If your dog pants in the car, you may be wondering whether it's because he is hot or maybe he is stressed, overly excited or anxious. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares causes of panting in dogs and goes over the signs of heat stroke in dogs to watch for, along with offering tips for reducing various forms of panting when in the car.

Why Does My Dog Pant in the Car?

Riding in the car with your dog is exciting and adventurous. However, for the dog it can sometimes be dangerous.

 If your dog starts to pant while driving in the car, it is necessary to stop and assess the situation. Based on the assessment, you may have to either provide first aid and stabilize your dog, or even get back to driving, but in the direction of the nearest vet clinic.

The most common causes of a dog panting in the car are heatstroke, motion sickness and strong, overwhelming feelings, like excitement, fear and anxiety. Let's take a closer look into several causes for dogs panting in the car. 

Dog Panting in the Car Due to Heatstroke

Dogs eliminate their excess body heat mainly by panting, and to a limited extent, by sweating through their foot pads.

 If the environment is too hot, these processes are ineffective and the dog becomes overheated. The body temperature rises rapidly and leads to a heatstroke. If the body temperature gets above 105⁰F or 40.5⁰C, the dog is in immediate danger and may die unless the body temperature is rapidly reduced.

Heatstroke is a very common cause of avoidable death. Keep in mind that all dogs need to be protected from heatstroke, but certain dogs are less efficient than others at ridding their bodies of excess heat. 

These individuals include elderly dogs, young puppies, overweight dogs and brachycephalic or flat-faced dogs like Pugs and Boxers.

The 10 Signs of Heatstroke in Dogs 

The signs of heatstroke include the following:

  • Panting
  • Agitation
  • Glazed expression
  • Frothing at the mouth
  • Bright red to pale gums
  • Increased heart rate
  • Disorientation
  •  Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Collapse

If you notice these signs in your dog, first priority is to remove the dog from the hot environment. The second step is to bring his or her temperature down using cool water – as the water evaporates, it will cool the skin. The cooling should last until the dog’s temperature decreases to 103⁰F or 39.4⁰C.

 Do not worry if the temperature falls below 100⁰F or 37.8⁰C – a slightly low body temperature is less dangerous than a very high one.

If a dog experiences heatstroke you will have to provide first aid and then seek veterinary help. In most cases, waiting for the vet’s assistance will only put your dog in greater risk. Therefore, you need to be prepared and know what to do. So, here are the steps to providing first aid for heatstroke.

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How to Provide First Aid for Dog Heatstroke 

Following are more detailed steps to provide first aid to a dog panting in he car as a result of heatstroke. 

1. Remove the dog from the hot car as quickly as possible and take it to a cool and well-ventilated area. If possible, lay the dog on a cool surface to promote temperature reduction. If the dog is conscious, give the dog cool drinking water. Adding a pinch of salt into the drinking water (if you have any on hand) will benefit the dog by replacing the salt lost from the body by panting.

2. Cool the head to prevent the brain from life-threatening swelling and help the breathing. To achieve this, sponge the head and face with cool water. Once again, if possible, place a bag of frozen peas on the head to help reduce the heat around the brain.

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3. Alternatively, if there is a water source near, use as much water as possible to cool the dog down. You can wrap the dog in wet towels and massage its legs firmly to aid circulation and lessen the risk of shock.

4. At this point, you have done everything you can and now you can head towards the nearest vet practice.

When dealing with a dog with heatstroke, keep in mind the following warnings:

  • Never put the dog’s head under water
  • Use cool instead of freezing water because if the water is too cold, the blood vessels in the skin will contract in reaction, and as a result, they will transport less coolness form the water to the interior of the body, where it is needed the most.
  • · If the dog is unconscious, make sure that no water enters his or her mouth or nose
  • In severe cases, the brain may swell, so it is important to treat for shock and seek immediate veterinary attention.

Dog Panting in the Car Due to Motion sickness

Motion sickness is a real problem many dogs face when riding in the car. It is more frequently observed in younger dogs than in adults mainly because of the inner ear’s underdevelopment.

 That is why most dogs outgrow motion sickness after their inner ear fully develops which happens when they are over one year old.

10 Signs of Motion Sickness in Dogs 

A dog or puppy suffering from motion sickness will exhibit the following signs and symptoms:

  • Panting
  • Whining 
  • Pacing
  • Smacking lips 
  • Lip licking
  • Excessive drooling
  • Yawning 
  • Shaking 
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting

Preventing Motion Sickness in Dogs 

To decrease your dog’s discomfort and save yourself from cleaning the vomit of your seats, it is advisable to gradually desensitize your dog to the motion of the car. This means taking your dog on short car rides around the block to allow him or her to accommodate to the riding experience. 

If planning to go on a longer trip, it is recommended to withhold food for 12 hours before the car ride and maybe use some anti-nausea drugs. Your vet will gladly help you choose the best anti-nausea drug for your dog and instruct you on how to administer it.

Dog Panting in the Car Due to Emotions 

For dogs frequently riding in the car when going to the dog park, the car rides is associated with fun and excitement. For dogs who ride in the car once or twice per year, exclusively when visiting the vet’s office, car rides are the scariest thing ever.

 Finally, some dogs simply dislike cars due to lack of conditioning and the weird stimuli associated with the car’s movements.

Excitement, fear and anxiety are all overwhelming feelings that manifest with:

  •  Panting
  • Pacing around or reluctance to move
  • Drooling
  • Shaking
  • Vomiting

Once again, on the long-run, desensitization is the best approach. However, if you do not have time to desensitize you dog because of a longer trip in the near future, talk to your vet about relaxing pheromones and calming herbs, or in more severe cases, anti-nausea and anti-anxiety medications.

Concluding Thoughts 

Seeing a dog in distress is every dog parent’s worst nightmare. Part of being a responsible dog parent is eliminating all distress triggers. However, car rides are sometimes inevitable, especially if you do not live in a walking distance of your trusted vet’s practice, the park or doggy daycare.

If your dog does not enjoy car rides, do not hesitate to talk to your vet about your options. As for the heat stroke part, when travelling with your dog make sure the A/C is always on and never leave your dog inside the car while running errands around town. 

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