Why Does My Dog Pant In The Car?

There are a number of reasons your dog could be panting in the car. Find out what they are and make your next ride more enjoyable!

Brindle dog panting in the back seat of a car

Dogs are amazing travel companions! And whether we’re running errands around town or crossing the country, we want them to be comfortable on the ride. Understanding what might make your dog gasp in the car will make your adventures more fun for both of you!

Last month, Myles and I took a road trip across the country. About three days into our trip, he started panting for an hour when we left each morning. It was a new behavior for him, so I looked for possible causes. And I thought if I wanted to know, you could too!

What does panting look like?

Panting is when dogs breathe with their mouth open. Their breathing is usually faster, sometimes their tongue hangs out, and the gasping is often accompanied by drooling. This is normal canine behavior and there are plenty of reasons dogs do it.

Man in orange t-shirt walking smiling dog on Willow Flats Road in Arches National Park - Moab, UT

Why do dogs pant?

Dogs pant for many reasons! It’s a way to quickly catch their breath after exercise. Dogs also pant when they are scared, anxious, excited, happy, hot, overheated, in pain, stressed, thirsty, or uncomfortable.

It’s important to keep in mind that panting is completely normal. But if the panting is accompanied by wheezing, whining, or other distressing sounds, you should call your dog’s veterinarian immediately. Excessive panting could mean your dog is having difficulty breathing or having an allergic reaction.

Brindle puppy sitting on a rock in a desert landscape

Why might your dog pant in the car?

For dogs, driving in a car can evoke many emotions: excitement, happiness, apprehension, overstimulation, anxiety, fear…or a bit of all of these! He may also be hot or thirsty. Or he might let you know it’s time to go to the bathroom. Knowing your dog will help you better understand what might be causing him to pant in the car.

Learn to drive

Your dog may be panting because he’s not used to driving a car or hasn’t been out for a long time. In this case, his panting could indicate that he is feeling anxiety or fear. After all, cars are big, loud and fast!

In this case, you’ll want to start with short runs to build your dog’s confidence. Make sure some of those first trips end in fun places, like a friend’s house or a walk in the park.

LEARN MORE ⇒ My Dog Hates the Car – Now What? !

Ty and Buster in a rental car

The easy stuff

While your dog is normally comfortable in the car, he may be panting because he’s too hot, thirsty, or needs a bathroom break.

These are easy things to fix! Stop to stretch your legs, drink a glass of water, and adjust the vents or air conditioning so your dog has plenty of airflow.

Excited Panting

If he otherwise seems happy, your dog might be panting because he’s excited to be in the car. You did well ! He loves being around you and has learned that the car takes him to fun new places or places he loves, like a hiking trail or an ice cream parlour.

Usually the gasp of happiness or excitement will slow down and stop as your dog relaxes. If he’s panting longer than you’d like, try removing the novelty from your car rides. That might mean calmly putting him in the car a few times a week, driving for 10-15 minutes, and then driving home. When your travels are more routine, he’ll stop betting too excited when it’s time to leave.

LEARN MORE ⇒ Best Crash Tested Dog Car Harnesses

Ty's Ice Cream Cone - Tombstone, AZ

Motion sickness can cause dogs to pant

Dogs that suffer from motion sickness often pant and drool in the car. Not all dogs will vomit from motion sickness, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel gross!

For some dogs, just anticipating the nausea that starts when the car starts moving is enough to make them gasp and drool.

If you think your dog might have motion sickness, it’s best to start with a trip to the vet. This can help rule out any underlying medical issues that might be mimicking the symptoms, such as an ear infection or high blood pressure. They can also prescribe medications that will help your dog feel better in the car.

LEARN MORE ⇒ What to do if your dog has motion sickness

Brindle dog in a car strapped in with crash tested red Sleepypod harness

Overstimulation can cause gasping

If your dog is panting in the car and seems obsessed with what’s going on around him, he may be overstimulated. This is more common in dogs that are very attentive to their surroundings, especially members of herding breeds.

Our German Shepherd, Buster, used to get overstimulated by staring at oncoming traffic while riding in the RV. To help her, we hung a shower curtain behind the driver and passenger seats to block her view through the windshield.

Shower curtain blocking the view of the windshield for two dogs on board an RV

The best way to deal with overstimulation is to limit what your dog can see from inside the car. You may need to get creative! Try blocking the window next to where he’s sitting, getting him inside a secure carrier or crate, or training him to lie down while you drive.

Sudden anxiety in the car

Sudden anxiety in the car can develop from a medical condition. For example, arthritis can cause pain on bumpy roads or when navigating turns. And blindness or deafness can cause your dog to find the experience of driving in a car scary.

If your dog suddenly develops a fear of cars, talk to your veterinarian. If there’s no medical explanation for the changes you’re seeing, talk to a behaviorist or positive reinforcement trainer to come up with a plan to help you and your dog.

Brindle dog in the back seat of a car while traveling across country

Myles is back to himself

I still don’t know exactly what made Myles gasp in the car on our road trip. I guess it was a combination of excitement and overstimulation. (He feels compelled to look for horses and cows along the way.)

The fact that it was just him and me could also have had an impact. He’s used to Rod being there to do the navigation. Maybe the pressure of being the navigator got to him? Anyway, since we got back, he’s been calm and relaxed in the car.

I hope this article will help you understand what makes your dog pant in the car. Let me know in the comments if you find a solution!

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