Why Do Dogs Pant?
If you have a pet dog, you’ve probably seen them running around in circles for… no apparent reason. It’s adorable. Anyway, after watching your furry friend run around in circles, they’re probably going to be panting for a while. But why exactly do dogs pant? We’re warm-blooded too, and we don’t–at least not reflexively. So what purpose does it serve?
As is the case with our very fragile bodies, we need to exist at a very specific temperature range. While the lower and higher ends of an “acceptable internal temperature” for dogs are a little higher than humans, there’s still a specific range. In humans, it’s about 97-99 degrees Fahrenheit (36.1-37.2 degrees Celsius). Dogs sit more comfortably at around 99.5-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (37.5-39.17 degrees Celsius).
Honestly, dogs are probably better off for being noticeably warmer than we are. Because, you know… they have this nifty thing called fur.
But we digress. Suffice to say that we need a way to regulate body temperature.
Regulating Body Temperature
We (and our dog companions) are warm-blooded (endothermic), which means we can regulate our own body temperature. Cold-blooded (exothermic) creatures rely on the environment to regulate their body temperature. That’s why reptiles are always sitting out in the sun. The inside of their body would basically be room temperature otherwise.
Okay, that’s not exactly the case, but you get the point.
As far we and other warm-blooded creatures go, our bodies have ways of keeping internal temperatures in a specific range automatically. That’s mostly controlled by the hypothalamus. It’s a nice little piece of the brain that handles a lot of other hormones, like whether or not your body hits go on adrenaline or something. So the hypothalamus has a lot of control over the body. Including, but not limited to; sexual behavior, appetite, and emotional responses to things. We’re mostly concerned with regulating temperature, though.
If you need to get warm or cold, warm-blooded animals can dilate or constrict their blood vessels. The more accurate terminology is vasodilation and vasoconstriction. It’s why your fingers get all clammy and pale when you’re cold. The body is directing blood (warm stuff) to its core, where things are important. Your fingers are considered non-essential in the long run here.
The body can also heat itself up by vibrating–shivering. Yes, vibration is an important part of making things warm. It means they have more energy, etc. You can also speed up your metabolism, which generates more heat by increasing your energy usage.
Maybe that’s why we go through cookies faster in the wintertime?
Oh, also, none of this is voluntary. You can’t just decide to make your blood vessels bigger or whatever. That would be one of the most boring X-Men powers ever.
As far as our furry friends go, they have neat fur coats. And having a constant blanket sounds like a great way to be warm all the time.
This is where things leave the realm of background information.
You’re probably familiar with how the body keeps cool. We sweat. Some of us more than others, but the stuff evaporating off of our skin cools us down.
Unfortunately for dogs, they don’t have access to this mechanism. At least, a good version of it. Dogs can only sweat through the pads on their paws. Not a lot of surface area. Yeah, it’s almost like having fur all over your skin gets in the way of the whole sweating deal. But also, your pet would probably appreciate keeping their fur over the summer.
It’s precisely this reason that dogs pant. With no efficient way to sweat heat off, they’re fortunate that there’s a lot of moisture in the mouth. Panting gets air moving over the moisture on the tongue and stuff, so it also gets to evaporate a bit faster. It’s like having a fan inside your mouth.
Internally, some of the most important blood vessels in a dog’s head go through their snout. Which, in a similar process to sweating, is very frequently wet. You know, most heat is lost through the head and all that.
In case you were wondering about cats–which don’t really pant–they don’t really sweat either. They groom themselves though, and the saliva left on them when they lick themselves serves a similar purpose.
Alright, so dogs can’t sweat. We still love them. Now go click on some here.