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Is Your Dog Wheezing? Our Vet Explains Why – And How to Help

Is Your Dog Wheezing? Our Vet Explains Why – And How to Help

Alpha Paw Sale

Jun 29, 2021


  • Wheezing is a symptom that can be caused by many different diseases.

  • Some causes of wheezing can be life-threatening.

  • It is important to be able to identify the difference.

What Causes A Dog To Start Wheezing?

You may have noticed that your dog has suddenly developed a wheezing sound when they breathe, or they may have always had a little bit of noise when breathing that is gradually getting worse. Wheezing can indicate a serious underlying condition, so it is important to understand why it is happening.

Wheezing is caused by the abnormal flow of air in and out of the lungs due to blockage of the airways, resulting in an increased noise or whistling sound when your dog breathes. The blockage can be in either the trachea (windpipe) or the large bronchi.

There are many causes of wheezing in dogs including asthma, allergies, bronchitis, foreign bodies, infectious disease, and heart disease. Wheezing may be gradual in onset, developing over the course of weeks to months or it may be sudden onset. If your dog’s gums are turning blue then this indicates that they are not getting enough oxygen, and is considered a potentially life-threatening emergency – you should take them to a veterinarian immediately.

The Most Common Causes of Wheezing in Dogs

There are many causes of wheezing in dogs, some of which are extremely rare. Here is a list of the most common causes that are seen in the veterinary practice:

Is your dog wheezing? Our vet explains why - and how to help

Foreign body inhalation

This is the most common cause of acute wheezing and is often the most life-threatening. A foreign body is a name given to any object that is stuck within your dog’s body that shouldn’t be there. If your dog has inhaled a foreign body, it may have become stuck in the trachea or larger bronchi and can completely or partially block the flow of air in and out of the lungs.

If the foreign body causes a complete obstruction, oxygen cannot pass into the lungs and your dog’s gums might start to turn a blue-ish tint in a condition called cyanosis. Foreign body inhalation is always an emergency, take your dog to the vet immediately where they will likely provide oxygen therapy and try to remove the obstruction.

Foreign body inhalation is more of a potential problem if your dog likes to chew on toys or bones, where the small fragments may get inhaled. Be sure to match the size of the toy with the size of your dog so that the risk of inhalation is reduced.

Asthma

Much like humans, dogs can suffer from asthma, which is when your dog’s immune system within its airways reacts to certain allergens in the environment. Some dogs will be more susceptible than others, but asthma is more commonly seen in middle-aged or younger dogs. Smaller dog breeds are also more likely to develop asthma than larger dogs.

Is your dog wheezing? Our vet explains why - and how to help

Different Allergens

Different allergens include air fresheners, cigarette smoke, pollen, and household cleaning products; these can trigger an allergic reaction when inhaled, resulting in inflammation, constriction, and spasm of the muscles within the walls of your dog’s airways. This narrows the space for air to pass in and out of the lungs.

When Should You Take Your Dog To the Vet?

The severity of this allergic reaction can vary from mild, where your dog’s breathing rate may increase slightly, to severe where your dog is struggling to get any oxygen into their lungs. The latter is considered an emergency, so you should take your dog to the nearest veterinarian immediately.

If your dog is susceptible to asthma, be sure to limit the number of allergens around them by not spraying air fresheners or smoking in their presence. They may even require a nebulizer that allows the anti-allergy medication to be inhaled directly into the lungs, preventing such attacks.

Infectious Airway Disease

A common cause of wheezing is kennel cough, a viral or bacterial infection of the airways, which causes inflammation and an excessive buildup of mucus which results in narrowing of the airways. These infectious disease diseases are spread between dogs, so if your canine friend spends a lot of time around other dogs they may be particularly susceptible.

Usually, these infections are mild and resolve on their own with time, but if you see pus-like discharge from your dog’s nose or mouth then they may have developed pneumonia, in which case they will require treatment at the vet. Vaccination can provide protection against many of the pathogens that cause the kennel cough complex.

Parasites such as heartworms, hookworms, and roundworms can also cause wheezing if they infect your dog’s airways. If your dog is also showing signs such as weight loss, vomiting, weakness, and worms in their feces then they may have a parasitic infection in their respiratory tract. Be sure to keep your dog regularly wormed to prevent such infections.

Chronic Bronchitis In Dogs

Chronic Bronchitis, or inflammation of the airways, is often seen in middle-aged to older dogs and affects smaller breed dogs more commonly than large dogs. A chronic cough is the most common symptom of bronchitis but dogs may also wheeze due to the excessive mucus build-up and inflammation within their airways.

Bronchitis is often a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that other causes of wheezing are investigated before a diagnosis of bronchitis is made. But if your vet is concerned that your dog has bronchitis then they may wish to perform X-rays to look for patterns on the lungs that indicate inflammation.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for chronic bronchitis but the symptoms can usually be kept in check. Corticosteroids and bronchodilators are commonly prescribed to reduce airway inflammation and to widen the airways to allow better airflow within the lungs. If your dog is overweight, excessive fat deposition may also affect the ability of your dog’s airways to widen so be sure to employ a balanced diet and proper exercise routine for your dog.

Heart Disease In Dogs

Dogs with congestive heart failure can also wheeze due to fluid build-up on the lungs. This is because the heart isn’t efficient enough to keep fluid moving around the blood, so some pools into the air spaces in the lungs.

This affects the ability of air to freely flow in and out of the lungs. Other signs of congestive heart failure include a persistent cough, lethargy, and reluctance to exercise. If this sounds like your dog, be sure to take them to the vet where they may wish to perform a heart scan and chest x-rays and to start your dog on the appropriate medication.

Final Thoughts

As you can see there are many different causes of wheezing in dogs. Some of which are preventable with proper parasite control, vaccination, or environmental changes. Other causes unfortunately cannot be prevented but the symptoms your dog shows can be greatly reduced with the proper medication. Always take your dog to the vet if the wheezing is worsening or affecting their quality of life.

Alpha Paw Sale
author image

Dr. Alexander Crow, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Alexander Crow is an RCVS-licensed Veterinary Surgeon currently practicing at Buttercross Veterinary Center, a small animal accredited veterinary practice in Nottingham, United Kingdom. He earned his Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine degree at the Royal Veterinary College London. His special interests include neurology and soft tissue surgery, and he hopes to start his surgical certificate in the next year. When not working, he enjoys traveling to Europe, painting, and staying fit.

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