As a veterinarian, I frequently encounter concerned dog parents who have noticed sudden changes in their pets’ behavior, such as increased panting and drinking more water than usual. While it’s normal for dogs to pant and drink water, especially after exercise or in hot weather, excessive panting and thirst can sometimes be a red flag for underlying health issues.
Let’s explore some possible causes, what you can try at home, and when it’s important to seek veterinary care.
Why do dogs pant?
Panting is a rapid (200-400 breaths per minute), shallow, open-mouth breathing pattern primarily used to regulate body temperature. Dogs also pant in response to various emotional and physical states. While some panting is completely normal, excessive panting can signal underlying issues. Dogs may pant for the following reasons:
- Temperature Regulation: dogs use panting as their primary method to release excess heat from their bodies. When a dog pants, they evaporate moisture from their tongue and mouth, which helps lower their body temperature.
- Physical Activity: After vigorous play or exercise, a dog may pant to help regulate body temperature and recover from the activity.
- Excitement or Stress: Emotional responses can manifest in increased respiratory rates.
- External Factors: Panting can be influenced by external factors like hot weather or environments where the dog might feel overheated.
- Medical Reasons: Sometimes, panting can be a sign of a medical issue. Conditions such as pain, illness, and some medications can also cause panting.
My dog is suddenly panting and drinking a lot of water? Is this normal?
Panting is a natural and typical behavior for dogs, but excessive or unexpected panting can be an indication of underlying issues. It’s always advisable to monitor any changes in a pet’s panting patterns and consult with a veterinarian if there are concerns. If your dog is panting and drinking more than usual, it could be an indication that your dog is overheated or suffering from another medical condition. Let’s explore these and other possible causes.
Top reasons that cause a dog to pant and drink a lot
The most straightforward explanation for a dog panting and drinking more is the weather. Hot and humid conditions can lead your dog to seek water more frequently and pant to cool themselves. Additionally, increased exercise and activity can also result in temporary increases in thirst and panting. You may also notice your dog seeking out shade or cooler areas. Unless you are noticing signs of heat stroke (such as lethargy, vomiting, and disorientation), no veterinary treatment is required. Panting and drinking should subside after your dog has a chance to rest and cool down. Be sure to have fresh water available for your dog at all times, offer shady spots to rest, and avoid intense physical activity during the hottest parts of the day.
Some dogs may pant or drink more water when they are anxious, stressed, or excited. If your dog is stressed you may notice other signs, such as pacing, shaking, or seeking out hiding places. Offer a safe, quiet area for your dog and consider using anxiety wraps, calming treats, or pheromone diffusers such as Adaptil. In some cases, prescription anti-anxiety medications can be beneficial.
Foods high in salt or other seasonings can make your dog thirstier than usual. Always ensure you’re feeding your pet a balanced diet suitable for their age, size, and any underlying health conditions. If you need help finding a diet, ask your vet, and be sure to look for AAFCO and WSAVA seals of approval.
Ingestion of certain toxins such as antifreeze, ibuprofen, or grapes/raisins can also affect the kidneys, causing changes in thirst and urination.
Medical conditions causing polyuria polydipsia
Polyuria and polydipsia are medical terms often used together to describe conditions in which a dog experiences increased urination (polyuria) and increased thirst (polydipsia – techinically defined at drinking over 100 mg/kg/day). These symptoms can be interrelated, as increased fluid intake can naturally lead to increased urination. A dog who is losing fluid through excessive urination will also drink more to try to make up for this. These symptoms are typical of several different disease processes, therefore is important to see your vet for diagnostics and treatment. Diagnostic tests may include blood work, urinalysis, and possibly imaging to determine the underlying cause. Treatment and prognosis depend on the diagnosis and may range from dietary changes and medications to more intensive interventions.
- Diabetes – Diabetes in dogs results in elevated blood sugar levels, which may lead to increased thirst and panting. Other common symptoms include increased appetite and weight loss.
- Cushing’s Disease – This condition is caused by an excess of the hormone cortisol, leading to increased panting, thirst, frequent urination, pot-bellied appearance, and changes to the skin and hair coat.
- Kidney disease – Increased thirst and urination is a classic sign of kidney disease in dogs. There are many possible underlying causes, ranging from infection to stones to toxins.
- Diabetes insipidus – This relatively rare condition is characterized by extreme thirst and urination caused by an imbalance in the body’s regulation of water and electrolytes, typically due to either a deficiency of the antidiuretic hormone (ADH) or a lack of response by the kidneys to ADH.
Dogs may pant and drink more water than usual when they have a fever. A fever is the body’s natural response to infection or inflammation and is characterized by elevated body temperature above 103 F in dogs. If your dog is febrile, you may also notice symptoms such as decreased appetite and lethargy. Additional clinical signs may vary based on the underlying cause. There are many possible conditions that can cause fever, and a veterinary workup is always recommended. Learn about the best ways to tell if your dog has a fever and to comfort a dog with a fever.
Other medical conditions
Other conditions such as heart disease, infection, medication side effects, and pain could cause some similar signs.
Is my dog in pain?
Panting can be a sign of pain in dogs, but it is also a normal canine behavior. Additional signs that your dog may be in pain include altered behavior such as self isolation or aggression, vocalizations like whining or growling, and changes in eating and drinking habits. Physical symptoms may include restlessness, limping, difficulty rising or lying down, changes in posture, and increased respiratory rate. Dogs may also excessively groom a painful area. Some may even display reactive behavior like snapping when a painful area is touched. If you notice any of these symptoms, consult a veterinarian. It’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your pet’s well-being, as even subtle changes can be indicators of pain. Learn about pain relief for older dogs.
Is panting while drinking excess water a reason to be worried? Is it an emergency?
In some cases, heavy panting can indicate a medical emergency. Keeping an eye out for the signs below can help you distinguish abnormal from normal panting in your pup:
- Continuous, relentless panting might be a red flag. This kind of panting does not stop after a short rest period and doesn’t seem to be related to recent physical activity or external temperatures.
- Heavy or strained panting, especially if the dog appears distressed or is having difficulty breathing.
- Other Symptoms: If panting is accompanied by other worrying signs, such as coughing, increased respiratory effort, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, nonproductive retching, weakness, or collapse, veterinary care is required.
7 ways to help a dog that pants and drinks a lot of water
Taking these steps can help you manage your dog’s symptoms and improve their comfort level. However, if symptoms persist or worsen, it’s crucial to consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
1. Provide Fresh Water: Always ensure that fresh, clean water is readily available for your dog. Unless directed to do so by your vet, never restrict your dog’s water. If you feel they are drinking excessively, try measure the quantity and alert your vet.
2. Create a Cool, Safe Space: Offer a shaded or air-conditioned area for your dog to retreat to, especially in hot weather. This should also be somewhere quiet and secluded where your dog can relax if they seem anxious.
3. Remove Stressors: Identify and eliminate possible sources of stress or anxiety, such as loud noises or unfamiliar people.
4. Use Calming Aids: Consider using an anxiety wrap or calming pheromone diffuser if your dog appears stressed.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
5. Monitor Behavior: Keep a close eye on any other symptoms or changes in behavior that may accompany the panting and increased thirst.
6. Consult a Veterinarian: If the symptoms persist, worsen, or are accompanied by other signs of distress or illness, seek professional advice.
7. Regular Check-ups: Keep up with regular veterinary check-ups to monitor your dog’s health, especially if they have been diagnosed with a chronic condition like diabetes or kidney disease.
WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]
Veterinary visit or wait-and-see?
Panting and excessive thirst can sometimes be a typical response, particularly if dogs have been active or are cooling down. However, when this panting persists notably after a period of rest or is paired with other concerning symptoms, it may indicate a more serious or even emergent issue. Many of the conditions discussed above require veterinary evaluation and treatments to manage successfully.
As a pet owner, trust your instincts—you’re most attuned to when your dog’s behavior seems off. When in doubt, always consult with your veterinarian for the safety and well-being of your pet.
Your visit at the vet
Before heading to the vet, there are a few things you can do to make the process more efficient:
- Urine Sample: When scheduling your appointment, ask if the vet would like you to bring a fresh urine sample. Evaluating the urine can provide valuable information about your dog’s kidney function and possible infections. Your vet may request that you collect a sample at home or they may prefer to collect a sample in the clinic.
- Symptom Journal: Make a note of when the symptoms started, any changes in behavior, and other symptoms you’ve noticed. This can help your vet get a clearer picture of your dog’s condition.
- Diet and Medication History: Be prepared to discuss your dog’s diet, including any recent changes, as well as any medications or supplements they’re taking.
Your vet visit will always include a comprehensive physical exam. After that, a proper diagnosis often involves a variety of tests, which may include:
- Blood Tests ($100-400): To evaluate your dog’s overall systemic health and major organ function, and check for issues like kidney function, diabetes, and potential infections. More specific blood tests (for example, to test for Cushing’s Disease) may also be recommended.
- Urinalysis and/or culture ($50-200): To further investigate kidney function or urinary tract infections.
- Imaging ($100-500): X-rays or ultrasounds might be necessary to check for tumors or other abnormalities.
The prognosis will depend on the underlying cause of your dog’s symptoms. While heat-related symptoms and minor infections often have an excellent prognosis with timely intervention, chronic conditions like kidney disease or diabetes require long-term management and may have a more guarded prognosis. Always adhere to the veterinary treatment plan and attend all follow-up appointments to ensure the best possible outcome for your pet.