It is always alarming when you hear your dog struggling to breathe, but it is important to remember that most respiratory problems in dogs are treatable and are often the result of allergies or bacterial infections.
Why is my dog wheezing? Wheezing in dogs usually occur when something impairs or blocks the airways, resulting in your dog making a whistling sound as they breathe in and out. This can be caused by swelling, allergies, infections, a foreign body, or a number of medical issues.
What does it mean when a dog is wheezing?
Dogs have very sensitive airways, which expand and contract in order to let the right amount of oxygen into the lungs. If there is a problem or blockage, however, then your dog is likely to wheeze as they try to force more air through their respiratory tract.
If this happens then they may show signs of nasal discharge, coughing, whistling and shortness of breath.
Although wheezing can occur in any breed or age of dog, it is particularly common in flat faced (brachycephalic breeds) with short muzzles, narrowed nostrils and elongated soft palates. These include French bulldogs and pugs, as well as some toy breeds, including Yorkshire Terriers and Chihuahuas.
That is not to say that your Cavapoo will not suffer from wheezing at all. Unfortunately there are a number of reasons why your dog’s airways may fail to expand correctly. Here we take a detailed look at the main causes of dog wheezing.
What does dog wheezing sound like?
It is not unusual for our dogs to make a variety of sounds. From the odd yip whilst sleeping to grunting, growling and even reverse sneezing (see below), but most of the noises that your dog makes are nothing to be too alarmed about.
But if your dog starts displaying signs of stridor (or noisy breathing as it is otherwise known), then they will start to wheeze and make a raspy, whistling sound that vibrates upon inhalation, and occasionally during exhalation too.
In addition to the hoarse, whistling sound that your dog emits whilst wheezing, they may display visible signs that they are struggling to breathe, such as the sucking in and out their chest at a rapid speed.
Most dogs have a resting respiratory rate somewhere in the mid-teens to mid 20s (depending on age and health), but anything above this is considered abnormal.
Therefore if your dog is wheezing and they are unable to control their breathing, then this should not be dismissed and you should seek veterinary assistance immediately.
Most common causes of dog wheezing
There are many reasons why your dog may suddenly develop difficulty breathing, with the most common causes of dog wheezing being:
- Kennel cough
- Collapsing Trachea
- Heart Disease
- Foreign Body
If your dog does start suddenly wheezing and coughing then it is important that you seek veterinary assistance so that their symptoms can be properly diagnosed.
Dog wheezing due to asthma
Our youngest daughter suffered from asthma during infancy, and there was nothing more distressing than having to watch and listen to her wheeze as her airways went into spasm and constricted, preventing her from being able to breathe.
Asthma in dogs, which is also known as allergic bronchitis, is often caused by something in the environment such as smoke, dust or chemicals, triggering an allergic reaction.
Dogs who are young (and even middle aged) with a developing respiratory tract, tend to suffer with asthma more, although mature dogs are not immune to it completely. Smaller breeds are also more prone to dog asthma than larger dogs.
Dogs with asthma are generally treated with medication, such as steroids and antihistamines. Just like humans, pet nebulizers are used to deliver the medication directly to your dogs lungs.
Dog wheezing due to allergies
Dogs can suffer from allergies and those that are airborne and inhaled can cause your dog to wheeze.
These can include allergies to seasonal pollen, dust or smoke and in addition to wheezing, your dog may suffer with itchy skin, sneezing, coughing or watery eyes.
Allergies in dogs can be fairly common in all breeds, and will usually appear between the age of six months to two years old.
Allergy testing offers a definitive diagnosis and often results in lifestyle and dietary changes for your dog. This is something that your vet can arrange, should you be concerned.
Dog wheezing due to Kennel Cough
Kennel cough is an upper respiratory condition that is a form of canine bronchitis and can be highly contagious.
It spreads quickly in poorly ventilated, overcrowded and warm environments which is why kennel cough is usually acquired in places such as doggie daycare, parks, at shows or in training groups, and can be prevalent in boarding kennels (hence the name).
The illness typically presents itself through wheezing and coughing and although it sounds terrible, most dogs, make a full recovery if given plenty of rest, without the need for veterinary intervention. Those who contract a serious case of kennel cough may require antibiotics.
Kennel cough vaccinations are administered either via an injection, nasal mist or orally, in order to protect dogs against this condition
Dog wheezing due to Bronchitis
Just like asthma, bronchitis occurs when your dogs airways become inflamed and the walls of the bronchi swell. This results in the airways becoming narrowed or blockage by plugs of mucus or other secretions.
The inflammation present in chronic bronchitis is not reversible, and whilst any dog is potentially at risk, small toy breeds and older dogs are often more susceptible. Dogs which are classed as obese according their body conditioning score, could be at an increased risk of bronchitis.
Although the symptoms of dog asthma tend to come and go, acute bronchitis usually lasts for a few days to a few weeks until the infection clears up. Chronic bronchitis, however, is a long term condition and one which your dog will have to learn to live with given the correct treatment.
Dog wheezing due to an infection
Whether your Cavapoo is a puppy that is unvaccinated or a healthy canine companion, respiratory infections can strike at any time.
Most infections are minor and will present themselves through wheezing and coughing, excessive sneezing, nasal irritation, fever, eye discharge, loss of appetite and sudden weight loss.
If your dog is showing signs of respiratory distress then you should take your dog to see a vet.
Dog wheezing due to parasites
There are many types of parasites that can interfere with your dog’s respiratory tract and cause wheezing as they affect the function of the lungs, bronchial tubes, throat, trachea, sinuses, mouth, and nose.
Dogs can catch parasites in a number of ways including exposure to rodents and birds, ingestion of dead animals, the eating of garden insects and pests, and from drinking contaminated water.
A persistent cough, however, is one of the main signs of a parasite infection and a veterinary visit is warranted.
Dog wheezing due to collapsing trachea
If your dog has started to wheeze, snort and honk, it is unlikely that they are impersonating an angry goose, but are instead suffering with a collapsed trachea.
This chronic condition affects a dogs windpipe, and occurs when the cartilage in the supportive rings around the trachea weaken over time and eventually collapse, obstructing the dogs airway.
As the trachea delivers air from the mouth to the lungs this condition can be fatal if not spotted and treated in time.
Although collapsing tracheas are most often seen in toy and brachycephalic breeds, environmental factors such as smoking around your dog or overfeeding them, can play a part.
Dog wheezing due to heart disease
Various heart diseases such as cardiomyopathy and mitral valve disease (both of which are common amongst King Charles Cavalier Spaniels), can cause wheezing in dogs especially in those that are older.
These diseases can cause dogs to have difficulty breathing as the heart struggles to pump blood around the body, and can cause lethargy, exercise intolerance, and wheezing.
Most heart conditions are hereditary and this is why it is always good to know the history of your dogs parentage, bearing in mind that genetic conditions can often skip a generation.
We asked to see health certificates for our Cavapoos Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mother and Poodle father, to ensure that our hybrid puppy had the healthiest of starts.
Dog wheezing due to foreign body
Dogs are like hoovers, sucking up anything that stands in their way. Therefore it is not unusual for a dog to swallow a foreign body such as a bone, stick and even an odd sock, only for it to then get stuck in their windpipe.
This can be a particular problem for puppies or for those dogs that can’t get enough of chewing. If you have a dog that is wheezing and you think that it may have swallowed something it shouldn’t have, please do not try to dislodge it yourself, instead you should contact your vet immediately.
Unfortunately this exact situation happened to my parents spaniel, Millie, who just loved collecting sticks whilst out on walks. One day she managed to get a particularly large stick lodged in her throat and the only way in which the vet could get it back out was to perform surgery. Needless to say, Millie stuck to chasing balls from that day onwards.
What do you do if your dog starts wheezing?
It is important to stress that if you hear your dog wheezing for a few seconds or as a one off, then this whistling sound is likely to be nothing to be concerned about.
If, however, your dog is consistently wheezing or having difficulty breathing alongside showing other symptoms of upper respiratory distress, then it could indicate something serious and you should take them to see a vet immediately.
Whilst many of the causes for your dog’s wheezing (like asthma and allergies), can be cured by medication or antibiotics that is prescribed by your vet, others may simply require no intervention at all but a good dose of of rest and fluids.
Some illnesses, such as infections and parasites, can be prevented by vaccines and there are even occasions where environmental prevention is even better than cure.
How to ease dog wheezing
Although most causes for wheezing are not fatal, it is best to not take chances where your dog is concerned.
To avoid wheezing and other symptoms, you should:
- Vacuum regularly to prevent dust build up
- Stop your dog from eating anything frozen that could get stuck in their throat
- Move all small toys and objects out of reach (regardless of whether you have a puppy or adult dog in the house)
- Watch your dog whilst out on a walk. Do not let them eat other animal faeces or carcasses and always have fresh water to hand
- Do not expose your pet to cigarette smoke, open fires, air fresheners, deodorants, perfumes and other harsh chemicals, as they can be damaging to your dogs lungs and respiratory system
- Keep up with your dogs vaccines and parasite control treatment
- Watch out for any changes in behavior, appetite or energy levels
How to treat a dog that is wheezing
Since there are many causes of wheezing in dogs, the underlying condition must first be diagnosed so that the appropriate treatment plan can be made. An examination will reveal the right course of treatment for your dog.
Whilst some causes of wheezing may require you to simply manage the symptoms, others will require medical intervention. This could be as simple as administering antibiotics or as serious as surgery.
Your dog’s wheezing may be caused by a one-off condition such as an infection, or alternatively it may require long term assistance such as bronchitis which may need to be treated daily with a prescribed inhaler.
Whatever the diagnosis, your vet can advise you the best way in which to deal with your dog’s wheezing.
Other questions relating to your dog wheezing may include:
How much does it cost to treat a dog that is wheezing?
The cost of treatment for dog wheezing can have different costs, depending on the actual cause but most conditions should be covered by your pet insurance.
Difference between reverse sneezing and wheezing?
You may notice on occasion that your dog starts breathing rapidly in and out of their nose whilst standing still or extending their head and neck. This movement then produces a weird snorting/wheezing sound.
This is generally nothing to be alarmed about and is known as a reverse sneeze. It can last for several moments and is often caused by irritations such as nasal mites, seeds, pollen or odors to the nose, sinuses or back of the throat.
Dogs with narrow nasal passages tend to be more commonly affected, with vets referring to this condition as paroxysmal respiration.
Wheezing in dogs and COVID-19
There is no real evidence to show that dogs can develop symptoms of Covid-19 and the World Health Organisation states that dogs are not easily infected with Coronavirus, nor do they play a role in the transmitting of the disease.
If your dog does develops a cough, we suggest that you contact your vet as usual for information but rest assured that it’s very unlikely to be caused by the Covid-19 virus.
You should also follow the advice for pet owners applicable for your country. For England this can be found on the government website and for America you can find out all you need to know about the impact of COVID-19 on animals from the Department of Health & Human Services.
If you would like to know more about the implications of Coronovirus and dogs, then please see our blog.
Of course it is not possible to prevent all dogs from suffering with the conditions that can bring on wheezing, however, a large proportion of cases can be avoided with the correct vaccination, internal parasite control and environmental awareness for our dogs.
Quite often wheezing is just one sign that your dog may display to let you know that something is wrong. This is why it is so important to watch out for symptoms that can help your vet diagnose medical conditions such as asthma, allergens, collapsing trachea and even life threatening illnesses such as heart failure.