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Why Do Dogs Sigh?

Dog lying on bed upside down
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Humans typically sigh when we are annoyed, tired, overwhelmed, or exasperated. But why do dogs sigh? Do they let out these audible exhales for the same reasons? 

The truth is, dogs generally sigh when they are happy, relaxed and – in some cases – dismayed at not getting that evening walk or favorite toy from under the couch. 

There are, however, some circumstances where dog sighing could indicate that something is amiss. This article will explain what a dog sigh sounds like, why they do it, and when to bring the dog to the veterinarian.  

Dog Sighs: What Do They Sound Like?

Dogs communicate with us through a variety of vocalizations and behavior, including moaning, grunting, whining, groaning and barking. However, sighing isn’t exactly a vocalization. 

Similar to humans, this behavior is a deep and audible long exhalation of breath. It is different from breathing because it’s not quiet and it’s not like panting, which is a series of short breaths. 

Sighing is similar to low-pitched moaning and dog grunting, which puppies and adult dogs do when they are relaxed and content, especially when they settle down on a nice, comfortable bed. The process of moaning, however, is not like sighing, because it involves the vocal cords. Grunting takes sighing a step further with a more forceful exhalation of air. A groan is a deep-throated sound, often emitted when the animal is in discomfort or pain. 

Dog sighing is also unlike dog whining, which is done nasally with their mouth closed, to communicate that they want something, or to express pain, fear or anxiety. 

Why Do Dogs Sigh?

Dog being pet by person

You may wonder why dogs sigh before sleeping or on the car ride home after a fun outing at the park. The main reason dogs sigh is to express contentment and relaxation, says Dr. Amber Karwacki, partner doctor of Heart + Paw. “Dogs usually do not sigh when they are tired or bored.” 

In an adult dog, if the sigh is accompanied with other audible expressions such as a moan or a groan, Dr. Brian Evans, medical director at Dutch, says that it could be an indication that something else is happening. This is why it’s important to pay attention to certain cues to understand why your dog may be sighing. 

How to Interpret Your Dog’s Sighs

The best way to figure out why your dog may be sighing is by paying attention to body language. “A sigh by itself isn’t specific and only gets meaning based on the context of their body language,” explains Dr. Evans. 

Here’s a breakdown of how sighs go along with what other indicators tell us: 

  1. You know you have a contented, happy dog when she sighs with her eyes closed, or in combination with laying down or being pet, says Dr. Evans.
  2. If the dog’s eyes are wide open and alert, Dr. Evans states that the dog may be trying to communicate that she is disappointed she isn’t going for a walk or having the ball thrown at that moment. This is often accompanied by the dog sighing while looking at the object of her desire, like the front door or the ball. 
  1. If the dog has a rigid body posture, ears back, or is panting in addition to sighing, it could indicate pain or discomfort, according to Dr. Karwacki. Your dog could be experiencing pain due to an upset stomach, joint pain, or another ailment. In this situation, it’s best to get the dog evaluated by a veterinarian to make sure there’s nothing more serious happening, including untreated pain.  
  1. When the sigh turns into a groan when sitting down, Dr. Evans says, “that could indicate that the process of laying down isn’t comfortable for them and there could be some associated pain from a disease, like arthritis or hip dysplasia.” 

When Dog Sighing May Indicate a Problem

Sick Beagle on sofa

While a dog’s sighs are likely nothing to worry about, there are some instances when they could indicate an underlying condition. In some cases, the underlying condition could be very serious. Usually, these sighs are accompanied by signs of illness such as lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, groaning, and whining. 

Repeated sighing, according to Dr. Evans, “may be a sign they are actually struggling to breathe and need to be seen immediately by a veterinarian”. This type of sighing includes a whistling noise, indicating that inflammation or something else is obstructing the airway in the throat or nose. 

“I have seen dogs in heart failure look like they are sighing every two seconds and that is a very concerning sign,” adds Dr. Evans. It’s important to bring your dog to an emergency clinic if you notice excessive sighing.