I don’t know about you, but I am hyper-vigilant about my dogs’ health. Any deviation from the norm has me thinking that something might be wrong. I really don’t need to be that hypersensitive, but it is helpful to understand some of the things that cause common things like sneezing, coughing, or dog wheezing.
By the time you’ve finished reading this post, you will have a better understanding of what might be serious, and what could be easily treated.
There may be affiliate links on this post which means if you click on one, I will be compensated accordingly. However, it doesn’t cost of affect you personally.
So, let’s get started!
21 Clinical Reasons for Dog Wheezing
1. Kennel Cough
Kennel Cough is a common viral infection that can happen to any dog, especially one with a suppressed immune system. Immune system function could be lowered if the dog is taking certain medications, has been under more stress recently, or is in close contact with another dog with the disease.
Kennel cough is very contagious and is passed from dog to dog through airborne droplets. Sneezing and coughing are the main culprits. Kennel cough doesn’t necessarily include dog wheezing, but it’s possible if the respiratory system is infected.
- gagging sounds
Your dog is going to feel pretty miserable if he/she has kennel cough. Most times, it will clear up on its own. We’ve all had pretty bad colds where we wondered if it would ever pass! Your dog will probably feel like that as well.
Although kennel cough usually clears up on its own, I would still bring your dog to the veterinarian for a checkup. Just like humans, respiratory viruses including colds and flu can easily turn into secondary conditions like pneumonia. The veterinarian will probably listen to your dog’s heart, check for fever, look at the dog’s eyes for discharge, and listen to the lung sounds. The veterinarian may prescribe or recommend:
- cough suppressant
- non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Antibiotics if there is a bacterial infection present
Dust mites are unavoidable. They are unpleasant to think about, but serve a natural function within our environment. However, if you or your dog has an allergic response to dust mites, symptoms such as the following may occur:
- signs of asthma such as dog wheezing
- difficulty breathing
- itchy skin and eyes
- continuous licking
- increasing immune function with supplements
- increasing immune function through a balanced diet
- covering dog beds, pillow cases, etc., with hypoallergenic materials or micro-porous fabric
- regular baths with hypoallergenic dog shampoo
- keep the dog’s sleeping area vacuumed
3. Cigarette Smoke
Dogs subjected to homes where there is significant cigarette smoke can develop difficulty breathing and other health problems. A 1998 Colorado State University study that was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology discovered a higher rate of cancers in dogs who lived in houses where cigarette smoke was present. Long-nosed breeds were susceptible to nasal cancers and the shorter-nosed breeds showed higher rates of lung cancer.
- dog wheezing
- eye irritations
- dry mouth
- nausea and possible lack of appetite
In order to protect yourself, and your dog, from the dangers of second-hand smoke, stay away from cigarettes. It really is that easy. Luckily, there are a lot fewer public places where people can smoke these days. So, unless you or someone you live with smokes, it shouldn’t be too hard to stay away from this toxic irritant.
Once the symptoms have begun, talk to the veterinarian for tips on symptom reduction. That might include frequent face washing with mild, gentle soap designed for dogs. This will help to keep the smoke and irritants off of the dog’s face.
In addition, the veterinarian may suggest a soothing eye drop for the dog, an antihistamine, and may suggest an air filtration system to pull the toxins from the air as much as possible.
NOTE: Cigarette butts are easy to find on any sidewalk or street. Do not let your dog eat a cigarette butt. They are extremely toxic and will cause nicotine poisoning. Nicotine poisoning include symptoms such as tremors, twitching, and seizures.
4. External Air Quality
Hot much? Whether you agree with climate change or not, it’s fair to say that many parts of the world are seeing record high temperatures. With that rise in temperature comes a variety of issues including smog pollution and a drastic increase in wildfires. As wildfires rage, thick plumes of smoke settle over cities, traveling thousands of miles through the atmosphere.
This is particularly problematic for dogs with respiratory diseases who might find it hard to breath on a good day.
- dog wheezing
- red, itchy eyes
If you can’t get away from the relentless smog and wildfire irritants, listen to your public officials who will offer tips on how to deal with the smokey air for you and your pets. In addition:
- Stay indoors on particularly bad days.
- Keep the windows up and invest in a good air conditioner/air purifier.
- Depending on whether your dog will keep it on, a face mask for dogs can help filter out the toxins before being breathed into the lungs.
Obese dogs have a more difficult time getting around, grooming, playing, exercising, etc.
We all know what obesity looks like, but you might not think your dog is too fat. Most people don’t realize that a healthy weight for a dog is one in which you can see their ribs. I don’t mean the dog is emaciated! However, a dog at a healthy weight will have a clearly defined waist and you should be able to feel the ribs. If the ribs are really prominent, the dog is likely too thin.
After my golden retriever was spayed, I noticed she began putting on weight. Now, I could blame it entirely on the spay, or I could take a hard look at what I have been feeding her. That said, both she and my pit bull mix are about the same age and were spayed/neutered nearly the same time. They both eat the same amount of food, but the pit bull mix (male) is lean muscle. The retriever, however, is a barrel. Yes, she’s adorable (squishy face!), but she needs to drop some pounds.
Here’s what works:
- More exercise (age appropriate and breed appropriate). Short or flat-nosed breeds weren’t designed to do a 10K run with you. If your dog is a swimmer, that;s the best way to go.
- Change diet. I switched my dogs to Royal Canin for Weight Management.
- Seriously reduce treats. I switched to low calorie treats and really cut back on how much I was giving them.
6. Short-Nose Dogs
Short-nosed dogs known as brachycephalic breeds (pugs, Boston terriers, boxers, etc.) are bred in such a way that they are not able to breath that easily, especially during high exertion. Some develop what’s known as “Brachycephalic Airway Obstructive Syndrome” which leads to serious respiratory distress. These dogs tend to breath loudly, cannot over-exert themselves without complications, and are more susceptible to dog wheezing.
- dog wheezing
- abnormalities like an elongated soft palate
- upper airway dysfunction
- enlarged tonsils
- airflow resistance through the nasal passages
There’s really no “treatment’ for a brachycephalic dog. That’s just how they are built. However, if the dog does develop serious conditions that include dog wheezing due to airway obstruction, treatment could include:
- surgery to widen the stenoic nares
- tonsil removal
- soft palate resection
- weight reduction
NOTE: Anytime you notice sudden dog wheezing and respiratory distress that doesn’t resolve right away, get your dog to the veterinarian.
7. Heart Disease
Heart disease in dogs can result in a variety of symptoms including dog wheezing. This isn’t the kind of wheezing that just occurs one or two times. If your dog starts coughing, wheezing, or showing any of the following signs of heart disease (below), bring him/her to a vet.
Small breeds that are over the age of 5 make up about 75% of dogs with heart disease. Heartworm disease can also be a cause. Other causes of heart disease may also be present.
- unwilling to walk or play with any exertion
- weight loss
- distended belly
- dog wheezing or difficulty breathing
- prescription medications to reduce fluid buildup
- surgery to replace a torn valve
- surgery to insert a pacemaker
- low salt diet
NOTE: Treatments will depend on your dog, the breed, and any other underlying health conditions. Always follow the veterinarian’s advice.
We tend to think of choking as a full blockage where the dog cannot breath at all. However, choking can be a partial obstruction in which the dog can still get some oxygen in, but can’t take a full breath.
- dog wheezing
- swatting at his face or jaw
In an effort to expel the object, your dog might try to cough it out, swat at his face, paw at his jaw, gag, or wheeze.
If you suspect your dog is choking, and it is safe to do so, follow these steps:
- Open the dog’s mouth
- Use a piece of fabric, a rag, or a towel to pull the tongue out.
- While holding the tongue out with one hand, use the other to gently scoop at the back of the throat to see if you feel something.
- Be very careful because you don’t want to push any objects further down the throat and possible completely block off the airway.
- If your dog is miniature or small, gently hold the dog by his back legs to see if gravity will help to dislodge the item.
If your dog is large, you may need to attempt the Heimlich maneuver which involves making a fist and pushing into the dog’s sternum while making an upward thrusting motion. Inspect the mouth to see if the item has come up.
Remember: If you dog is wheezing, you know he or she is still getting oxygen and you have time to get medical assistance. Be very careful not to push the item further down into the throat.
9. Collapsing Trachea
Collapsing trachea is a condition that can happen in small breeds. It’s a chronic condition that is either congenital (born with it at birth) or acquired. When a dog acquires this condition, it’s usually because of a respiratory illness.
It can also be caused by Cushing’s Disease or heart disease. Small breeds known to acquire trachea collapse include Yorkshire terriers, Pomeranian, Poodles, and Chihuahuas.
A collapsing trachea occurs when the C-rings inside the trachea begin to stretch and flatten over time. Once they’ve become disfigured, those c-rings aren’t able to hold the airway open. Once the trachea collapses, it leaves your dog with severely compromised breathing.
- sudden dry or honking cough
- sounds like a dog wheezing
- hard to breath
- turns blue when excited due to lack circulating oxygen
- weight loss
- medications to help with anxiety
- medications to help reduce coughing
10. Asthma Attack
Asthma attacks can occur in dogs, although I don’t know how common it actually is. This condition can affect young and middle-aged dogs. Some of the causes of a canine asthma attack are listed in this post already. Exposure to cigarette smoke, pollen, and household cleaners.
- dog wheezing
- panting heavily with open-mouth breathing
- the tongue and/or gums will be a bluish color due to lack of oxygen
- loss of appetite
- medical intervention to stop an attack from happening in the first place.
- using humidifiers
- remove allergens from the home
- prescription drug like Aminophylline which is reported to work great with a few side-effects that could occur if the dog receives too much medication. These include diarrhea, anxiety, thirst, easily over-excited, hunger, and sometimes vomiting
11. Anaphylactic shock
Your dog could be severely allergic to anything from certain foods to bug bites. As I’m sure you know, anaphylactic shock is a serious allergic reaction to a particular substance. In people, allergens could be anything from seafood to a bee sting. In dogs, anaphylactic shock is considered rare, but life-threatening.
- sudden diarrhea
- excessive drooling
- pale gums
- dog wheezing if the airway is partially open
- This is a medical emergency.
- You must get your dog to the closest veterinarian ASAP.
- Do not try to make the dog eat or drink anything
- Go straight to the emergency department of the closest animal clinic
- Do not give your dog your own Epipen. It likely has too much medication for your dog’s weight. Even one designed for children could be too much.
12. Over-Excited Behavior
If your dog gets a little over-excited to see you come home at the end of the day, it could just be a result of excitement spasm. The dog jumps up, runs, begins to pant heavily, and gets so over-stimulated that the panting becomes wheezing.
- excessive barking
- spinning in circles
- mild dog wheezing
- behavioral training
- more exercise during the day to settle the dog’s mind and body
- YOUR actions when you come in the door. Dogs pick up on your excitement, high-pitched voice, and anxiety. It’s easy to get your dog over-excited if you are that way too.
- Thankfully, this one is not dangerous and just shows how much your dog loves you!
Heartworms are dangerous parasites caused by infected mosquitoes. The mosquito picks up the parasite from another dog, and transits it to your dog. The immature heartworms become larvae and make their way through the body to the heart and lungs. Signs of heartworm can be hard to detect in the early stages, but could progress to:
- dog wheezing
- extremely tired
The easiest way to avoid this parasitic infection is through prevention. Most veterinarians (if not all) sell and prescribe topical or oral drugs that prevent parasitic infections. Although the drugs may be expensive, keep in mind that they usually work on several issues at once. For example, I give my dogs a topical solution that goes on the back of the neck. It kills all stages of flea larvae and all worm parasites.
Emphysema in dogs usually develops as the result of another type of lung disease. With emphysema, the dog has a hard time getting the air out of the lungs so while he might sound normal on inhale, you might hear what sounds like dog wheezing on the exhale.
- The major sign of emphysema in dogs is difficulty breathing.
- dog wheezing
- dog coughing
- higher heart rate
- weight loss
- use of a bronchodilator (anti-inflammatory) drug that opens the airway
- severe cases may need hospitalization and put in an oxygen cage.
- surgery to place thoracostomy tubes into the dog’s chest
15. Blood Clot
Blood clots, also known as pulmonary thromboembolisms, are dangerous masses of congealed blood that can travel through the body and lodge themselves into the heart or lung.
If a blood clot gets into the lung, it’s going to severely impact the dog’s respiration and you may hear what sounds like the dog wheezing. The damage done to the lung could cause a drop in the amount of oxygen the body gets, leaving your dog tired and out of breath.
- Very little appetite
- Unable to breath effectively (might occur suddenly)
- Restless, not able to get comfortable or sleep
- Increased breathing rate.
- Coughing or spitting up blood
- Medication to help breakup the clot into tiny pieces that dissolve and/or move through the arteries safely.
- Treatment of the underlying condition that caused the blood clot in the first place.
16. Lung Fluke
Lung flukes are parasites that infest the lungs of dogs. They actually live within cysts in the lungs. The eggs eventually pass through the cyst wall and wind up in the dog’s digestive tract where they are passed through the feces.
Because they infect the lung, typical lung irritations that cause dog wheezing are present.
- abdominal pain
- lung collapse
- Drugs to kill the parasite
- Sometimes require surgery
- Get your dog to your veterinarian for diagnosis
17. Canine Influenza (Flu)
Canine influenza is not transmittable to humans, but can leave your dog feeling miserable. Dogs are infected through the droplets that come from another dog’s mouth who is infected. Sneezing and coughing are the two primary ways that the virus becomes airborne.
Canine influenza is not the same as kennel cough.
- dog wheezing
- cough (moist)
- discharge from the eyes and nose
Listen to this short YouTube video of a dog wheezing.
- Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Antibiotics if the dog has a secondary bacterial infection
- Lots of fluids and rest
18. Nasal Mites
Nasal mites can be contracted from other infected dogs. The mites live within the nasal passages and are not thought to be transmitted to humans.
- reverse sneezing
- dog wheezing
- nasal discharge
- head shaking
- itching around the face
- Ivermectin is given three times a day over a period of 10 days.
- Follow-up with a veterinarian.
People and dogs alike find themselves allergic to pollen. Seasonal allergies affect dogs in much the same way as people with a few exceptions.
- biting their skin
- scratching themselves
- red eyes
- chewing paws
- frequent hypoallergenic baths
- fish oil caplets with omega 3 (decrease inflammation)
- allergy medications like Benadryl
- keep the fur wiped clean after being outside, particularly the paws.
20. Pollutants in Water
These days, any number of chemicals and other pollutants are found in the main waterways. Just recently, in Nova Scotia, a deadly algae bloom killed 4 dogs swimming in the lake.
Signs of dog wheezing or parasitic infection may not appear right away. However, if your dog is swimming there’s a good chance he’s going to swallow a little water. If the water is contaminated, it’s likely going to affect your dog in one way or another. The main culprit being parasites.
- coughing and dog wheezing
- weight loss
*Some of the symptoms above might point to a parasite infection. For more information on parasite infections in dogs, read this post:
- Pre-treat your dog with ongoing anti-parasite medication.
- Look for signs or any indication that swimming should be avoided in that particular area.
21. Grass Seed
Grass seeds are sharp, hook-like irritants that easily get stuck on a dog’s skin. They can also be ingested or inhaled causing extreme irritation and infection.
- head rubbing
- swollen eyes
- runny eyes
- pawing at nose
- dog wheezing
- nasal discharge
- Unless you can easily see and completely remove the grass seed, a trip to the vet is in order.
- If you suspect grass seeds may have become attached to your dog’s nostrils, a veterinarian will need to administer a sedative and remove the seeds in a clinical setting.
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