Wheezing in dogs can be worrisome, as wheezing indicates that something is obstructing the airway and making it difficult for the animal to breathe. If your pet begins to wheeze, your first instinct may be to panic and rush him or her to the emergency vet. However, before you do, know that, in most cases, wheezing is often the result of minor and easily treatable conditions. Below you can learn more about those conditions and how they’re managed and treated.
Dogs' airways are highly sensitive and expand and contract just the right amount to allow oxygen through. When something obstructs your dog’s airways, however, they cannot expand as normal. As a result, oxygen is forced to squeeze its way through, thereby resulting in the whistling sound characteristic of wheezing. Airway constriction can occur for any number of non-emergency reasons. Below are the most common causes.
Allergies are among the most common reason for wheezing in dogs, as many dogs are sensitive to numerous environmental factors of which their owners are unaware. Common dog allergens include dust, pollen and cigarette smoke, though many canines are also allergic to flea and tick bites, insect stings, certain foods, mold spores, dust mites and shampoos, among others. If your dog is allergic to something, the wheezing will likely be accompanied by coughing and/or sneezing, itchy skin, red or runny eyes, and discharge from the eyes. Depending on the cause of the allergy, symptoms may also include diarrhea and vomiting. Most dogs develop the first symptoms of allergies at between six months and two years.
Dogs, like humans, can develop asthma, which occurs when the large upper airway spasms and contracts. Also like with the human condition, canine asthma is almost always the result of an irritant in the environment. Irritants that are most commonly associated with canine asthma include cigarette smoke, dust, scents from air fresheners or deodorizers, and smoke from fireplaces and wood burning stoves. Asthma — also called “allergic bronchitis” in dogs — is common in young to middle-aged and smaller dogs, though older large dogs can experience it as well.
If your dog has never shown signs of allergies or asthma before, consider the chance that his or her wheezing is caused by a literal obstruction in the airway. Dogs like to chew, and it is not impossible to think that, while gnawing on a bone, ball, stick or chew toy, he or she accidentally inhaled too large of a piece. If your pup has been known to dig around in the trash, there is also the possibility that a piece of that trash is now blocking his or her airway.
If you’ve ruled out allergies, asthma and a physical obstruction, it may be time to take your pup to the vet for a checkup. Wheezing can be a symptom of various canine diseases, including kennel cough, infections, respiratory illness, parasites, collapsed trachea or even heart disease. In these cases, the symptoms may be indicative of an emergency.
Regardless of what you believe to be the cause of your dog’s wheezing, if this is a first-time occurrence, it is important that you take him or her to the vet for a diagnosis. The vet will ask several questions at the start of the appointment, which are likely to include inquiries about events leading up to the wheezing, when your pup started to show signs of breathing difficulties, whether you’ve recently traveled with your dog, etc. The vet will also look into your dog’s vaccine history, medication history and preventative treatment history.
After performing a thorough exam, the vet may want to run labs and imaging tests on your dog. If the tests and exam do not reveal anything conclusive, the vet may suggest allergy testing, which has the possibility of turning into a lengthy process.
If it turns out that allergies or asthma are causing your pet’s wheezing, the vet may prescribe an allergy aid or medication to help you manage the condition and reduce the severity of symptoms. While these supplements can help to provide your dog with immediate relief, you should not rely on them as long-term solutions. Ideally, you will identify the allergen and remove it from your home so that your pet does not continue to suffer long-term.
If pests are the reason for your pet’s discomfort, your vet may suggest a flea and/or tick treatment to keep mites and other critters at bay. If your pooch is not already on a heartworm medication , your vet may also prescribe that, as worm prevention is crucial to keeping your pet healthy now and long into the future.
If the wheezing is the result of an underlying medical condition, infection or disease, your vet will need to treat the cause of the issue. In the meantime, he or she may recommend steps you can take at home, or medications you can give to Fido, to better manage the symptoms.
Once you identify the reason for your dog’s wheezing and invest in the appropriate treatment, take measures to further protect his or her health to ensure his or her ongoing comfort. There are several things you, as a pet owner, can do to promote good health in your canine, including feeding him or her quality food, keeping small objects out of reach of your pup, keeping your home free of allergens and investing in quality vitamins and supplements . The little things you do today can go a long way toward keeping your pet safe and healthy long into the future.