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Respiratory Problems in Dogs

8 Common Respiratory Problems in Dogs

Common respiratory problems in dogs include pneumonia, kennel cough, lung disease, tracheal collapse, rhinitis, dog flu, chronic bronchitis, and eosinophilic bronchopneumopathy. 

The dog’s respiratory system is in direct contact with the outside environment and is constantly attacked by irritants and pathogens, putting it at risk for diseases. 

Continuous panting, rapid or difficult breathing, noisy breathing, coughing or gagging, pale or blue gums, and sitting in unusual positions are telltale signs of respiratory issues in dogs

The treatment for upper respiratory and lung disease in dogs depends on the underlying cause and includes antibiotics, steroids, NSAIDs, steam breathing, bronchodilators, mucolytics, cough suppressants, expectorants, surgery, oxygen therapy, ventilation, fluids, and supportive care. 

CBD is an excellent addition to the dog respiratory system treatment strategy. The supplement is safe for dogs of all ages and suitable for mainstream medications. 

1. Pneumonia

Pneumonia in dogs is irritation or inflammation of the lungs and lower airways. The inflammation causes breathing problems and low oxygen levels in the blood. 

Dogs contract pneumonia through pathogenic infection (bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites) due to immune-mediated conditions and after inhaling food, chemicals, foreign materials, or smoke. 

Common signs of dog pneumonia are coughing, labored breathing, wheezing, nasal discharge, respiratory distress, fever, lethargy, and, in severe cases, blue gums. 

Pneumonia is diagnosed based on clinical manifestation paired with diagnostic test results from chest X-rays, blood counts, biochemistry panels, and specific procedures like pulse oximetry and blood-gas analysis. 

The treatment for pneumonia is long-term use of antibiotics, such as doxycycline, fluoroquinolone, and amoxicillin-clavulanic acid, combined with fluid therapy or oxygen support, depending on the needs. 

Prevent canine pneumonia by keeping the dog up-to-date on regular vaccines and avoiding densely populated areas like kennels and boarding facilities during outbreaks. 

2. Kennel Cough

Kennel cough in dogs is a highly contagious respiratory condition known as CIRD, infectious respiratory disease, or infectious tracheobronchitis. The cough associated with the disease has a disruptive effect on dogs. 

Dogs get kennel cough in parks, kennels, boarding, and grooming facilities when they come into contact with bacteria and viruses, such as Bordetella bronchiseptica, Mycoplasma, canine adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, and canine influenza virus.  

Standard kennel cough signs include dry, persistent, hacking cough, retching, runny nose, clear eye discharge, lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, and labored breathing.  

Veterinarians diagnose kennel cough based on clinical signs, X-rays, and blood work. PCR tests are performed to confirm the disease-causing pathogen in some cases. 

Cough suppressants and supportive care (air humidifiers, bath inhalations, nutrition, and rest) are recommended for treating kennel cough. 

Prevent kennel cough by practicing regular vaccination, avoiding contact with unknown dogs, and keeping the dog out of crowded places. 

3. Lung Diseases

Lung diseases include various conditions affecting dogs' lungs. Lung issues affect dogs' quality of life by impairing normal breathing. 

Dogs get lung diseases by contact with infectious agents (bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi) or tissue changes, like tumors and metastasis. 

Labored breathing and coughing are telltale signs of lung diseases in dogs. Appetite loss, fever, and lethargy are common, depending on the condition. 

Lung diseases are diagnosed by evaluating clinical signs, chest X-rays, and other tests, such as pulse oximetry and blood tests. 

Long-term antibiotic use is the standard treatment for lung diseases. Supportive care, such as fluids and oxygen therapy, is sometimes recommended. 

Keep the dog healthy and prevent lung diseases by practicing regular veterinary checkups and updating its vaccines. 

4. Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal collapse in dogs is a condition in which the tube-shaped trachea flattens. A collapsed trachea affects dogs by impeding normal airflow. 

Dogs get trachea when the C-shaped cartilage rings that keep the tube open weaken due to increased body weight, airway irritants, upper respiratory infections, and heart enlargement. 

Tracheal collapse is widespread in toy breeds such as Pomeranians, Yorkshire Terriers, Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, and Toy Poodles. 

Rapid or troubled breathing, goose-honking cough, retching, exercise intolerance, blue-tinged gums, and fainting are common signs of collapsed trachea. 

The classic goose-honking cough paired with the X-ray image of the chest is enough for the vet to diagnose tracheal collapse. 

The treatment for a collapsed trachea is medical (cough suppressants, anti-inflammatory meds, antibiotics) or surgical. Dogs require lifelong medication use in most cases, including post-surgery. 

Minimize the dog’s exposure to airborne irritants, use a harness instead of a collar, and maintain a healthy weight to reduce the risk of tracheal collapse. 

5. Rhinitis

Rhinitis is inflammation of the nose in dogs. An inflamed nose is a nuisance for dogs and, in most cases, occurs simultaneously as a sinus infection or sinusitis. 

Dogs contract rhinitis from infections, nasal mites, dental problems, allergies, foreign bodies, traumatic injuries, and tumors. 

Rhinitis symptoms include stuffy nose, nasal discharge, excessive sneezing, snoring, nose or face pawing, coughing, and open-mouth breathing. 

Rhinitis in dogs is diagnosed based on endoscopic examination of the nose (rhinoscopy), nasal cultures, biopsy, X-ray, or advanced imaging techniques like CT scans. 

The treatment for rhinitis depends on the underlying cause and includes antibiotics, antifungals, antiparasitics, antihistamines, or steroids. Surgery is recommended for dogs with nasal tumors. 

Prevent dog rhinitis by using an air humidifier, reducing irritant exposure, controlling allergies, and regularly cleaning the dog’s teeth.  

6. Dog Flu

Dog flu, or canine influenza, is a contagious viral disease affecting the respiratory system. The virus is widespread and has a debilitating effect on dogs. 

Two types of canine influenza viruses, H3N2 and H3N8, cause dog flu upon direct and indirect contact with infected dogs. 

Dry and persistent cough, fever, nasal discharge, watery eyes, sneezing, loss of appetite, fever, and reduced energy levels are standard signs of dog flu. 

A PCR analysis of a nasal swab confirms the virus, while chest X-rays and blood tests evaluate the dog’s health. 

Cough suppressants, fluids, and antibiotics are the treatment of choice for secondary bacterial infections. Supportive care includes keeping the dog hydrated and rested. 

Vaccination is the key to prevention. The modern pet market offers specific vaccines for the two canine influenza viruses causing dog flu. 

7. Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is an irreversible and slowly progressing inflammation of the lower respiratory system. The condition is known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

The means by which chronic bronchitis develops in dogs is unknown. Long-term inhalation of irritants (allergens, air pollutants, cigarette smoke) and recurrent infections are considered risk factors. 

Standard clinical signs of chronic bronchitis include fast breathing, increased respiratory effort, exercise intolerance, breathing sounds (honking or wheezing), and respiratory distress. 

Chronic bronchitis is diagnosed based on a complete blood count and biochemistry, chest X-rays, bronchoscopy (endoscopic examination of the bronchi), and bronchial lavage. 

Chronic bronchitis is treated with bronchodilators, cough suppressants, antibiotics, and steroids. Dogs in respiratory distress require oxygen support. 

Prevention is challenging, considering the exact cause of the issue is unknown. Minimize the dog’s exposure to airborne irritants such as cigarette smoke, scented candles, air fresheners, and perfumes to reduce the risk of chronic bronchitis. 

8. Eosinophilic Bronchopneumopathy

Eosinophilic bronchopneumopathy (EBP) in dogs is a specific lower respiratory disease in which eosinophils infiltrate the bronchial mucosa and lungs. EBP mainly affects young adult dogs. 

The cause of eosinophilic bronchopneumopathy is unknown. Hypersensitivity to aeroallergens is suspected to be an important factor. Siberian Huskies and Malamutes are prone to EBP. 

Coughing, gagging, and retching are telltale signs of EBP. Secondary bacterial infections are possible and complicate the clinical manifestation. 

Eosinophilic bronchopneumopathy is diagnosed based on X-rays and bronchoscopy, and eosinophils are found in cytology or histopathology samples. 

The golden standard for treating EBP is oral steroids. New immuno-modulating medications are an emerging treatment option. 

Manage dog allergies promptly and minimize exposure to airborne allergens to reduce the risk of eosinophilic bronchopneumopathy.  

Why do Dogs Have Respiratory Problems?

Dogs have respiratory problems when their airways and lungs are near disease-causing particles.

Air breathed in carries airborne particles of organic or inorganic origin. Examples include irritants, allergens, and pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungal spores). 

Fluid and food easily enter the lungs following aspiration, and lungworms infest the lungs after eating larvae found in snails or slugs.  

The dog respiratory system divides into upper and lower tracts. The upper tract includes the nose, pharynx, and larynx, while the lower tract includes the trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, alveolar duct, and alveoli. 

How does Respiratory Illness Manifest in Dogs?

Respiratory illness manifests in dogs as coughing, exercise intolerance, and noisy breathing. Certain respiratory problems change the dog’s voice, making it sound different when barking or unable to bark. 

Severe respiratory illness manifests with trouble breathing. The dog struggles to grasp for air or pants. Continuous panting, rapid breathing, and long, drawn-out breathing are concerning signs and require immediate veterinary attention. 

What are Different Dogs Respiratory Illness Treatments?

The different dog respiratory illness treatments are listed below. 

  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics (doxycycline, fluoroquinolone, and amoxicillin-clavulanic acid) manage respiratory infections. The antibiotic treatment is long, usually over a month. 
  • Steroids and NSAIDs: Steroids and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help reduce inflammatory processes in the airways. Careful monitoring is warranted for long-term use due to side effects.
  • Breathing in Steam: Breathing in steam hydrates the airways through special nebulizers that use saline or in the bathroom with the shower running hot water to make steam. Coupage (a gentle but firm tapping around the chest) after the nebulization helps break up mucus accumulated in the airways. 
  • Bronchodilators: Bronchodilators (albuterol, theophylline, aminophylline, pentoxifylline, and terbutaline) widen the bronchi, enabling better airflow and easier breathing. 
  • Mucolytics: Mucolytics break down mucus in the airways, making coughing easier for the dog. Common examples are bromhexine hydrochloride and acetylcysteine. 
  • Cough Suppressants: Cough suppressants (codeine phosphate, diphenhydramine, and butorphanol), known as antitussives, reduce coughing frequency and intensity. 
  • Expectorants: Expectorants lubricate the airways and make coughing more productive. Guaifenesin (glyceryl guaiacolate) has an expectorant effect.   
  • Surgery: Surgery is the treatment of choice for dogs with tracheal collapse and tumors. The exact surgical procedure type depends on the underlying cause. 
  • Oxygen Therapy: Dogs unable to breathe correctly are placed in an oxygen cage. The cage contains 100% oxygen compared to room air, which contains 20%. 
  • Ventilation: Ventilation assists breathing in dogs that do not respond to oxygen therapy. The process requires general anesthesia and is performed in an intensive care unit. 
  • Intravenous Fluids: Intravenous fluids are administered via a catheter to achieve better medication distribution and prevent dehydration. 
  • Supportive Care: Supportive care for dogs with respiratory problems includes limiting physical activity, using harnesses, ensuring hydration, and giving nutritious food.

Can Dogs Experience Breathing Difficulties?

Yes, dogs can experience breathing difficulties. Trouble breathing is distressing for dogs, and the stress adds to the difficulty of respiration. 

Breathing difficulties are seen in dogs with advanced lung conditions. Pneumonia or inflammation of the dog lungs is a standard example. 

Pale or blue gums are a warning sign that breathing is heavily impaired and the dog needs emergency attention. 

What are the Common Signs of Respiratory Distress in Dogs?

The common signs of respiratory distress in dogs are listed below. 

  • Continuous Panting: Continuous panting during resting is a worrisome sign of respiratory distress and warrants immediate attention. 
  • Fast or Labored Breathing: Respiratory distress manifests in a rapid breathing rate and trouble grasping for air. 
  • Noisy Breathing: Heavy breathing accompanied by unusual sounds, such as wheezing, snorting, whistling, rasping, or gasping, is standard for respiratory problems. 
  • Coughing or Gagging: Coughing or gagging alone is not worrisome but requires vet attention if it includes trouble breathing or panting. 
  • Pale or Blue Gums: Changes in the color of the gums indicate a lack of oxygen in the blood, which is a telltale sign of respiratory distress. 
  • Strange Positions: Dogs struggling to breathe maximize their lung capacity by taking unusual positions, like lying with pushed elbows or standing up with extended necks.

Are There Specific Breeds Prone to Breathing Problems?

Yes, there are specific breeds prone to breathing problems. Brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs, which include Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs, and Shih Tzus, are an example. 

Specific respiratory diseases causing breathing problems are more common in certain breeds. For example, a collapsed trachea is widespread in Poms, Yorkies, Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, and Toy Poodles. Eosinophilic bronchopneumopathy is prevalent in Huskies and Malamutes. 

How Can I Help My Dog Breathe Better During Episodes of Respiratory Distress?

You can help your dog breathe better during episodes of respiratory distress by staying calm, providing first aid, and safely transporting the dog to the vet’s office. 

Keep the dog calm, as stress exacerbates breathing problems. Talk to the dog in a calming voice while petting it gently. Elevate its head while straightening its neck to allow easy breathing.

Ensure proper ventilation and airflow into the room because dogs with breathing issues are prone to overheating. Open the windows, use fans, or activate the room humidifier. 

Support hydration and ensure constant and easy access to fresh drinking water. Dehydration worsens breathing problems in dogs

How can CBD Oil Prevent Dogs from Respiratory Diseases?

CBD oil can prevent dogs from respiratory diseases by reducing inflammation, acting as a bronchodilator, and relieving anxiety. 

Inflammation is a basic component of most respiratory problems in dogs. CBD has a potent anti-inflammatory effect and reduces inflammation. 

Dogs with respiratory conditions experience impaired airflow. CBD works as a bronchodilator, widening the bronchi and enabling easier air passage. 

CBD alleviates stress and anxiety. Anxiety does not cause respiratory diseases but exacerbates breathing problems. 

Consult a vet before using CBD oil for dogs with respiratory illnesses. CBD (cannabidiol) is a natural plant extract suitable for dogs of all ages and safe to combine with traditional treatments. 

Are there Age-Related Factors Contributing to Respiratory Problems in Dogs?

Yes, there are age-related factors contributing to respiratory problems in dogs. Older dogs are prone to pneumonia, tracheal collapse, chronic bronchitis, lung tumors or metastatic masses, and pulmonary fibrosis. 

Age in dogs is associated with the risk of many diseases, according to a study, “Dog Size and Patterns of Disease History Across the Canine Age Spectrum: Results from the Dog Aging Project,” published in PlosOne in 2024. 

Older dogs have weak immune systems and are prone to respiratory conditions. Excess body weight is another important risk factor for respiratory diseases in dogs.