There are a number of reasons that could cause your dog to pant in the car. Discover 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 traveling cross country, we want them to be comfortable during the drive. Understanding what could be causing your dog to pant in the car will make your adventures more fun for you both!

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

What Does Panting Look Like?

Panting is when dogs breathe with an open mouth. Their breathing is usually faster, sometimes their tongues hang out, and panting is often accompanied by drooling. It’s a normal canine behavior and there are a lot of reasons why dogs do it.

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

Why Do Dogs Pant?

Dogs pant for a lot of reasons! It’s a way to quickly catch their breath after exercising. Dogs also pant when they’re afraid, anxious, excited, happy, hot, overheated, in pain, stressed, thirsty, or uncomfortable.

It’s important to keep in mind that some panting is completely normal. But if the panting is accompanied by wheezing, whining, or other sounds of distress, you should call your dog’s veterinarian immediately. Excessive panting can 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, riding in the car can bring up a lot of emotions: excitement, happiness, apprehension, overstimulation, anxiety, fear … or some of all of these! He also might be warm or thirsty. Or he could be letting you know that it’s time for a bathroom break. Knowing your dog will help you better understand what might be causing him to pant in the car.

Learning To Ride In The Car

Your dog might pant because he isn’t familiar with riding in the car or hasn’t gone for a ride in a long time. In this case, his panting could indicate he’s feeling some anxiety or fear. After all, cars are big, noisy, and move fast!

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

READ MORE ⇒ My Dog Hates The Car – Now What?!

Ty and Buster in Rental Car

The Easy Stuff

If your dog is normally comfortable riding in the car, he might be panting because he’s too warm, thirsty, or needs a bathroom break.

These are easy things to fix! Make a stop to stretch your legs, get a drink of water, and adjust the vents or air conditioning so your dog has plenty of ventilation.

 

Excited Panting

If he seems otherwise happy, your dog might be panting because he’s excited to be in the car. You’ve done well! He loves being with you, and has learned that the car takes him to fun new places or somewhere he enjoys, like a hiking trail or out for ice cream.

Usually panting from 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 calmly putting him in the car a couple of times a week, driving around for 10 to 15 minutes, and then returning home. When your trips are more routine, he’ll stop betting overly excited when it’s time to go.

READ MORE ⇒ Best Crash-Tested Car Harnesses For Dogs

Ty's Ice Cream Cone - Tombstone, AZ

Car Sickness Can Cause Dogs To Pant

Dogs that suffer from motion sickness will often pant and drool in the car. Not every dog will vomit from car sickness, but that doesn’t mean they’re not feeling yucky!

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

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

READ MORE ⇒ What To Do If Your Dog Gets Motion Sickness

Brindle dog in a car buckled in with a red Sleepypod crash-tested harness
 

Overstimulation Can Cause Panting

If your dog pants in the car and seems fixated by what’s going on around him, he might be overstimulated. This is more common in dogs that are very attentive to their environment, especially members of the herding breeds.

Our German Shepherd, Buster, used to get overstimulated watching on-coming traffic while riding in the motorhome. To help him, we hung a shower curtain behind the driver and passenger seats to block his view out the windshield.

Shower curtain blocking the view out the windshield for two dogs riding in a motorhome

The best way to manage overstimulation is to limit what your dog can see from inside the car. You might need to get creative! Try blocking the window next to where he sits, having him ride inside a secured carrier or crate, or training him to lie down while you’re driving.

 

Sudden Anxiety In The Car

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

If your dog suddenly develops a fear of the car, discuss it with your veterinarian. If there isn’t a medical explanation for changes you’re seeing talk to a behaviorist or positive reinforcement trainer to develop a plan to help you and your dog.

Brindle dog in the back seat of a car on a cross country road trip

Myles Is Back To Himself

I’m still not exactly sure what was causing Myles to pant in the car on our road trip. My guess is that 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 might also have had an impact. He’s used to Rod being along to do the navigating. Maybe the pressure of being the navigator got to him? Either way, since we got back, he’s been calm and relaxed in the car.

I hope this article helps you figure out what’s causing your dog to pant in the car. Let me know in the comments if you come up with a solution!

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  • Category: Travel Tips / Tagged with: Health and Safety