When companion lies down, rests its head on its paws, and lets out an exaggerated, gusty sigh. It it sad? Comfortable? Disappointed in its life? Sighing with eyes half-closed means something different than sighing with eyes open. The frequency and heaviness of these exhalations should be taken into account, too.
A sigh is one way a dog may express contentment or disappointment, but which depends largely on the situation.
Neuropsychological researcher Stanley Coren, Ph.D., and dog trainer Sarah Hodgson wrote in their book, “Understanding Your Dog for Dummies,” that a dog’s sigh is sometimes “a simple emotional signal that terminates an action.” This could explain the long, dramatic exhalations that occur after your dog has eaten a treat or finished a fun romp in the yard. This kind of sigh says, “I’m content and am going to settle down here awhile.”
A State of Relaxation
You’ll know whether your dog’s sigh is a sign of relaxation by its eyes. The American Kennel Club says that sighing with eyes half-closed is a sign of pleasure. You might see this while petting your dog or after giving it a treat. If the dog’s ears are soft and its head is down in a resting position, paws crossed, a sigh most likely indicates relaxation.
A Sign of Disappointment
Sighing with open eyes, on the contrary, signals disappointment, perhaps from failing to acquire scraps at the dinner table or wanting to play when no one else does. If the dog is sitting up, fully alert, and looking at you while sighing, it could be an attempt to communicate a problem.
An Indicator of Illness
Most often, a dog’s sighing is no cause for concern. However, when a dog sigh is combined with moans and groans, it may be a sign of pain or discomfort. Excessive sighing and groaning could mean your dog has osteoarthritis, a condition where the tissue between joints wears down; ascites, abdominal swelling caused by an accumulation of fluid; or panosteitis, rapid bone growth.These medical conditions are painful and could be causing your dog to excessively sigh, grumble, and moan.
If your dog’s frequent sighing is accompanied by a lack of energy or appetite, that’s a sign of lethargy, which could be caused by infection, diabetes, liver or heart problems, hypoglycemia, and a whole host of other canine illnesses.
What Does It Mean When My Dog Sighs Heavily?
It’s important to also take note of how heavily your dog sighs and whether the sigh is accompanied by a whistling sound, which could indicate a blockage in the airway. Heavy sighing could indicate that your dog’s allergies have led to allergic bronchitis, aka dog asthma, which causes inflammation on the bronchial tubes and leads to wheezing and shortness of breath. Your dog’s heavy breathing could be linked to allergies if the condition changes with the season or environment.
Wheezing, coughing, and lethargy are early (and oft-missed) signs of heartworm disease. If you notice these symptoms, you have time to get a test from the vet before the situation becomes urgent. Wheezing could be a sign of heart disease in older dogs if it’s combined with persistent coughing and low energy levels.
It can also be caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a long-term inflammatory condition that, again, also leads to decreased exercise tolerance.
If you’re worried that the heavy sighing might be an emergency, check whether your dog’s gums are turning blue—this is a sign it isn’t getting enough oxygen and should be seen by a vet immediately.