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Dog Panting in Car? They Might Have Car Anxiety

Dog Panting in Car? They Might Have Car Anxiety

Why do dogs pant in the car? Some dogs love car rides, while others would rather not go along. The panting may be an indication of the latter.

Keep reading to learn why dogs pant in the car and if you should be concerned. We also provide solutions for preventing car anxiety.

Let’s get going!

What Causes Dogs to Pant? 

To understand the answer to why dogs pant in the car, it’s worth looking at the science behind it. 

Dogs don’t have sweat glands like humans, meaning they lack the same mechanism to cool themselves. Instead, they pant to cool themselves down. The rapid exchange of air helps cool the blood flowing through the dog’s mouth, tongue, and head, lowering its body temperature. 

Under normal conditions, a few minutes of panting can help significantly cool off your pup. 

Why Does My Dog Pant in the Car? 

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to why dogs pant in the car. Instead, a variety of causes may be behind the panting. Some are harmless, and others are worth paying closer attention to. Here are some of the most common reasons. 

Your Dog Might Be Too Warm or Hot

One of the most common causes of panting is also one of the most obvious. Your dog is overheated. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re feeling warm, chances are your pup is too. This is exaggerated for dogs with heavy coats. 

Your Dog Might Be Thirsty

Panting is also a sign that your dog may be a bit dehydrated. On hot days or when active, dogs need more water than usual. You also can tell if your dog needs a drink through other signs like a dry nose. It’s crucial to mind their fluid levels. 

Your Dog Might Be Excited or Happy

Sometimes dogs pant out of sheer excitement or happiness. This is often the case when owners come home after a long day or when dogs sense they’re going to be taken for a walk. This is nothing to worry about, just a positive and harmless emotional reaction. 

why does my dog pant in the car
If your dog is afraid of car rides, panting is a sign.

Your Dog Might Be Anxious or Afraid

Another possibility for panting is that your pup may be anxious or afraid of car rides. Like humans, dogs may breathe a bit harder when they’re scared. This will manifest as your dog panting in the car. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to deal with your dog’s car anxiety that we’ll discuss ahead.

Your Dog Might Be Overstimulated

If your pup spends most of its time at home, it can be a bit overwhelming to be suddenly confronted with all sorts of new sights, sounds, and smells rushing by at incredible speeds when in a vehicle. It can leave them overstimulated and stressed, which can lead to panting. Many dogs will eventually get over this overstimulation as they become used to trips out on the road. 

How Do I Know if My Dog Has Car Anxiety?

Your dog panting in the car isn’t the only symptom of car anxiety. Anxious pups will show general reluctance to get into the vehicle, perhaps by whining, barking, or resisting commands. 

They may also excessively lick their lips or drool, and some can even tremble or shake. If these issues only occur when vehicles are involved, you can be relatively confident that car anxiety is the culprit. When in doubt, consult your veterinarian for a professional assessment of your dog’s health. 

Puppies can be a handful. Find out when puppies get easier, if ever!

dogs car anxiety
If your dog’s car anxiety is out of control, consult your vet to make sure there are no additional health concerns.

How Can I Prevent My Dog’s Car Anxiety? 

Just like humans, anxiety is very treatable for our four-legged friends. Follow these tips and guidelines to help reduce your dog’s stress on the next car trip. 

Provide a Comfortable Carseat or Blanket

No matter how your dog rides in your car, take some steps to ensure they’re comfortable. For smaller dogs, this may include a car seat they are comfortable and happy to use. Larger pups will enjoy a blanket or other bedding to provide a cozy place to curl up during the trip. 

If your dog has a favorite blanket or bed that can fit in your car, it can also make them feel more comfortable to bring it along.

Did you know? They make car seats for cats, too! Learn more about vehicle travel with your feline.

dog car seat
Dog seat protectors or blankets can give your dog a more secure and comfortable experience in the car.

Crack the Windows Open

Some pups may feel cooped up in the back of a vehicle, increasing their stress levels. Opening the window for fresh air and views of the passing landscape can help relax them. It can also keep them occupied through your drive. 

However, it’s still not advised to let your pup ride with their head or any other body part sticking out the window, which can be dangerous. 

Play Music

Jamming out with your pup may be a surprising way to relax them on car rides. The science here is a bit murky, so there may need to be some trial and error to find the kind of music that helps chill out your dog. 

Remember that dogs have superior hearing and may be experiencing overstimulation, so be aware of the volume and mood of the music you choose. There are even special playlists on streaming services like Spotify designed to calm anxious dogs on the road. 

Talk to Your Dog and Give Positive Affirmations

You’re your dog’s hero and protector, so a few kind words and a bit of love can go a long way toward calming its car anxiety. It’s not even important what you say so much as your soothing, calming tone and the fact that your dog will hear you and know you’re there. 

As a bonus, this can often help soothe some human anxiety about taking your pup in the car too!

why does my dog pant in the car
Give your dog positive affirmations on car rides to help decrease any anxiety.

Start With Short Car Rides

Exposing your pup to more time in the car gradually can help them become accustomed to longer road trips. It can start with something as simple as a ride around the block or across town and back. Once your dog becomes familiar with the process and sensations of car travel, they’ll often learn there’s no reason to freak out about every trip. 

By slowly increasing the time to an hour or more, you’ll be able to confidently tote your pup with you on even longer road trips. 

Take Your Dog Somewhere Fun

Many dogs, especially those who don’t typically do well in the car, only get car rides to go to the vet, a boarding facility, or the groomer. If they don’t like any of these experiences, they may associate the negative destination with the car itself. Taking your dog to a fun place, like the beach, a dog park, or even for a doggie treat in a drive-thru can help show your dog that good things happen when they get in the car!

Try Natural Calming Supplements or Treats

Various products on the market can help relax your dog during car rides or other situations. Some pet owners swear by natural supplements or treats, while others have had more mixed results. 

In any case, checking with your vet before using them is vital. This will ensure you’ve selected a healthy choice for your dog and one that won’t affect any medical conditions or medication. 

Administer Vet Approved Medication

When all else fails, your veterinarian may be able to help with a sedative or other calming medication. These can be effective, even on long car rides. But they also may create side effects or other interactions, which is why using them under a vet’s supervision is crucial. 

Dogs with heads out of car window
Opening the window for fresh air and views of the passing landscape can help relax and entertain your dog.

Can Dogs Overcome Car Anxiety? 

If your answer to “Why does my dog pant in the car?” has resulted in a diagnosis of car anxiety, there’s no need to despair. Most pups can become more comfortable on car rides through familiarity with the experience. Try the prevention methods we’ve discussed. 

Of course, at the end of the day, some pups may just like car rides more than others. But with the help of a caring owner, just about any dog can get through a car ride without anxiety.

Does your dog suffer from car anxiety?

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Petrics was born out of a love of helping animals and their owners live life to their fullest! Established in 2022, Petrics was founded by Caitlin and Tom Morton of Mortons on the Move, Discovery TV Show hosts and successful RV Travel Experts. They are a full-time RVing couple who loved traveling with their beloved rescue dogs. This Petrics team strives to share the most interesting questions answered, the most entertaining news and culture, and the most inspiring rescue stories. Additionally, our mission is to give back to animal welfare organizations so they can continue their good work in saving the constant stream of animals in need. In fact, 5% of all profits from Petrics are donated to animal-saving initiatives!

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