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What is Wheezing?

Hearing your canine wheezing can often be alarming for pet parents since it can sound like your pet is having an asthma attack. Wheezing is described as a whistling sound coming from your dog while he is breathing in and out. Although asthma is an uncommon but possible reason for wheezing, it is not the only one. Others possible causes include:

  • Allergies
  • Kennel cough
  • Bronchitis
  • Infections
  • Parasites

In most cases, there is a simple solution to your dog's wheezing. However, if the wheezing is persistent and happens often, you may want to consider bringing them to the veterinarian in order to ensure that it is not something serious.

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Why Wheezing Occurs in Dogs

Dogs have sensitive airways that should expand and contract in order to let the right amount of oxygen into the lungs. If there is a problem with the airways, it can cause wheezing as they are not expanding enough and the oxygen must squeeze its way through the tight airways. Failure of expansion in the airways can occur if your dog has:

Asthma

Dogs, like humans, can develop asthma when the large upper airways undergo spasms and constrictions. Asthma in dogs, which is also known as allergic bronchitis, is almost always caused by something in the environment that is causing an allergic reaction. Some of these allergens include cigar smoke, dust or smoke from fireplaces and wood burning stoves, and aromas from air fresheners and deodorizers. Your dog can be more susceptible to allergic bronchitis if he is young or middle aged, although older dogs are not immune. It is also more common in older smaller dog breeds. Asthma, or allergic bronchitis, can often be treated with medication, but can become chronic and very severe if overlooked and left for too long. Symptoms aside from wheezing can include a dry hacking cough and respiratory distress.

Allergies

Allergies to pollen, dust or cigarette smoke can also cause wheezing. Some dogs can also develop allergies to certain insect stings or bites. Wheezing will be accompanied by itching of the skin, sneezing and/or coughing. In some cases, there may be runny discharge from the eyes or nose, and sometimes vomiting or diarrhea. Allergies in dogs can be fairly common in all breeds, and will usually appear between the age of six months to two years old.

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a respiratory disease that can be highly contagious. It is usually acquired in places where a large amount of canines congregate, such as doggie daycare, dog parks, shows or training groups, as well as kennels (hence the name). The most obvious symptom is a strong cough, which will be accompanied by wheezing, sneezing, a loss of appetite, lethargy and sometimes a low fever. Mild kennel cough can be treated with a few weeks of rest, but your vet may choose to prescribe cough medication to ease the symptoms or antibiotics to prevent a secondary infection. If your dog is often in contact with other canines, it may be wise to get a vaccination to prevent kennel cough.

Bronchitis

Aside from wheezing, signs of bronchitis can include a dry hacking cough that is usually triggered by stress, exercise or direct physical pressure on the trachea. There may also be a fluctuating fever, retching or gagging and a passing of foamy saliva, intolerance to exercise, lethargy, a show of respiratory difficulty, and rapid breathing. Obesity can be a complicating factor that could increase your dog's risk of bronchitis. Any dog is at risk, but small toy breeds and aging or older dogs can be more susceptible.

Infections

There are many symptoms to upper respiratory infections, including sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge and irritation, a low grade fever, eye discharge, difficulty and labored breathing, loss of appetite resulting in weight loss, exercise intolerance, snorting, wheezing and gagging. Puppies or older animals, unvaccinated pets, as well as dogs with impaired immune systems are more at risk to infections.

Parasites

If your dog is wheezing, coughing, losing weight, sneezing, has an increased breathing rate, nasal discharge, weakness, lethargy, vomiting, regurgitation, aspiration of stomach contents and food, or worms present in the feces, he may have a parasitic infection. There are many types of parasites that can interfere with your dog's respiratory tract and cause wheezing.

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What to do if your Dog is Wheezing

If the wheezing does not last, and your dog seems to be acting normally and breathing without any problems, then you should keep an eye on them but going to the vet is most likely not necessary. If your pet is wheezing and seems to be having trouble breathing, then you should consider bringing them to the vet. Your canine could have an illness like bronchitis or kennel cough, or may have an object lodged in their throat. Whatever the case may be, it would be wise to visit your veterinarian. 

If you discover that your dog does have a foreign body present, if possible it is important to not try to get it out on your own as you could push it in further and block the airway completely. Instead you should get to the nearest veterinarian immediately and allow them to dislodge the object. Many of the causes for your dog’s wheezing, like asthma and allergies, can be cured by medication or antibiotics that will be prescribed by your vet. Others, like in the case of mild kennel cough, simply call for a few weeks of rest. Some illnesses, such as infections and parasites, can be prevented by vaccines.

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Prevention of Wheezing

Although most of the causes for wheezing are not fatal, it is best to not take chances and try to prevent it. To avoid wheezing and other symptoms, you should not let your dog eat any frozen foods or have access to small toys and objects that could potentially get stuck in their throat. To ensure that your pet is as healthy as can be, do not expose them to cigarette smoke, fireplaces, wood burning stoves, air fresheners or deodorizers, as they can be damaging to the lungs and respiratory system.

If a reaction to an inhalant or specific food is suspected, it is wise to test your dog for any allergies and decide with your vet whether your pet is in need of medication or if a product or food item needs to be eliminated from their diet or environment. Get your furry friend vaccinated for infections and kennel cough, especially if they spend a lot of time around other dogs. Keep an eye on your pet, and do not overlook any changes in behavior, appetite or energy levels, no matter how small, as they can often be part of something bigger.

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Cost of Wheezing

Treatments for wheezing can have different costs, depending on the actual cause. Treating allergic bronchitis, otherwise known as asthma, will be on average $400. If your dog has been diagnosed with kennel cough, expect to pay about $650, depending on the severity. Treatments for bronchitis can cost about $600.

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Wheezing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Deeogie

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German Shepherd

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Wheezing

My dog started with "reverse sneezing" and is now wheezing when he exhales through his nose. I am concerned because it seems to be getting worse. The vet says it may be allergies, and started him on Clariten. Now he is getting less energetic. I am calling the vet tomorrow to see if there is anything else to check. Here is a video of him breathing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPYWM4evfnU

Sept. 17, 2018

Deeogie's Owner

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Dusty

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Chorkie

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4 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Wheezing

My dog usually snorts a lot when she exercises or is excited, but it seems to have gotten worse and is accompanied by a whistling or wheezing sound. She recently went to the vet and met a few dogs in the waiting room, one of them ,a sausage dog, seemed to be coughing a fair bit, do you think she has caught kennel cough?

Sept. 15, 2018

Dusty's Owner

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Quincy

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cockapoo

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15 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Wheezing, Snorting,

I have a dog that has been wheezing for several months and I’ve taken him to three different vets. He’s had an EKG and chest X-ray. Nothing unusual for a 15 year old dog. Next they want to do a CT scan and rhinoscopy, but I hate to put him through that. The Zyrtec has helped somewhat and his appetite has also returned.

Aug. 5, 2018

Quincy's Owner


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1 Recommendations

It can be difficult to narrow in on an underlying cause in these causes, allergies may be contributing to the symptoms but I cannot say for certain; I would say that it is important to narrow in on an underlying cause through further testing but you need to decide whether it is worthwhile to do it in this case given the age. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 6, 2018

Interesting comment but vague. I would like to do some noninvasive testing but haven’t found the right vet to help me.

Aug. 6, 2018

Quincy's Owner

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Rory

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Labradoodle

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12 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Breathing Difficulty
Wheezing

My dog has been wheezing and ending with a puking sound with nothing actually coming out at least once or twice every hour. It started a few months ago and we thought it may go away. When it started she also started breathing heavier even with minimal activity she just starts breathing heavy.

Aug. 1, 2018

Rory's Owner

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1 Recommendations

There are many causes for heavier breathing, wheezing and gagging which may include laryngeal disorders, tumours, throat trauma, foreign objects among other causes; if this has been going on for a few months with this frequency you should visit a Veterinarian for a thorough examination to determine the underlying cause. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 1, 2018

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Spike

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Staffordshire

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Coughing
Wheezing

My 6 year old Staffy has started wheezing early this morning. He was happy to have some meat to eat and a mix of milk and water. He doesnt seem to be in any pain but his abdomen contracts a lot more when the wheezing starts. He had a little run around to open up his lungs and while it sounds better there is still wheezing. He has also had a cough for awhile, but only happens when he gets excited.

June 16, 2018

Spike's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

It would probably be a good idea to have Spike seen by a veterinarian at some point to see if this coughing and wheezing is a problem. It may be allergies or a benign problem, but there may be something more serious going on, and a veterinarian can assess his breathing and cardiovascular system and see what might be happening.

June 16, 2018

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