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10 Common Reasons Why Your Dog is Sneezing and Wheezing

As a long-time dog owner, I feel like I’ve heard it all. Farting, snoring, snorting, sneezing, and wheezing are just a few of the sounds that have come out of my dogs. They’ve never been too bad, though, and they’ve all been caused by something they ate, something in the air, or mild seasonal allergies.

Unfortunately, the reason for your dog’s sneezing and wheezing could point to a more serious medical issue. In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the common causes of sneezing and wheezing in dogs and what you can do to help your furry friend feel better.

1. Respiratory Illnesses

There are several common types of respiratory illnesses that dogs can get, including:

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection caused by a combination of bacteria and viruses. Most cases of kennel cough are caused by Bordetella. That said, other causes can be related to canine adenovirus type 2, canine parainfluenza virus, canine respiratory coronavirus, and mycoplasmas.

Dogs can get kennel cough when they are in close contact with other dogs. This includes kennels, animal shelters, dog parks, grooming salons, training classes, and boarding facilities.

Signs and symptoms of kennel cough in dogs include:

  • Hacking cough that may sound like a honking goose
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever

Dogs most susceptible to contracting kennel cough are those with compromised immune systems, unvaccinated dogs, puppies, and older dogs. The best course of action is to isolate the infected dog, providing rest and fluids. Make sure to see a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and treatment suggestions.

Most kennel cough infections heal in one to three weeks. 

How You Can Help Your Dog

Dogs that visit doggie daycare, are boarded frequently or who are otherwise exposed to large groups of dogs should have the Bordetella vaccine. Once diagnosed, rest is advised.

Dogs with mild kennel cough can eventually get better on their own. There is no way to treat the cough’s viral part, but antibiotics are often given to treat bacterial infections and speed up recovery. If a dog coughs too much or can’t sleep well because of it, it may need a cough suppressant.

Run a humidifier to help your dog breath more easily. If you don’t own a humidifier, you can accomplish the same thing by running the shower to create steam.

Do not give your dog over-the-counter cough suppressants unless advised by a veterinarian.

Chronic Bronchitis

Although dogs do not develop asthma because they don’t have reactive airways like cats, horses, or people, they can still experience similar respiratory problems. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which affects your dog’s ability to breathe and is a chronic and irreversible condition, is also known as allergic canine bronchitis in dogs

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi, the airways leading to the lungs. It can be caused by infection or by inhaling irritants such as smoke, pollution, or other allergens. Signs and symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing, and a productive cough. Treatment options will depend on the cause.

How You Can Help Your Dog

You can help your dog be more comfortable by removing his or her collar while in the house. Try running a humidifier to moisten the air. The veterinarian may also prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to decrease swelling of the airways.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs and airways. The inflammation makes it difficult for dogs to breathe and leaves them without enough oxygen in the blood.

Most of the time, pneumonia is caused by a virus in the lower respiratory tract. 

Canine distemper virus, adenovirus types 1 and 2, canine influenza virus, and parainfluenza virus all 
damage the airways and make the animal more likely to get pneumonia.

How You Can Help Your Dog

If your dog has been diagnosed with pneumonia, he or she has likely been prescribed an antibiotic. Generally speaking, activity should be limited. However, several brief exercise sessions can help loosen secretions by encouraging your dog to cough.

Run a humidifier or sit with your dog in a closed bathroom with a warm shower running. The steam will help clear your dog’s airway by thinning out the mucus.

tracheal collapse may cause sneezing and wheezing in dogs

2. Heart Disease

Heart disease in dogs can cause wheezing due to fluid buildup in the lungs. When the heart is not functioning properly, it can cause a backflow of blood into the lungs, which can lead to fluid accumulation.

This fluid can make it difficult for the dog to breathe and may cause them to wheeze. Additionally, heart disease can also cause the airways to constrict, making it harder for the dog to breathe.

In some cases, heart disease can also cause inflammation in the lungs, which can lead to wheezing as well.

How You Can Help Your Dog

Heart disease in dogs is serious and requires medical attention. Follow your veterinarian’s advice including medication guidelines, exercise routines, and diet compliance.

3. Foreign Object in the Airways

Sometimes foreign objects can find themselves lodged in a dog’s nose or throat. Examples include:

  • Grass awns, which are small, needle-like pieces of grass.
  • Small toys such as balls or squeaky toys can become lodged in a dog’s throat or lungs, especially if they are chewed or swallowed.
  • Pieces of cooked bones can become lodged in a dog’s throat or stomach. This is a serious event that can lead to obstruction.
  • Dogs can choke on pieces of food that become lodged in their airway.
  • Sticks, rocks, and small pebbles can become lodged in a dog’s nose or throat causing difficulty in breathing.

How You Can Help Your Dog

If your dog has inhaled an object into the respiratory system, he or she should be examined by a veterinarian. Even if you can see the object and are able to pull it out with tweezers, there’s still a risk that a piece of the object is still embedded.

Once the object is removed by a veterinarian, your dog should rest for 24 to 48 hours. Your dog may also be prescribed an antibiotic to prevent infection.

4. Nasal Mites

Nasal mites are a parasitic infection that can affect your dog’s nasal passages. Transmission of nasal mites between dogs is thought to be caused by both direct and indirect contact. The most common signs of a nasal mite infection include:

  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Sneezing
  • Reverse sneezing
  • Facial itching
  • Unable to pick up scents
  • Nasal discharge
  • Labored breathing
  • Head shaking
  • High-pitched or noisy breathing
  • Coughing
  • Restlessness
  • Collapse in severe cases

How You Can Help Your Dog

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for nasal mites in dogs. Speak with a veterinarian about anti-parasitic medications. In addition, the veterinarian may want to flush the nasal passages.

5. Collapsing Trachea

The trachea is a tube with c-shaped rings of cartilage that make it strong. These cartilages keep the trachea open so that air can go in and out of the lungs. When these rings break down, a condition called tracheal collapse develops.

This makes it hard for your dog to breath and causes a honking cough.

Small dogs are more susceptible to collapsed tracheas. This includes chihuahuas, toy poodles, and Yorkshire terriers. In addition, senior dogs may develop tracheal collapse as the area weakens over time. Overweight dogs and brachycephalic breeds are also at risk.

How You Can Help Your Dog

In addition to any medical treatments offered by the veterinarian, there are some things you can do at home to help your dog.

Home management could include:

  • using a harness instead of a collar to avoid putting pressure on your dog’s windpipe
  • avoiding airborne irritants like cigarette smoke, aerosol sprays, etc.
  • avoiding stressful or anxiety producing situations with your dog
  • maintaining a healthy weight with a prescribed diet

6. Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies in dogs can cause irritation and inflammation of the nasal passages and airways. This can be due to environmental allergens such as pollen, mold, and dust mites. When a dog inhales these allergens, their immune system reacts by releasing histamine. The release of histamine triggers inflammation and swelling in the nasal passages.

Common signs of seasonal allergies in dogs include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Sneezing and nasal congestion
  • Eye irritation
  • Respiratory symptoms like difficulty breathing
  • Digestive symptoms
  • Ear infections

How You Can Help Your Dog

The best way to help your dog with seasonal allergies (or allergies in general) is to keep him or her away from that trigger. Unfortunately, that’s not always realistic. Follow your veterinarian’s advice on therapeutic options including medications, creams, injections, diet, etc.

Home management might include:

  • using an air purifier
  • gently wiping your dog’s face and paws after being outside remove pollen
  • weekly baths with a mild, oatmeal-based dog-friendly cleanser

7. Reverse Sneezing

A reverse sneeze is a common respiratory condition in dogs characterized by sudden, forceful inhalations through the nose. Many dog owners are alarmed the first time they hear that noise because it can sound like the dog is choking or gasping for air. The exact cause of reverse sneezing is not well understood, but it is thought to be related to inflammation or irritation of the nasal passages.

Some common triggers for reverse sneezing include:

  • Airborne allergens including dust, cigarette smoke, strong odors, and other irritants can trigger reverse sneezing.
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Brachycephalic breeds are more prone to reverse sneezing due to the shape of their airways.
  • Upper respiratory infections such as kennel cough can cause reverse sneezing.
  • Dogs that are excited or have just finished exercising may experience reverse sneezing.

Reverse sneezing is usually not a serious condition and typically resolves on its own. However, if your dog is experiencing reverse sneezing frequently or it’s causing distress, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying conditions or infections.

How You Can Help Your Dog

The suggestions for aiding a dog with reverse sneezing depend on the cause. Brachycephalic breeds having difficulty breathing should be checked out by a veterinarian as soon as possible. They may have a condition known as brachycephalic airway syndrome.

Otherwise, you can try using an air filter to lessen airborne allergens. If your dog appears to be sneezing more than usual after coming inside, gently wipe his or her face and paws.

8. Brachycephalic Syndrome

Brachycephalic airway syndrome is a condition that affects dogs with short, flat faces. Brachycephalic breeds include pugs, bulldogs, shih-tzus, French bulldogs, Boston terriers, and many others. These breeds have been selectively bred over time to have a shorter snout, which can cause several respiratory problems.

The syndrome refers to a set of upper airway abnormalities that affect brachycephalic dogs. Dogs with this condition have abnormally narrowed nostrils, extended nasopharyngeal turbinates, an elongated soft palate, laryngeal collapse, everted laryngeal saccules, and hypoplastic trachea.

How You Can Help Your Dog

Brachycephalic airway syndrome is a serious condition that requires veterinary attention. The veterinarian may recommend at home treatment options in addition to surgical intervention.

10 common reasons for dogs sneezing and wheezing

9. Viral Infections

Viral infections that can cause a dog to sneeze and wheeze include:

  • Canine parainfluenza (parvo)
  • Canine distemper
  • Canine adenovirus
  • Canine respiratory coronavirus
  • Canine Influenza

How You Can Help Your Dog

Managing viruses in dogs will depend on type of virus the dog has. Assuming you’ve already brought your dog to a veterinarian for diagnosis, there are some things you can do at home to make your dog more comfortable while he or she recovers.

  • Keep exercise at a minimum until your dog is feeling 100%
  • Keep your dog away from other dogs that may not be immunized against things like parvo.
  • Run a humidifier to keep the air moist. This could help your dog to breath easier.
  • Make sure your dog gets plenty of water.
  • An increase in severity or duration of vomiting and diarrhea should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian as soon as possible.

10. Nasal Tumors

Nasal tumors are growths that can occur in the nasal passages or sinuses. The irritation and inflammation lead to symptoms such as sneezing, nasal discharge, and difficulty breathing.

Nasal tumors can also cause obstruction of the dog’s airways. Tumors can be benign or malignant and can be primary (arising from the nasal cavity) or secondary (spread from other parts of the body).

Other symptoms of nasal tumors in dogs can include nosebleeds, facial deformity, and facial pain.

How You Can Help Your Dog

  • Provide a comfortable place to sleep.
  • Keep your dog hydrated.
  • Ensure your dog gets regular exercise.
  • If the tumor is causing breathing problems, try a humidifier or vaporizer to moisten the dog’s airways.
  • Keep your dog’s nose clean by wiping the area with a damp, clean cloth daily.
  • Maintain veterinarian check-ups.

When Should I Be Worried About My Dog’s Sneezing and Wheezing?

Signs that your dog requires immediate veterinary attention include:

  • Trouble breathing due to severe allergic reactions.
  • Rapid and shallow breathing is a sign of distress and requires immediate medical attention.
  • Blue gums are a sign that the dog isn’t getting enough oxygen.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Fever is a sign of an infection.

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SUMMARY

Sneezing and wheezing in dogs can have a variety of causes, both mild and severe.

If your dog is wheezing, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Wheezing can be a symptom of a serious underlying condition such as a respiratory infection, heart disease, or a foreign body in the airways.

While some causes of wheezing are less serious, it’s important to have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out any serious conditions.

References

Staff, A. (n.d.). The Dangers Of Kennel Cough In Dogs. American Kennel Club. Retrieved January 16, 2023, from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/kennel-cough-symptoms-treatment-and-prevention/

Bronchitis In Dogs: Symptoms & Treatments | Trudell Animal Health. (n.d.). Bronchitis in Dogs: Symptoms & Treatments | Trudell Animal Health. Retrieved January 16, 2023, from https://www.trudellanimalhealth.com/learn/further-reading/canine-bronchitis-symptoms-causes-treatments

K. (n.d.). Pneumonia in Dogs – Dog Owners – Merck Veterinary Manual. Merck Veterinary Manual. Retrieved January 16, 2023, from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/lung-and-airway-disorders-of-dogs/pneumonia-in-dogs

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