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Therefore, it is important to pay close attention to your dog if you notice wheezing, and a visit to the veterinarian may be necessary.
Read on to find out more about wheezing in dogs and what you should do if your dog is wheezing.
What is wheezing?
Wheezing is a sound that occurs due to inflammation or obstruction of airways. The trachea (windpipe), bronchi (main branches off the trachea), and/or bronchioles (smaller branches off the bronchi) may be affected.
Inflammation of the airways can be due to an infection (bacterial or viral), physical irritation, allergies, or parasites. A dog’s airways may become obstructed due to swelling, the presence of foreign objects or tumors, or accumulation of mucus, pus, or fluid.
What does wheezing sound like?
Wheezing dog sound is a high-pitched whistling sound that is usually heard when a dog exhales during breathing.
Wheezing may be soft and barely audible or loud and obvious depending on the cause and severity. Sometimes, wheezing can only be heard by a veterinarian using a stethoscope.
What causes dog wheezing?
As previously mentioned, there are many potential causes of wheezing in dogs. The list below briefly describes some common causes.
Diagnosis of the causes of dog wheezing requires examination by a veterinarian and likely diagnostics such as x-rays and/or blood tests.
Collapsing trachea is a condition in which the trachea (windpipe) becomes weaker over time and flattens when a dog inhales quickly or pressure is placed on the neck, which prevents the normal passage of air.
It is most common in small dogs. Signs of collapsed trachea include a dry, hacking cough that can be elicited with gentle pressure on the neck. Wheezing and difficulty breathing may be noted as the condition progresses.
Dogs with mild collapsing trachea may not require treatment, but more severely affected dogs may require medications or, in the case of fully collapsed trachea, surgery.
Obstruction (or blockage) of the trachea or bronchi can be due to the presence of foreign material that has been accidentally inhaled, such as a piece of a toy or stick. Additionally, tumors that grow in the airways can cause obstruction if they become large enough.
Signs of airway obstruction may include persistent coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, restlessness, and anxiety. In dogs with foreign bodies, these signs usually come on suddenly, while dogs with tumors may experience slower symptom progression.
Blockage of the airway prevents normal breathing and results in a dog’s wheezing, so this is usually an emergency situation requiring urgent treatment to remove the obstruction.
Bronchitis may involve inflammation of the trachea, bronchi, and/or bronchioles. This inflammation may be caused by an infection, allergies, parasites, or inhaled irritants like smoke or chemical fumes.
Infectious bronchitis can be due to bacterial and/or viral infection; kennel cough is a common manifestation of infectious bronchitis that can be caused by multiple viruses and/or bacteria. Parasites that can cause bronchitis include lungworms or heartworm.
Allergic bronchitis may be caused by inhaled allergens, like pollens or dust. Bronchitis may be acute (occurs suddenly and resolves within days to weeks) or chronic (continues over the course of weeks to months).
Signs of kennel cough and other causes of bronchitis may include coughing, wheezing, discolored nasal discharge, lethargy, or difficulty breathing, and treatment depends on the underlying cause.
Pneumonia is inflammation of the lower airways and lungs that may result from a viral or bacterial infection, parasites, or aspiration of food or saliva. Bronchitis can also lead to pneumonia and a wheezing dog.
As pneumonia may block oxygen exchange in the lungs, this condition can become life-threatening. Therefore, treatment addressing the root cause is required.
Signs of pneumonia may include lethargy, decreased appetite, fever, discolored nasal discharge, wheezing, and coughing, and may progress to difficulty breathing and blue-tinged mucous membranes in severe cases.
Congestive heart failure
Congestive heart failure is an incurable, progressive condition in which the heart gradually becomes unable to pump blood forward efficiently, causing the blood to back up and pool in the vessels of the lungs. This pooling leads to fluid accumulation inside the lungs and airways.
Multiple underlying heart conditions can progress to congestive heart failure, such as mitral valve disease and dilated cardiomyopathy.
Signs of heart failure include coughing, becoming quickly tired during exercise, a wheezing dog, labored breathing, and blue-tinged mucous membranes.
Heart failure usually progresses gradually over a period of months to years, and requires medical treatment to minimize symptoms and keep dogs comfortable.
Heartworms are parasites spread from infected dogs to healthy dogs by mosquitos through blood feeding; heartworms cannot be transmitted directly from a sick dog to a healthy dog.
These worms live in the heart and its associated large blood vessels and block normal forward blood flow. Heartworm disease can also cause the formation of blood clots and damage the heart and lung tissue, and infection can be fatal if not treated.
Signs of heartworm disease include your dog coughing, decreased appetite, wheezing, weight loss, and trouble breathing.
Treatment involves killing adult heartworms and any juvenile stages, but unfortunately, this does not reverse any existing heart disease or damage to the lungs. Therefore, dogs should be on monthly heartworm prevention year-round to avoid infection.
How is wheezing treated?
Treatment varies depending on the underlying causes of dog wheezing Bacterial infections causing bronchitis or pneumonia, for example, are treated with antibiotics. Allergies are often treated with antihistamines or steroid medications.
Surgical interventions may be required for the removal of foreign bodies or tumors, or to correct severe collapsing trachea. Heart disease and heart failure may require medications to remove fluid from the lungs and ease any strain on the heart.
Heartworm infection is often treated with an injectable deworming medication. Your veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate treatment based on the causes of dog wheezing and the severity of your dog’s wheezing.
The long-term prognosis for dogs with wheezing depends on the underlying cause.
Some causes, such as seasonal allergies or kennel cough, are often milder and improve quickly with treatment. However, causes like cancer or congestive heart failure are chronic and life-threatening.
When your dog is wheezing it should be a significant cause for concern and you should visit your vet immediately when it is frequent or pronounced, or accompanied by other symptoms.
Other signs include your dog coughing, poor appetite, discolored nasal discharge, lethargy, blue-tinged gums, trouble breathing or showing respiratory distress with panting, gasping, or neck extension.
Home remedies for dog wheezing may help in mild cases or in conjunction with medical treatment, but dogs with persistent or severe wheezing should see a veterinarian to determine a treatment plan.
Pet owners can use an air purifier can help decrease environmental allergens. To break up congestion, steam inhalation (running a hot shower in the bathroom) and coupage (firmly patting the chest) may be beneficial.