This may include wound management, administering medication, limiting your dog’s activity, and adjusting their diet. Proper care can help alleviate discomfort and prevent complications, reducing the likelihood of excessive panting.
  3. Cuddles, treats, toys, or special privileges can help calm them down. Find creative ways to provide enrichment and stimulation without causing physical exertion. Distracting them from any pain or anxiety they’re experiencing can be an effective wat to make them feel more relaxed.
  4. Keep a close eye on your dog’s vital signs, such as temperature, pulse, gum color and respiration. If you think your dog is too warm, hyperventilating or has pale or blue gums then contact your vet immediately. 
  5. Keep an eye out for signs of infection or other complications. If you notice any discharge or pus coming from any incision sites then this could indicate an infection, which will result in a high temperature and panting. 

Most likely reasons causing your dog’s panting

Dogs pant for various reasons, and after surgery, there can be a few factors contributing to this behavior. Some of these are considered normal, while others are more of a cause for concern. Here are the top reasons a dog will pant after surgery:

Medication: One possible reason for your dog’s panting could be a side effect of certain medications used before, during, or after surgery. These medications aim to ease pain, reduce inflammation, or control anxiety, and may include opioids, NSAIDs, steroids, or sedatives. Remember that panting can be a normal response to these treatments, but consult your veterinarian for more information on specific medications and their potential side effects.

Anesthetic drugs: The drugs that keep your dog asleep during their procedure work by slowing the respiratory rate down. Once your dog wakes up and these drugs wear off, your dog’s respiratory system has to return to its normal rhythm – sometimes this can result in panting.

Pain: Your dog might be panting due to pain or discomfort associated with the procedure. Pain can also cause an increase in your dog’s stress levels and body temperature, leading to more panting. It’s essential to monitor your dog’s behavior and consult your veterinarian if you think their pain levels are not being adequately managed.

Anxiety: Another potential reason for panting after surgery is anxiety. Your pooch might feel stressed or fearful in an unfamiliar environment post-surgery. Anesthetic drugs left in their system can also cause confusion, contributing to further anxiety. 

Panting can be a sign of pain that should not be ignored

As a pet owner, it’s essential to assess your dog’s pain level after surgery to ensure their comfort and proper healing. Pain is one of the most common causes for post-operative panting in dogs and while some degree of pain is expected, excessive pain should be managed.

One way to evaluate their pain is by observing their body language and facial expressions. Signs of discomfort may include a hunched posture, tucked tail, ears back, squinted eyes, grimace, or licking.

Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.

You can also gently touch your dog around the incision site and other areas. Be cautious and watch for reactions such as flinching, tensing up, growling, snapping, or biting. These responses could indicate that your dog is experiencing pain or discomfort following their surgery.

For a more objective assessment, you can use a pain scale or a pain questionnaire to rate your dog’s pain level. Examples of pain scales in veterinary practice are the Glasgow Composite Measure Pain Scale and the Colorado State University Canine Acute Pain Scale

If you’re concerned that your dog is still in pain, even despite any pain relief medication they may be receiving, contact your vet – they may be able to provide additional analgesic medications.

What could happen if a dog’s panting is not addressed?

If your dog’s panting after surgery isn’t properly addressed, a number of potential consequences could arise. One of the main concerns is that your furry friend might suffer from chronic pain or discomfort, negatively affecting their quality of life and well-being. 

Another potential issue is the development of complications such as infection, inflammation, bleeding, organ damage, or shock. These serious problems can endanger your dog’s life, and it’s crucial to stay vigilant for indications that anything is wrong. Early detection and intervention can make a significant difference in preventing further harm and promoting a smoother recovery.

Unaddressed panting due to post-surgery distress could also lead to behavioral problems in your dog. Feeling constantly stressed or in pain might trigger aggression, anxiety, depression, or phobias in your pet. These behaviors can affect not only your dog’s mental state but also their relationship with you and other animals in the household. It’s therefore essential to pay attention to any changes in your dog’s demeanor or habits to ensure they get the help they need.

Call your vet when panting lasts more than 24H or when your dog shows other signs of illness

It’s crucial to know when to call your veterinarian if your dog is panting excessively after surgery. Although some panting is normal, here are a few guidelines to consider when to call your veterinarian:

  • Duration of panting: If your dog’s panting lasts longer than 24 hours or if it worsens over time, you should reach out to your veterinarian. It may be an indication of a problem that requires medical attention.
  • Signs of distress or illness: If your dog’s panting is accompanied by fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or blood in their urine or stool, you should contact your vet.
  • Interference with normal activities or sleep: Panting that affects your dog’s daily activities or sleep patterns should be a concern. If they can’t seem to settle down or seem distressed, a call to the veterinarian may be necessary.
  • Signs of pain: If your dog still appears to be in pain despite being on the prescribed medication or if the panting significantly increases during certain movements or activities, contact your veterinarian. 

Don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian if you are concerned about your dog’s panting after surgery. They are there to provide guidance, support, and emergency veterinary care when needed. 

Here is how your vet can help

If you’re worried about your dog’s excessive panting then you should reach out to your veterinarian – they can assist your dog if they’re panting excessively after surgery. Here’s what you should know before contacting your vet:

Questions your vet will ask you

To better understand your dog’s situation, a vet will typically ask you a series of questions about their medical history, surgical procedure, and any observed symptoms. This information can help them determine the most appropriate course of action. These questions include:

  • How long has your dog been panting? Is it getting worse?
  • Does your dog have any other symptoms such as vomtiing, diarrhea, pale gums, coughing or blood in their stool?
  • Is your dog able to settle down or sleep as normal?
  • Have you noticed anythign unusual about the incision site such as swelling or discharge?

What you should know before your visit

Before visiting the vet, make a note your dog’s behavior, such as the frequency and intensity of the panting. You could even film a video of your dog’s panting to take with you. You should also bring any medication that your dog is currently taking with you. These details will help the vet make a well-informed decision about the best treatment approach.

Diagnosis & cost of diagnosis

Diagnostic tests like blood samples, urine samples, ultrasound scans or X-rays might be necessary for your vet to accurately assess your dog’s situation. These tests may unveil possible reasons for the panting, such as an infection, inflammation, bleeding, or compromised organ function. The costs of these tests can vary from anywhere between $50-500. 

Vet treatments & costs

Depending on the diagnosis, your vet may recommend various treatments to help your dog recover. Often the costs of any medication or interventions following a procedure are not included in the original price, so be ready to pay more if necessary. Possible treatments include:

  • Adjusting medication: Altering the type, dosage, or frequency of medications may better control pain, inflammation, or anxiety.
  • Administering fluids or medications: Intravenous fluids, oxygen, antibiotics, or anti-inflammatory drugs could help stabilize your dog’s condition.
  • Surgical intervention: In some cases, additional surgery might be necessary to repair damage or remove any complications.

The costs for these treatments will vary depending on the specifics of your dog’s situation and the recommended course of action but could vary from $50 to $500+


The prognosis for a dog panting after surgery largely depends on the underlying cause but in most cases, prompt veterinary intervention can lead to a successful recovery. Many cases of excessive panting can be resolved by adjusting pain relief medications or helping your dog fell less anxious. 


  • Dr Alex Crow, Veterinary Surgeon

    Alex Crow, VetMed MRCVS, is an RCVS accredited Veterinary surgeon with special interests in neurology and soft tissue surgery. Dr Crow is currently practicing at Buttercross Veterinary Center in England. He earned his degree in veterinary medicine in 2019 from the Royal Veterinary College (one of the top 3 vet schools in the world) and has more than three years of experience practicing as a small animal veterinarian (dogs and cats).

Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.

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