There are a number of reasons that can cause your dog to pant in the car. Discover what they are and make your next ride more enjoyable!
Dogs are great travel companions! And whether we’re running errands around town or traveling cross-country, we want them to be comfortable while driving. Understanding what could be causing your dog to pant in the car will make your adventures more fun for both of you!
Last month, Myles and I took a cross-country road trip. About three days into our trip, he started panting for an hour every morning when we left. This was new behavior for him, so I looked for possible causes. And I thought, if I wanted to know, you might too!
What does panting look like?
Panting is when dogs breathe with their mouths open. Their breathing is usually faster, their tongue sometimes lolls out, and wheezing is often accompanied by drooling. It is normal dog behavior and there are many reasons dogs do it.
Why do dogs pant?
Dogs pant for many reasons! It’s a way to catch your breath quickly after a workout. Dogs also pant when they are afraid, anxious, excited, happy, hot, overheated, in pain, stressed, thirsty, or uncomfortable.
It’s important to remember that some panting is perfectly normal. However, if the panting is accompanied by gasps, whimpers, or other distressing sounds, you should call your dog’s vet immediately. Excessive panting may mean your dog is having trouble breathing or is having an allergic reaction.
Why might your dog pant in the car?
In dogs, driving a car can evoke many emotions: excitement, happiness, apprehension, sensory overload, fear, anxiety…or some of them! He could also be warm or thirsty. Or he might let you know it’s time for a bathroom break. Knowing your dog can help you better understand what might be causing him to pant in the car.
Learning to drive a car
Your dog could be panting because he doesn’t know how to drive or hasn’t driven in a long time. In this case, his panting could indicate that he is feeling anxious or afraid. After all, cars are big, loud and fast!
In this case, you should start with short walks to build your dog’s confidence. Make sure some of those early outings end up in fun places, like a friend’s house or a walk in the park.
READ MORE ⇒ My dog hates the car – now what?!
The easy stuff
If your dog normally rides comfortably in the car, he may be panting because he is overheated, thirsty, or needs a bathroom break.
These things are easy to fix! Take a break to stretch your legs, drink some water, and adjust the vents or air conditioning to give your dog adequate ventilation.
If he seems otherwise happy, your dog may be panting because he’s looking forward to getting in the car. You did well! He loves being with you and has learned that the car takes him to fun new places or places he enjoys, such as hiking or eating ice cream.
Usually, panting with happiness or excitement will slow down and stop as your dog relaxes. If he’s panting longer than you’d like, try taking the novelty out of your car rides. That could mean quietly putting him in the car a few times a week, driving around for 10 to 15 minutes, and then returning home. If your trips are more routine, he stops betting overly excited when it’s time to go.
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Car sickness can cause dogs to pant
Dogs that suffer from motion sickness often pant and drool in the car. Not every dog will vomit from car sickness, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel unwell!
For some dogs, just anticipating the nausea that will set in when the car pulls away is enough to make them pant and drool.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from motion sickness, the best place to start is with a visit to the vet. This can help clear up any underlying medical issues that might be mimicking the symptoms, like an ear infection or high blood pressure. They can also prescribe medications to help your dog feel better in the car.
READ MORE ⇒ What to do if your dog gets motion sickness?
Overstimulation can cause panting
If your dog is panting in the car and seems fixated by what’s going on around him, he may be overstimulated. This is more common in dogs that are very attentive to their surroundings, particularly members of the herding breeds.
Our German shepherd Buster used to be overexcited when he watched oncoming traffic in the motorhome. To help him, we hung a shower curtain behind the driver and passenger seats to block his view through the windshield.
The best way to deal with sensory overload is to limit your dog’s field of vision in the car. Maybe you need to get creative! Try blocking the window next to their seat, letting them ride in a secured van or crate, or teaching them to lie down while driving.
Sudden anxiety in the car
Sudden anxiety in the car can develop from a medical problem. For example, arthritis can cause pain on bumpy roads or when navigating corners. And being blind or deaf can make your dog find the driving experience frightening.
If your dog suddenly develops a fear of the car, talk to your vet about it. If there is no medical explanation for the changes observed, speak with a behaviorist or positive reinforcement trainer to develop a plan to help you and your dog.
Myles is himself again
I’m still not entirely sure what made Myles gasp in the car on our road trip. I suspect it was a combination of excitement and sensory overload. (He feels compelled to look out for horses and cows along the way.)
The fact that it was just him and me might have had an impact as well. He’s used to Rod being there to do the navigating. Maybe the pressure of being the navigator got the better of him? Anyway, since we got back he’s calm and relaxed in the car.
I hope this article helps you figure out why your dog is panting in the car. Let me know in the comments if you have a solution!
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