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Dog Wheezing: Symptoms, Causes, and Effective Treatments for this Concerning Behavior

The sound of a dog wheezing can be quite alarming for its owner, as we often don't know what's causing the pup's breathing difficulty or the severity of the problem. Learn more about the minor and major causes of breathing problems for our pups so you can figure out the best steps to treat your dog safely.

When our sweet dog is wheezing and coughing, it can be difficult to avoid panicking and to remain calm. After all, if a creature is struggling to breathe, it has to be serious, right?

Not necessarily. Wheezing in dogs can be caused by many things, ranging from minor seasonal allergies to more dangerous heart disease, upper respiratory illnesses, choking, and other potentially life-threatening causes. 

But how can you tell why your dog is wheezing? And what can you do to help stop, prevent, and reduce dog wheezing?

Read more below to find out what your pup's wheeze may mean and how to best help them. 

What Does a Dog Wheezing Sound Like?

A dog wheezes when something is restricting or blocking its airways, causing difficulty breathing and a whistle-like sound with each breath. Swelling and blockage or disease can cause wheezing for our pups.

A dog's wheeze is different from the sound of a cough or a sneeze, although sometimes coughing can accompany wheezing. 

When To Worry About a Wheezing Dog

Sometimes wheezing can seem minor, but how do you determine if your pup's wheeze is a minor or major problem? 

Worry about a dogs wheeze when they're showing signs of:

  • Gasping to catch a breath;
  • Gagging or coughing;
  • Gums or tongue turning blue and discolored;
  • Breathing at an accelerated rate;
  • A loss of appetite;
  • And continued prolonged wheezing.

6 Reasons For Wheezing in Dogs: Why is My Dog Wheezing?

Here are the most common severe and not-so-serious factors that might cause wheezing in a dog. 

#1: Allergies and Poor Air Quality

Smog and Smoke

  • If you live in a smoggy region like Los Angeles, the air is thick, and the quality is poor.
  • A dog can struggle to get enough oxygen on high-smog days, especially after an intense exercise or play session.
  • Many people are extra sensitive to the smell and air quality around cigarette smoke - a dog may also react poorly and wheeze when someone is smoking in close quarters to them. 
  • Campfires can be problematic, as an excited pup may want to get as close to the action as they can, which is often close to the smoke plume. 

Dust

Dust is a common allergen that causes people and dogs alike difficulty breathing. Still, even if your dog doesn't have a dust allergy, the accidental act of breathing in too many dust particles can irritate a pup's airways and cause wheezing. 

Allergens, Asthma, and Anaphylactic Shock

  • Dogs commonly suffer from allergies, which causes inflammation in the throat and lungs, which may make your pup wheeze.
  • Asthma is another form of an allergic reaction that causes the airways to narrow and makes breathing more difficult. Pups that suffer from asthma may be out of breath often and prone to asthma attacks when exposed to asthma triggers or challenging exercise. 
  • Anaphylaxis is the most severe allergic reaction a dog can have - their blood pressure may lower, accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and in the worst cases, the complete closing of the airways from swelling. This reaction will cause wheezing and is life-threatening without treatment. 

#2: Windpipe Collapse

The trachea, or windpipe, is the tube in our throat that brings air to our lungs and food to our stomach.

A dog has one too, and if the windpipe cartilage and membranes become soft, their windpipe may collapse, causing wheezing, snorting, and honking sounds similar to that of a goose as your pup struggles to breathe. 

#3: Illness and Disease

Kennel Cough

This common viral respiratory infection commonly affects pups, especially ones with a weakened immune system.

The dog wheezing cough that accompanies Kennel Cough spreads through the air, making this virus highly-infectious. 

Obesity

Extra weight can make every activity more strenuous, causing wheezing. If a pup is carrying excess fat around, it is significantly more difficult for them to get around, jump, and play. 

A pup's extra body fat may also accumulate inside the body cavity around the lungs, which can restrain the lungs' movements, making breathing more difficult. 

Emphysema

A pup that suffers from lung disease may also develop emphysema, making it more difficult for a dog to push air back out of its lungs resulting in wheezing, coughing, and a higher heart rate. 

Blood Clots

Blood clots can occur all over a dog's body, but when those clots lodge themselves into the heart or lungs, it can severely impact the pup's ability to breathe and it lowers the body's oxygen uptake. 

Lung Fluke

The Lung Fluke is a parasite that lives within cysts in a dog's lungs, which can cause a lot of irritation, difficulty breathing, and wheezing. 

Canine Flu

Yep, our dogs are much more like us than we think. While the Canine Flu is a different strain than ours, and we can't transfer a flu infection between species, a pup may experience many of the symptoms we do with the human flu. 

One of those symptoms is excessive snot and chest fluid production, which can make breathing harder, causing wheezing. 

Nasal Mites

These mites pass from dog to dog and live within the nose, or nasal passages, of a pup. Nasal mites make it more difficult for dogs to breathe, as they partially block the airflow through the nostrils.

#4: Heart Disease

Generally, heart disease makes cardiovascular exercise for a pup more difficult.

If a dog suffers from cardiomyopathy or congestive heart failure, it'll be winded more quickly during exercise, causing wheezing. 

Heartworm

It's crucial to get your pup that heartworm medicine - this dangerous parasite makes its way through a pup's systems to their heart and lungs, causing difficulty breathing and eventually death. 

#5: Throat Obstruction

Short Snout

Like the Pug or Boxer, short-snouted and flat-faced breeds have improperly formed airways that don't allow air to pass through them easily.

This genetic trait was bred for looks, not for function, we suppose. Flat-faced pups get winded more quickly during exercise and may even struggle to breathe when sitting still, causing wheezing. 

Grass Seeds + Choking Hazards

If a foreign object gets lodged or stuck in your pup's throat, they will gasp and struggle to breathe. 

Grass seeds are one common problem for pups, as they're sharp, hook-like, and will irritate your pup's windpipe and lungs if they breathe them into their bodies.

#6: Excessive Excitement

If a pup gets incredibly excited, they may begin running around, jumping, and panting - if the excitement is extreme, the panting can further develop into wheezing.

How To Help a Wheezing Dog

There are plenty of ways to help a wheezing dog - some you can try at home, while for more serious wheezing issues, it's safer to get your bestie to the vet as soon as you can. 

Allergy Management

If your pup is wheezing because of allergies, try to minimize their exposure to these allergens. This may first require taking your dog to get allergy tested, so you know which stimuli trigger your pup's allergic reaction. 

For the allergens that can't be avoided -  try hypoallergenic baths, air purifiers in the home, and fish oil supplements to decrease throat swelling and inflammation.

Exercise and Diet

Avoid weight and cardiovascular-related wheezing by feeding your pup a high-quality and appropriately-sized diet and exercising your dog daily. 

Removing Obstruction

If your dog is choking on something, avoid removing the foreign object, and immediately take them to the vet. 

If your pup is in immediate danger, you may not be able to wait. If a pup is wheezing, it means that air is still getting to their lungs, and their airway is not entirely blocked. 

Minimize Lung Strain

For short-snouted dogs, no cure helps them to breathe, but you can keep exercise light to prevent them from getting out of breath to the point of wheezing. 

Get them a dog ramp for bed and the couch, so they're not straining to jump up, and keep a keen eye to monitor their breathing during play sessions. 

Keep Them Calm

If your dog begins to wheeze, they're likely to panic and make their reaction worsen significantly.

Provide some emotional support by petting and speaking to them in a soothing voice. This will help them out of the wheezing fit more quickly.

How to Help Your Dog's Wheezing

Many of the reasons for wheezing above are relatively minor and will resolve themselves on their own. 

However, some causes are much more severe or chronic than others. 

Ultimately, many serious reasons for dog wheezing require a vet's visit and assessment. Your pup may have a health condition that needs immediate attention and treatment.

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