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What is Gasping for Air?

Chances are you’ve heard your dog gasping for air or honking and making a terrible noise commonly known as a reverse sneeze.  The occasional gasp for air is caused by an irritation of the soft palate and throat and is a spasm that will quickly pass.  However, if you notice your dog gasping for air often and it becomes a chronic occurrence, you may have cause for some concern.  Chronic reverse sneezing and gasping for air may indicate one of the following conditions:

  • Allergies
  • Rhinitis and sinusitis due to viral infections
  • Nasal mites

The severity of a reverse sneeze or gasping for air is usually mild, but if your dog’s symptoms become chronic, you should seek medical assistance to determine the cause.

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Why Gasping for Air Occurs in Dogs

There are a few reasons why your dog may be experiencing episodes of gasping for air.  Allergens can affect your dog causing respiratory gasps and honks as the mouth and throat go into a spasm.  More severe cases may be from viral infections that cause rhinitis.  Nasal mites, which are a microscopic mite may irritate your dog’s nasal passage and also cause the spasms that lead to gasping for air.  

Reverse sneezing can affect any type of dog but is more commonly seen in smaller dogs and dogs with long narrow nasal passages.  Dogs with flat faces, such as Boxer and Pugs are also prone to gasping for air but not due to potential medical conditions.  Flat-faced dogs have elongated soft palates that occasionally get sucked into the throat while breathing, especially when excited, causing spasms.        

Allergies

Dust, pollen, perfumes, smoke, and other airborne particles may settle in your dog’s nasal passages and cause irritation and possibly inflammation. Intolerance to an allergen can cause your dog’s immune system to overreact and manifest respiratory symptoms such as, gasping for air, coughing, and sneezing in addition to having watery, itchy eyes, a runny nose, itchy skin, and excessive licking.  Allergies can affect any breed and any age.  

Rhinitis and Sinusitis

Rhinitis and sinusitis can occur when the mucous membranes of your dog’s nose and sinuses become inflamed due to a viral infection.  The most common culprits causing rhinitis in your dog are canine distemper, adenovirus type 1 and 2, and parainfluenza.  A viral infection will lower your dog’s ability to fight disease, and a secondary bacterial infection most often accompanies the viral infection, further aggravating your dog’s symptoms. In addition to gasping for air and coughing, you may notice your dog has bad breath, opens his mouth to breathe or has labored panting, and rubs or paws at his face.      

Nasal Mites

Nasal mites are microscopic mites that live in a dog’s nasal passage. The infection does not usually cause any noticeable symptoms, but occasionally your dog may experience coughing, reverse sneezing, or other respiratory symptoms.  Nasal mites are easily transmitted by touching nose to nose with an infected dog.  A nasal mite infection can affect any type of dog at any age.

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What to do if your Dog is Gasping for Air

If your dog starts breathing rapidly through the nose followed by a snorting or gasping sound, he is probably experiencing a reverse sneeze.  Once the reverse sneeze spasm subsides, your dog will be back to normal; however, if your dog is experiencing multiple episodes, you will want to observe any accompanying symptoms and consult with your veterinarian.  

In most cases, reverse sneezing does not require medical treatment because it is a regular respiratory event in some dogs.  If your dog is experiencing an episode, you can raise his head slightly, cover his nostrils, and gently stroke his throat to help calm the spasms.  If your dog’s reverse sneezing is allergy-related, your veterinarian may suggest administering an antihistamine.  You should also bathe your dog with hypoallergenic shampoos and try to keep the dust down inside your home.  Though plants can also be the cause of allergy-related gasping, fresh, cool air is also recommended when your dog is experiencing an episode.  

When gasping for air is accompanied by other symptoms or behaviors or becomes chronic, you will want to consult with your veterinarian to determine the cause of the issue.  Your vet will perform a full physical examination and conduct a rhinoscopy and nasal flushing to determine the cause, be it a viral or bacterial infection or possibly nasal mites. 

If your dog is diagnosed with nasal mites, you will need to keep him away from other dogs and follow strict instructions provided by your veterinarian.  Your vet will also administer drug treatments to help rid your dog of nasal mites.

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Prevention of Gasping for Air

Gasping for air, honking, and reserve sneezing are common in dogs, especially small dogs and those with flat faces.  Your dog may be perfectly healthy before and after his episode, but you can prevent some of the health conditions that may cause reverse sneezing.  If you can determine your dog’s allergy-related gasping is due to a particular plant or allergen, you can take steps to avoid the allergen.  This may be difficult to achieve but is possible.  Fresh water and a clean home will also help alleviate your dog’s allergy-related issues.

Antihistamines and decongestants, at your veterinarian’s orders, will help keep inflammation down in the nasal passages; thus preventing chronic or acute inflammation caused by a viral or bacterial infection.  

Finally, fresh air and exercise are also good for your dog but be careful not to let him come into contact with strays or other unknown dogs as they may be infected with nasal mites.  Fresh air and exercise often excite your dog, and he may pull at this leash or pant heavily in excitement.  This type of behavior may cause a spasm of the soft palate leading to gasping for air and honking noises.  Try to calm down your companion by rubbing on his throat and soothing him.  Proper socialization and training will go a long way in preventing excitement induced spasms.

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Cost of Gasping for Air

Treatment cost will vary depending on the cause of your dog’s need to gasp for air.  For example, nasal mite treatment can cost around $300 while treatment for rhinitis can cost around $1,500.  However, the average cost of treating conditions related to gasping for air is around $350.

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Gasping for Air Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Australian Shepherd

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One Year

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3 found helpful

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Noisy Breathing

My dog had a few episodes of wheezing tonight. She was okay all night until she just started honking and having a hard time breathing. I tried to get her to gag to see if there was something blocking her passageway, but nothing happened. So i just held her to calm her down until she stopped wheezing a few moments later. Then this happened again, she would wheeze, i would hold her and pet her to calm her and she'd stop. Happened one more time, and this time i gave her some honey and she hasnt wheezed the rest of the night. Is this something i should be worried about? Thank you for reading

Jan. 10, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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3 Recommendations

If the behaviour does not continue and she is acting normal with normal breathing, this may have been a reverse sneeze or it could be that e.g. dust irritated her airway. If it recurs, she should see a vet to check her heart and lungs and establish what is going on.

Jan. 10, 2021

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Labrador Retriever

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One Year

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0 found helpful

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Noisy Breathing

My dog got neutered on 12/29 and had to stay overnight at the vet per their policy...they gave him a bordetella vaccine while he was there. On 1/1 his nose started running a lot (clear) and he started sneezing a lot and periodically reverse sneezing...it is still happening and it's been 6 days

Jan. 7, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Maureen M. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hi, Sorry about that. Neutering can put a dog under some stress for a few days which can have an impact on their immunity. That said your dog may be exhibiting some mild symptoms from the vaccine that was adminstered which sometimes happens. It could also be possible that he may have contracted a respiratory infection while at the kennels while boarding which also common. I would advise you visit your vet for a better diagnosis and also possible treatment. Good luck

Jan. 7, 2021

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Shih Tzu

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Ten Weeks

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2 found helpful

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Moderate severity

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Weird Breathing

My puppy is sleeping and wakes up out of nowhere breathing extremely heavy threw his mouth and nose and then goes back to normal

Oct. 23, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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2 Recommendations

Hi there, you are through to Dr Linda. This can be a normal behaviour in puppies and, while it may seem alarming, is generally not a concern. It can be due to dreaming in some instances. I would want to ensure the pup has had its heart and lungs checked by a vet and is showing no other signs (cough, altered breathing while awake, difficulty gaining weight, bloated abdomen etc.)

Oct. 23, 2020

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Golden Retriever

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Ten Months

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7 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Gasping

Why my dog is gasping air so much even if he's already taken rest?

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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7 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. If your dog is gasping for air, he needs to see a veterinarian right away. Breathing difficulties are emergencies, and he may have a heart of lung condition, or he may have something caught in his trachea. I hope that he is okay.

Oct. 7, 2020

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Labrador Retriever

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Three Months

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Noisy Breathing

My dog is 3months old and it gasp's alot and sounds alot while breathing all the time. I am concerned about his breathing

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Since I cannot see him, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine your pet, see what might be going on, and get treatment for them if needed.

Oct. 17, 2020

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Padmé

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Terrier mix

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4 Months

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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Sneezing
Coughing
Excessive Thirst
Muscle Spasms
Wheezing
Shortness Of Breath
Rubbing Face

My 4 month old puppy wheezes when she sleeps and it seems as though she gets in less air with each breath until I wake her up because I am scared. This is my first dog and we adopted her from a shelter a month ago. She also coughs, sneezes and gets hiccups multiple times a day. Along with the breathing issues when sleeping she has aggressive spasms while asleep. I’m not sure what to do and I know she gets super excited which can affect her small body but I need to know if I should take her to see a vet. Her first appointment isn’t until June and I don’t want to overreact for nothing. Any advice is welcome :)

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Bowser

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Dachshund/Hound mix

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6 Months

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Fair severity

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3 found helpful

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Fair severity

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Gasping For Air

My 6m old puppy sometimes starts gasping for air, mostly when waking up from a nap, no matter how long. No honking sounds. Not sure if I should get this checked out at his vet or if it's normal for puppies.

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Rocky

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Brussels griffon

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7 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Gasping

I rescued Rocky on 7/20/19, he came from the local shelter. I took him tree the round of kennel cough meds because he seemed to have the first stages of it. Now he does this gasping thing where his sides suck in and he acts like he can't breathe.

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Bean

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Chihuahua

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12 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Choking
Wheezing
Honking
Struggling To Breathe

My really old blind chihuahua has been ;what it sounds like, “honking,choking and gasping for air” . When he swallows he has an episode it seems like. When facing him face to face I touch his right nostril and he doesn’t do anything then I touch his left nostril and he snaps/ bites at me. Not sure if it’s because he’s blind or what. When he’s havinv an episode he try’s to cover his face and hurry’s it in his blanket.is there any all natural at home remedies available that I can try for my dog until he is seen by our vet? He is so old, really smelly even if I give him a bath. His breathe smells , he’s always urinating on himself and pooping in his crate when he’s not even in there for a long time. He eats a lot but seems very boney . He’s always itchy seems like he has fleas. I’m not sure what to do. I hate seeing my dog like this I’m not sure if it’s just old age and he’s getting close to his time to go or if it’s allergies or something else. He’s so old. Someone please give me a honest and helpful advice.

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Savannah

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Mixed

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1 Year

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

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Gasping
Gasping” “ Constipation”

My dog spent 5 days in a kennel and is now gasping and extremely constipated. She recived the bordatella vaccine about 6 weeks before her stay at the kennel. The kennel hs a pool for dogs. She is also more tired than usual.

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