Dog wheezing with oxygen mask on

It’s normal for a dog to cough from time to time. Just like humans, dogs cough as a way to clear their throats and breathe better, but when that coughing intensifies and is accompanied by wheezing, that’s when things get serious.

A dog coughing and wheezing can be a symptom of a host of different health conditions, some of which are more serious than others. So if you notice your dog has been coughing and wheezing more frequently, you should bring them to the vet immediately. 

In this blog post, we’ll answer important questions like “Why is my dog coughing and wheezing?” and “What can I do to treat my dog coughing and wheezing?”.

What Is Wheezing?

A dog coughing is relatively easy to identify as it sounds similar to a human coughing. But while most of us are familiar with coughing, wheezing can be a little harder to identify, especially in your pet. 

Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling noise that is caused by something blocking the normal flow of air in and out of the airway. In both humans and in dogs, wheezing is often a symptom of respiratory distress. In addition to wheezing, a dog may also experience mucus, a whistling sound in their lungs, coughing, panting, or gagging. Wheezing is a symptom of breathing problems, but it’s also a physical finding that a vet can identify in a physical examination.

Definition of wheezing

Causes Of Coughing And Wheezing

There are various causes of a dog coughing and wheezing that you should be aware of as a pet parent. A dog coughing and wheezing can be a result of something small and relatively easy to fix with a veterinary consultation, but it could also be a result of a serious health condition that needs immediate medical attention. Below, we’ve defined some of the reasons dogs cough and wheeze, and what to do about them. 

Allergies

Dog allergies are a common cause of coughing and wheezing. A dog can be allergic to a myriad of things, but some of the most common substances that cause coughing and wheezing are pollen, mold, dust mites, and cigarette smoke. Asthma can also occur with allergies, which will cause a dog to wheeze due to constricted airways. A dog with allergies may also have hives, diarrhea, itchy ears, hair loss, and red, inflamed skin.

There are various ways you can treat allergies in dogs, depending on what they’re allergic to. Some treatment options include: avoiding the allergen to prevent reactions, changing your dog’s diet if they have a food allergy, and giving them allergy relief medication. Your vet will have the best idea on how to properly treat your dog’s allergies.

Bronchitis

Bronchitis in dogs can also trigger coughing and wheezing, especially chronic bronchitis. Bronchitis affects the lower airways of a dog’s lungs and chronic bronchitis can cause the lining of the bronchi to become inflamed, which can lead to persistent coughing and wheezing. Bronchitis can also be worsened by poor air quality and environmental stressors, such as cigarette smoke and mold.

As for treating bronchitis in dogs, your vet may prescribe corticosteroids, which target inflammation and help reduce coughing. In addition to medication, you can also make adjustments at home to help your dog breathe better. Avoid smoking around your dog and spraying scented perfumes or aerosol, and make sure your home is well ventilated so your dog can breathe properly.

Causes of coughing and wheezing

Tracheal Collapse & Irritation

A collapsed trachea is a condition that affects a dog’s windpipes and causes weak cartilage in the supportive rings around the trachea to collapse, which can obstruct the airways. This can lead to persistent coughing, wheezing, and labored breathing. Tracheal collapse is most common in small dog breeds and the cause of it is unknown, but it occurs more frequently in overweight dogs. To treat tracheal collapse and irritation, your vet may recommend a weight loss plan so your dog can get to a healthy weight to reduce their symptoms.3

Foreign Object In The Airway

If your dog is eating too fast, this can cause food to get stuck in their airway and lead to coughing and wheezing. If your dog starts to cough and wheeze shortly after eating, start by checking their throat to see if something is stuck. Your dog can also get a foreign object stuck in their airway if they accidentally swallowed a piece of a toy that they were chewing on.

If you suspect your dog is choking, first try to clear the airway by removing the object with your fingers. If you can’t remove it with your fingers, you can try the Heimlich maneuver. If that still doesn’t work, or if your dog is seriously choking, bring them to the vet immediately.

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a respiratory disease that is very contagious. It spreads easily between dogs, so it’s most common at locations where there are a lot of dogs in close contact, like at a kennel, dog park, or dog show. Symptoms of kennel cough include a strong cough, wheezing, runny nose, loss of appetite, and lethargy.

Kennel cough can usually easily be treated with rest, but sometimes cough medication is prescribed to reduce symptoms. Kennel cough can also be prevented with the right vaccinations, so it’s important to get your pup vaccinated.

Infection

Certain upper respiratory infections can lead to a dog coughing and wheezing. These infections are similar to a cold or flu in humans, and symptoms typically include coughing, sneezing, and difficulty breathing. 

A lot of upper respiratory infections will subside by themselves in a matter of a few days, but if your dog’s symptoms persist, you should bring them to the vet to get treated. Antibiotics are often prescribed to reduce symptoms and fight the infection, but getting your dog vaccinated is the best way to prevent them from getting an upper respiratory infection altogether.

Treatments

My dog is coughing and wheezing. How can I treat them?

The treatment for your dog’s coughing and wheezing will depend on the underlying issue, so you should talk to your vet about what the best course of treatment is for your pet. If an infection is present, your vet may prescribe medication to relieve symptoms that may be making it hard for your dog to breathe. 

Your vet might also recommend making some adjustments around the house to help your dog breathe better, like cleaning frequently to get rid of dust, avoiding using aerosols and scented products, and not smoking around your dog. It’s also important to feed your dog a well-balanced diet so they can maintain a healthy weight and keep their immune system healthy. Your vet may recommend a diet plan if your dog is overweight, as well as exercising with your dog more often.

Steps to take if your dog is coughing and wheezing

What To Do If Your Dog Is Wheezing And Coughing

1. Stay calm

Seeing your dog wheezing and coughing is definitely alarming, but it’s important to stay calm. A dog can sense when their owner is stressed, so in order to keep your pet comfortable, you need to remain calm and collected.

2. Look for choking hazards 

If your dog has something in their airway, it’s important to remove the object as soon as possible. Start by checking their mouth for objects and remove them by hand if possible. If the object is still stuck, perform the Heimlich maneuver as discussed above. If choking persists, seek immediate veterinary care.

3. Move your dog somewhere with good airflow

If it’s possible, you should try to move your dog somewhere that has good airflow if they start to cough and wheeze. Poor air quality can hinder your dog’s ability to breathe and worsen their symptoms. This can be a well-ventilated area of your house or outside so they can get fresh air. 

4. Get rid of triggers from your dog’s environment

Certain items can trigger a dog’s coughing and wheezing, such as candles, air fresheners, and aerosol sprays. Remove these items from your dog’s environment as soon as you notice your dog wheezing and coughing. If your dog is outside, and coughing and wheezing as a result of pollen, bring them inside to see if their symptoms improve. Additionally, you might consider getting an air purifier to help clear out environmental allergens around the house.

5. Record your dog’s symptoms

Since you can’t time your dog’s symptoms to happen as soon as you get to the vet, it’s a good idea to record your dog’s symptoms as they’re happening. It’s beneficial for a vet to see your dog coughing and wheezing and hear the symptoms so that they can form a proper diagnosis.

6. Visit the vet

If your dog’s coughing and wheezing doesn’t go away on its own in a couple of days, or if it intensifies, it’s crucial to take your dog to the vet. Your vet will have the best idea of what’s causing their symptoms and how to go about treating them.

Dog Wheezing And Coughing: Frequently Asked Questions

When should I be concerned about my dog’s wheezing and coughing?

Coughing and wheezing can indicate serious issues in your pup, so you’ll ultimately want to consult your vet if their symptoms do not get better within a few days. You’ll also want to be on extra alert for other symptoms, such as your dog gasping for breath, wheezing/gagging, coughing/wheezing (may indicate respiratory infection), blue gums/tongue, no appetite, and persistent wheezing.

How do I know if my dog’s cough is serious?

If your dog is having difficulty breathing or blue/pale gums or tongue, please seek veterinary help immediately, as these can be signs of a life-threatening condition. Symptoms can be associated with a variety of issues, so your vet will need to diagnose your dog in order to figure out exactly what’s wrong.

Dog at vet visit

Final Notes

Seeing your dog cough and wheeze is undeniably scary and leaves you feeling like there’s nothing you can do to help them feel better. But the one thing you can do is bring them to the vet. If you need a quick and affordable way to get in contact with a vet, check out Dutch

Dutch is an online veterinarian service that provides telemedicine for pets, so pet owners can easily get connected with licensed vets right from home. Dutch-affiliated vets are available to help diagnose and treat your dog and prescribe them medication or other therapies to treat their condition. We’ll also connect you with pharmacies that can deliver any medication our vets prescribe right to your front door. With Dutch, getting your dog the care they need has never been easier.

References

  1. Dezube, Rebecca. “Wheezing - Pulmonary Disorders.” Merck Manuals Professional Edition, Merck Manuals, 24 Jan. 2022, https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/symptoms-of-pulmonary-disorders/wheezing

  2. Sethi, Sanjay. “Acute Bronchitis - Pulmonary Disorders.” Merck Manuals Professional Edition, Merck Manuals, 24 Jan. 2022, https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/acute-bronchitis/acute-bronchitis

  3. Kuehn, Ned F. “Tracheal Collapse in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 24 Jan. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/lung-and-airway-disorders-of-dogs/tracheal-collapse-in-dogs?query=Tracheal+collapse

  4. Katie Mills Giorgio October 07, 2021. “How to Help a Choking Dog in an Emergency.” Daily Paws, https://www.dailypaws.com/dogs-puppies/health-care/dog-first-aid-emergency/dog-choking

  5. Staff, AKC. “The Dangers of Kennel Cough in Dogs.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 12 Nov. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/kennel-cough-symptoms-treatment-and-prevention/

  6. Tesini, Brenda L. “Overview of Viral Respiratory Infections - Infectious Diseases.” Merck Manuals Professional Edition, Merck Manuals, 24 Jan. 2022, https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/respiratory-viruses/overview-of-viral-respiratory-infections?query=upper+respiratory+infection