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Dog breathes heavy when I pet him? (Why, What to do)

You’re cuddled up on the couch with your pooch. You begin to pet them and notice them breathing heavily. This can be a sign of many things. It can simply mean they are excited, or it can be a sign that something is wrong. 

Why does my dog breathe heavily when I pet him?

There are several reasons why your dog may breathe heavily when you pet them. Breathing heavily is normal in some circumstances, but it can be concerning if it occurs when your dog is resting. 

Playing or Exercise

If you were playing with your pooch and then settled in for a petting session, this is why they are breathing heavily. Just like humans, dogs breathe heavily during strenuous activity or exercise. 

This allows them to take in more oxygen, which their body needs when engaged in an activity. Once they’ve had time to rest, their breathing should return to normal. 


Excitement can also trigger heavy breathing. In this case, it’s simply a sign that your dog loves your attention. Dogs will naturally breathe faster when they are excited. 

You may have noticed yourself doing the same thing. Have you ever realized you were breathing fast or heavy because you were really happy or excited about something? 

It’s beautiful to realize that your dog loves your attention. If your pooch begins breathing heavy as soon as you pet them, and stops when you stop petting them, look at their body language. 

Is their tail wagging? Is their posture relaxed? Do they have their eyes closed or dreamily fixed on you? These are all signs that your dog is simply feeling the love. 


Pain is another potential cause of your dog breathing heavy when you pet them. Do they only breathe heavily when you pet them in a certain area? This is an indication that they may be experiencing pain in the area. 

Other clues that pain may be the cause are limping or slower movements, avoiding activities they typically enjoy, and whining. Some dogs will become withdrawn, lethargic, or lose their appetite when in pain as well. 


This is an unfortunate reason for your dog breathing heavily, and is more likely in certain scenarios. If you’ve recently adopted your dog, for example, they are still getting to know you. They may be nervous when you pet them, particularly if they weren’t treated well by a previous owner. 

Even if you and your pooch have a great relationship, this can still be the cause of the panting. Dogs have a strong associative memory. This is why positive reinforcement is such a great training tool. They remember performing a task gets them something they want, so they are happy to keep performing the task. 

However, they also remember negative experiences. You may not view the experience as traumatic, but your dog can. Trips to the vet and even baths can trigger a negative association. It can also occur if you happen to be there when they have a negative experience. 

If you are petting them and they are scared by thunder or a loud car, they may associate petting with the scary sound. 

In some cases, you may never know why your dog suddenly became fearful of you or your affection. Just like us, dogs can develop phobias. Phobias, by definition, are unreasonable fears.  

Signs your pooch is nervous include cowering, lowered tail, lowered ears, and excessive licking. They may also pace or yawn. 


This one isn’t directly related to the act of petting your dog. Instead, they sometimes coincide. Dogs don’t sweat the same way humans do. Instead, their main method of staying cool is to pant. Panting also leads to heavy breathing, as the dog is taking in more air to cool themselves down. 

If your dog is exposed to hot temperatures, this is probably the reason for the heavy breathing. Other signs your dog is dangerously hot include  excessive drooling, bright red gums, vomiting, and disorientation. 

Heat stroke can be fatal if your dog isn’t cooled down. Severe heat stroke requires veterinary treatment. 

What to do if my dog breathes heavily when I pet him?

If your dog is breathing heavily when you pet them, the first thing you should do is try to determine the cause. Your next steps will vary greatly depending on why your dog is breathing heavily. 

When Heavy Breathing is Normal

If your four-legged family member has been playing before you began petting them, you have nothing to worry about. There’s no need to take any action. 

The same is true if your pooch is panting due to excitement. You can simply enjoy knowing that your dog loves getting your attention. 

In these situations, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for any changes. If they begin breathing heavily at other times, they may have a medical or behavioral issue. 

If it only happens during these times and your pooch seems happy, there’s nothing to worry about. 


If petting your dog seems to cause them pain, they need to be seen by the vet. When you go, it helps to have some information ready. When did you first notice the heavy breathing? Does it only occur when you pet a certain area? Have you noticed any other signs your dog may be in pain?

It’s a great idea to write these facts down. This makes it much easier to convey the information to your vet, and it gives them a starting point when diagnosing the problem. 


If your dog seems nervous when you pet them, it can be hard to deal with. This is especially true if you have a close relationship with them. However, there are some things you can do to calm your dog. 

First, respect their boundaries. If they seem scared or nervous when you pet them, stop petting them. Find other ways to bond. Feed them and give them treats. Take them for walks. 

You should also give your pooch their own space. Think of this as their room. When you go to your room and shut the door, it’s a sign that you need some time to yourself. Your dog should have the same privilege. If they tend to go to a secluded area when they are stressed, consider this their private area. 


If overheating is causing your dog to breathe heavily, the first step is to get them out of the heat. If you can’t bring them indoors, get them into the shade. A car with the air conditioner running is also a good option. 

Cold water or ice can help, but do not pour cold water onto the dog. This can shock their system, making the situation worse. Use slightly cool or room temperature water to pour on them only. Give them cool or cold water to drink, or ice to chew on. 

Dipping their paws in cold water can help lower their temperature, without shocking their system. 

Once you have them out of the heat and cooling, access the situation. An internal body temperature of 104 or higher means they are experiencing heat stroke. 

If you can’t take their temp, look for disorientation, very heavy panting and drooling, and severe lethargy. These are signs you need to get them to the vet. Heat stroke can cause seizures, and ultimately, death.