6 min read

5 Common Respiratory Conditions in Purebred Dogs


By Tim Falk

Published: 11/24/2021, edited: 11/24/2021

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Respiratory distress can be a very worrying problem for pups and their parents. When your dog can’t breathe properly, it can indicate a potentially serious problem. However, just like for us humans, there are a wide range of respiratory illnesses that can affect dogs.

So if you’re the proud pet parent of a purebred dog, let’s take a closer look at some of the common respiratory conditions that could affect your pooch, and what you can do to help your pup stay safe.

Brachycephalic syndrome

a bulldog walking in the grass

Brachycephalic syndrome is a common problem in some types of purebred dogs. Also known as brachycephalic airway syndrome and brachycephalic respiratory syndrome, it affects short-nosed (or brachycephalic) breeds such as the Bulldog and the Boxer.

This syndrome affects a dog’s upper airways, resulting in abnormalities including an elongated soft palate, stenotic nares, and everted laryngeal saccules. This in turn leads to problems such as breathing difficulties, exercise intolerance, poor heat tolerance, gagging when swallowing, and a range of other symptoms.


The symptoms of brachycephalic syndrome can include:


The cause of brachycephalic syndrome is the flat face or shortened nose of specific dog breeds. Purebred dogs affected by the condition can include:


If your dog is a brachycephalic breed and you notice them suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, talk to your vet about your concerns. Your vet will examine how your dog breathes and assess their palate, throat, and nostrils. X-rays can help reveal the extent of any problems, while a laryngeal exam may need to be conducted under anesthesia.


The treatment for brachycephalic airway syndrome varies depending on the nature and severity of your dog’s symptoms. For example, surgery may be required to correct a cleft palate or lip, widen your dog’s airways, or correct an elongated soft palate.

However, treatment varies on a case-by-case basis, and if your dog still enjoys a good quality of life, surgery may not be required.

Tracheal collapse

Another common respiratory problem that can affect purebred dogs is tracheal collapse. This serious progressive condition occurs when the rings of cartilage in a dog’s trachea weaken and collapse. The result is a narrowed airway that can make it difficult for the dog to breathe properly.

While tracheal collapse can affect younger dogs, it usually occurs in pets that are middle-aged and older.


The symptoms of tracheal collapse in dogs are:

  • Coughing (commonly referred to as sounding like a honking goose)
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abnormal breathing sounds
  • Low energy levels
  • Trouble eating and drinking
  • Blue tint to mucous membranes
  • Fainting


Tracheal collapse is a result of the rings of cartilage around the trachea loosen and collapse. It can affect any dog, but occurs more commonly in toy and small breeds, so it’s suspected to be a congenital disorder. Breeds prone to tracheal collapse include:

Other risk factors for tracheal collapse include obesity, old age, and a history of respiratory infections.


If you notice any of the above symptoms, get your pet to the vet for a thorough physical exam. The vet will conduct a full examination to rule out any other potential causes, while X-rays, fluoroscopy, and bronchoscopy can help your vet assess the trachea and confirm the diagnosis.


There are a few options available to treat tracheal collapse. In mild cases, medications such as bronchodilators, cough suppressants, sedatives, and anti-anxiety medications can be used to help manage the condition. For obese dogs, losing weight can also help ease breathing difficulties.

In severe cases, surgical correction may be recommended as the best option.

3 dogs in a kennel

Kennel cough

More formally known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, kennel cough is a highly contagious viral or bacterial infection that affects a dog’s respiratory system. The most common symptom of the infection is, of course, a cough. 

Kennel cough is easy to treat in many dogs, but it can cause complications for puppies and dogs with underlying medical issues. This condition can affect both purebred and mixed-breed dogs, but the good news is that there’s also a preventive vaccine available.


The symptoms of kennel cough are:

In severe cases, you may also notice that your dog has a reduced appetite, is lethargic, or has a fever.


The most common cause of kennel cough in dogs is bordetella bronchiseptica. However, there are a number of other viruses and bacteria that can cause the condition, including the parainfluenza virus.

Kennel cough is also highly contagious and can be spread via inhalation, by coming into contact with infected dogs, and through contact with contaminated surfaces. Cold weather, stress, and exposure to smoke are also contributing factors, and kennel cough can spread easily in environments where there are lots of dogs, such as boarding kennels and doggy daycare centers.


If your pet has recently been in contact with other canines and is showing symptoms of kennel cough, take them to the vet for a check-up. There are a range of potentially serious health issues that can cause coughing on dogs, including heart problems, so these will need to be ruled out.

The vet will listen to your dog’s lungs and assess their cough. There are tests available to determine the virus or bacteria that has caused the condition, but these aren’t usually required in order for the vet to diagnose kennel cough.


The treatment for kennel cough varies depending on the severity of the condition. In some cases, no treatment is required and the cough will clear up on its own. In mild cases, a cough suppressant may be prescribed to manage kennel cough and maximize your dog’s comfort, while bronchodilators and antibiotics may also be recommended for more severe cases.

Rhinitis and sinusitis

Rhinitis and sinusitis are two closely-related health problems that can affect purebred and mixed-breed dogs. Rhinitis is inflammation of the mucous membranes in the nose, while sinusitis is swelling of the nasal passages. 

There are many causes of rhinitis and sinusitis, and both result in a runny nose and can lead to subsequent bacterial infections for your fur-baby.


The symptoms of in dogs include:


There are lots of causes of rhinitis and sinusitis, but the most common culprit is a viral infection, such as parainfluenza or canine distemper. Some of the other potential causes include:

  • Foreign body in nose
  • Tumor
  • Traumatic injury
  • Fungal infection
  • Allergies
  • Parasites
  • Dental issues
  • Bacterial infection


Your vet will physically examine your dog and take into account their medical history when diagnosing rhinitis or sinusitis. X-rays, endoscopy, nasal cultures, and even a nasal biopsy may all be required to reach a definite diagnosis.


The cause of rhinitis and sinusitis will determine the best course of treatment. For example, antibiotics can be used to combat bacterial infections, antifungal medications can be used to treat fungal rhinitis, while surgery may be required to remove a foreign body that has become stuck. In the case of severe infections, IV fluids may be needed.

a basset hound lying under a blanket

Pulmonary fibrosis

The last problem on our list of common respiratory conditions in purebred dogs is pulmonary fibrosis. This life-threatening lung disease involves progressive scarring of the lungs, resulting in breathing difficulties and irreversible damage. 

Pulmonary fibrosis can be caused by chronic injury and repair to lung tissue, but there could also be a genetic link in some cases. Sadly, there is no cure for the condition, and treatment is focused on managing the condition and maintaining the affected dog’s quality of life. There is also


The symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis include:


There are two types of pulmonary fibrosis that can affect dogs.

The first is pulmonary interstitial fibrosis, which is caused by repeated injury and then repair to the lung tissue. This can result from a range of conditions, including chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, and viral illness.

The second type is known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. “Idiopathic” means that the cause of the condition is unknown, but it’s thought that there may be a genetic factor involved. Terriers, and West Highland White Terriers in particular, are the breeds most commonly affected.


Symptoms such as a cough and breathing difficulties can potentially indicate a wide range of other common health problems, so your vet will need to examine your dog to determine the underlying cause. 

Upon listening to your dog’s breathing with a stethoscope, the vet may detect loud “crackles”. They can also conduct chest x-rays, blood tests, and bronchoscopy to confirm the diagnosis.


Unfortunately, there is no cure for this progressive condition and the average life expectancy after diagnosis is approximately 12 months. Instead of curing the condition, treatment focuses on managing the symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis and ensuring that the dog can enjoy the best possible quality of life.

Corticosteroids, oxygen supplementation, bronchodilators, and/or cough suppressants may be prescribed, while reducing the dog’s activity levels can also help.

Be prepared for anything

Respiratory conditions can be expensive to treat. If you suspect that your dog is at risk of developing any of these common respiratory illnesses, start searching for pet insurance today. Wag!’s pet insurance comparison tool lets you compare plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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