Dog Wheezing: Signs & Symptoms

It’s a familiar scene: a devoted pet parent is playing with their dog, or even just resting on the couch next to him, and suddenly they hear an odd noise coming from their furry friend’s muzzle. Because of the shape of canine mouths and noses, the sound may be particularly loud, strange-sounding, or high-pitched – but when should a dog owner spring to action, and when should they stay calm? In most cases, these noises mean your dog is wheezing. Here’s how to determine if a dog is having a perfectly normal breathing occurrence or if he’s in need of professional medical care:

Dog Wheezing: Ask Yourself When Your Dog Is Making Noises

Dogs pant to cool themselves off, and just as humans may pant after a workout, a dog wheezing after a brisk sprint is totally natural. If he’s just gulped down a large quantity of food or water in a few moments, he may simply be clearing his throat. The “red flag” for when a dog is wheezing is if it occurs when a dog is otherwise at rest, not moving athletically, and not eating or drinking. If a dog will allow his owner to do so, they should lift their lips to inspect the dog’s gums during a wheezing incident – if they appear blue or paler than usual, an emergency vet should be contacted immediately. This is one of the clearest signs a dog is struggling to get enough oxygen.

Ask Yourself How Your Dog Is Acting

Pet parents are a dog’s trusted confidante, so if he feels uncomfortable or panicked, he will seek his owners out for assistance. If a dog is looking at his owner clear-eyed, moving as he normally does, and seems generally cheerful –  tail wagging and untucked, balance intact, etc. – chances are he’s just having a harmless dog hiccup, throat clearing, or a reverse sneezing event. Remember that he takes his behavior direction and cues from his owners as well, so dog parents should try to keep a neutral stance and tone to get the most accurate behavioral cues from a wheezing pup.

Ask Yourself Why Your Dog May Be Wheezing

When a human has a breathing issue, particularly a recurring one, one of the first questions his doctor will ask is in regards to new exposures. A change in locale, laundry detergent, food, and more can trigger allergies in dogs. If it is observed, for example, that he seems to wheeze at a certain time of year, he may have seasonal weed allergies and should be tested at the vet. For pet owners who are unable to get an appointment right away, experts recommend reintroducing the “old” versions of familiar products – laundry detergent and food being the two easiest variables to switch back. Provided that a dog doesn’t seem to be in discomfort, pain, or struggling to breathe normally, this might be a good place to start in order to rule out causes without needing to go to the vet. In general, it’s best to avoid heavily-scented cleaning products on the surfaces a dog uses or sleeps on: his nose is much more sensitive than humans.

Consider The Age and Breed Of Your Dog

Certain breeds of dog (such as the Pekingese) naturally have more canine breathing issues, particularly as they grow older. This is due to the shape of their muzzles and noses, as well as their trachea. In dogs, the trachea is C-shaped, as compared to the relatively straight human trachea, and has a membrane that may become loose over time. When this membrane droops, it can cause wheezing sounds and behaviors in an elderly dog. Again, if he seems to be otherwise alert, active, and willing to engage in activities, eating, and drinking, it’s likely not something to worry about. However, it’s always best to communicate with the veterinarian during routine checkups and let them know what wheezing behaviors have been observed in one’s dog, and how often they occur.

Danger: When To Call the Vet

In the event that a dog wheezes regularly, appears to be in discomfort while wheezing, and doesn’t look to be getting better, he may be infected with canine parasites. Certain nasty and all-too-common “hitchhikers” like heartworms and lungworms can restrict his breathing, and may even prove fatal without medication. If there is any suspicion that the family dog may have parasites, or a recently-adopted, untested dog has been brought into the home, contact a vet’s office as soon as possible to have a stool or blood sample test run. They’ll be able to diagnose and treat the dog in question and get him breathing more easily in no time. Remember: in the case of multi-dog households, all canines will need to be treated for the parasite in the event of a positive test.

Sporadic wheezing, even if it seems loud or sudden, is generally not a cause for concern with dogs. Just keep an eye on wheezing pups for red flags and take him in for his regular checkups at the vet. While a dog won’t exactly be able to send a thank-you card, he’ll be thankful for the compassionate care and forethought that keeps him breathing easy.

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