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Dogs cough and sneeze for a variety of reasons. They might be trying to clear something from their throat or get something in their nose that tickles their nasal passageway. For the most part, these responses are harmless. However, if the dog starts wheezing and their coughs and sneezes become more frequent, it could mean that there’s a health issue pet parents shouldn’t ignore.
Wheezing refers to the high-pitched whistling sound a dog makes when breathing, typically when they exhale. It generally occurs when something blocks the dog’s flow of air in the trachea or large bronchi.
Any dog can experience wheezing. However, it tends to be more common in (and characteristic of) dogs with short snouts, including Pugs, French and English Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Shih Tzus. Pet parents with these breeds should pay extra attention to their dog’s breathing, as “normal” wheezing can get overlooked as a symptom of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, infections, and other breathing problems.
Several issues can lead to airway constriction and cause wheezing, and the issue can range in severity. Some causes are small and relatively easy to fix with a vet consultation. Others are more serious, such as a heart condition or collapsed trachea.
Upon hearing the tell-tale whistling sound while breathing, a pet parent may wonder, “why is my dog wheezing?” Below are some of the most common causes:
Like humans, dogs are susceptible to seasonal allergies. Airborne allergens such as dust, mold, and pollen can cause airway inflammation. Asthma may also occur, which can trigger wheezing due to constricted airways.
Seasonal allergy-related wheezing typically only causes problems during the part of the year when the offending allergen is most active. Dogs with allergies may also experience other symptoms, such as hives, skin inflammation, itchiness (including itchy ears), and hair loss.
Bronchitis affects the lower airways of a dog’s lungs, also known as the bronchi. It can develop as a result of bacterial infections, allergies, parasites, or frequent inhalation of irritants (dust, smoke, etc.).
Chronic bronchitis refers to bronchitis that lasts for more than two months. It can cause inflammation in the bronchi, which can trigger swelling, mucous formation, and breathing issues. A dog may develop a persistent cough and start wheezing as breathing becomes more difficult. Poor air quality and environmental stressors (such as mold) can make bronchitis worse.
Dogs can develop upper respiratory infections similar to a human cold or flu that come with symptoms such as a cough, sneezes, and wheezing. Some dogs may start snoring while they sleep. These infections often resolve on their own. If symptoms persist, however, treatment with antibiotics may be necessary.
Some infections that may cause wheezing include:
Parasite: Heartworms, hookworm larvae, and roundworm larvae can live in a dog’s airways and lungs.
Nasal mites: These highly infectious parasites pass easily from one dog to another. Some dogs can carry them for years without any symptoms other than wheezing when excited.
Kennel cough: Kennel cough is another highly contagious respiratory disease. Dogs that spend time around other canines at the park, doggy daycare, or kennel are most likely to contract it.
Sometimes, dogs can inhale objects accidentally, such as:
Broken pieces of a chewed-up toy
An entire ball (more likely to occur in dogs that enjoy running with a ball in their mouths)
Foreign bodies can partially or fully obstruct the airway. A dog with a partially blocked airway may struggle to breathe and panic, leading to excessive panting and wheezing. A fully blocked airway can quickly pass out due to a lack of oxygen. In either situation, pet parents should seek immediate care.
So, what should pet parents do if their dog is wheezing? One of the first things they should do, although it can be difficult, is to remain calm. That will make assessing the situation (and keeping their dog comfortable) easier. If they start panicking, their dog is more likely to do the same.
Next, pet parents should find the answer to the question, "why is my dog wheezing so much?" For instance, if they see pieces of a broken toy or bone (or their dog was eating), the canine may have inhaled a foreign object that’s now stuck in their airway.
If there is no sign of choking hazards, pet parents should move their dog to a well-ventilated area. If the dog starts wheezing outside, that could mean bringing them indoors to get away from pollen and see if their symptoms improve. An air filter may help improve indoor allergy issues. Removing potential triggers, such as aerosol sprays, candle smoke, or air fresheners, may also help determine the cause of a dog’s wheezing.
If a dog is struggling to breathe or has a complete blockage in their airway, pet parents should seek emergency care immediately.
Non-emergency wheezing situations also require professional care. An experienced vet can go over the dog’s symptoms with pet parents, perform a physical examination, and determine the cause. If possible, pet parents should capture a video of their dog wheezing so the vet can hear what’s happening.
The treatment plan for wheezing will vary based on the cause. Potential treatments may include:
Medications: Antibiotics for infections or allergy medications.
Diet modifications: Ensures optimal nutrition for immune (and whole-body) health and eliminates food allergens.
Environmental modifications: Cleaning more frequently, using an air purifier, or stopping the use of harsh chemicals or heavily scented products.
While it may not always be life-threatening, wheezing and general trouble breathing often indicates an underlying issue. Knowing what to do when your dog is wheezing and seeking help from a professional vet can uncover the cause and get the treatment their dog needs for a better quality of life.
If pet parents have any questions or concerns about their dog’s wheezing (or other potential health concerns), Fuzzy’s online vets are here to help. They can go over the dog’s symptoms and help pet parents determine the best course of action.
Pet parents interested in becoming a Fuzzy member for 24/7 access to Fuzzy’s Live Vet Chat (along with other amazing benefits) should sign up to get started today. No need to search for "my dog is wheezing, what do I do?" Simply contact Fuzzy to get the answer.