- Watch your dog for troubled breathing — Wheezing sounds like a continuous whistle. Coupled with other symptoms, wheezing may be a warning sign of respiratory illness.
- Certain breeds are more prone to wheezing — Dogs with flat or smushed faces wheeze more.
- There are different ways to treat your dog’s wheezing — You can treat mild causes of wheezing at home. Other cases call for the vet.
Hearing your pup suddenly start to wheeze can be alarming. The sound a wheezing dog makes is typically like a continuous whistle. As your dog inhales and exhales, the whistling noise continues. Sometimes a dog wheezing is nothing to worry about and will go away on its own. But a dog continuously wheezing or demonstrating difficulty breathing could point to serious underlying issues of respiratory distress.
👉 Here’s an example of what a dog’s wheezing sounds like.
Why dogs wheeze
Dogs wheeze because they have sensitive airways. When your dog’s airway becomes inflamed, it causes a disruption of airflow. The obstruction can either happen in a dog’s windpipe or bronchi. Wheezing occurs when the bronchial passages become inflamed. Most blockages occur in the upper airways which is why wheezing comes out as a whistling sound.
The canine respiratory system is just as important to their overall health as it is to a human’s health. For a dog, the respiratory tract controls a variety of bodily functions. For example, dogs don’t sweat through their skin. Instead, your pup’s respiratory system is responsible for regulating their bodily temperature.
Smushed face or “ brachycephalic breeds” are more prone to wheezing than other dogs. They include American bulldogs, shih tzu, and pugs. These dog breeds have shortened nasal passages, narrow or “stenotic” nares, and a less normal flow of air.
Don't confuse wheezing with a reverse sneeze
Are you sure your dog isn’t reverse sneezing or snorting? Wheezing can sound similar to reverse sneezing. A reverse sneeze sounds more like honking and is normal in dogs. Small dogs, like Yorkies and Maltese, often reverse sneeze. These sneezes are otherwise known as pharyngeal spasms.
Why is my dog wheezing?
There are a variety of different reasons your dog may be wheezing. Some of the most common causes of wheezing are not very severe and are fairly normal. Mild wheezing will usually terminate on its own. Other causes of wheezing may require veterinary care and treatment.
Outdoor or seasonal allergies
Just like in humans, allergies to things like pollen cause restricted airways. Allergic reactions are a common cause of wheezing in dogs. If your dog has allergies, they will typically come on between six months and two years of age. Allergies will also commonly cause your dog to itch or lick themselves.
Dust and indoor allergies
Some dogs are more prone to irritation from dust than other allergens. Indoor irritants that cause wheezing include scented candles, perfumes, and cigarette smoke. Sometimes when central heating is used in the winter, it can also irritate your pup.
Especially in the winter, dogs with lighter coats are prone to influenza which can cause wheezing. Dog coughing, eye discharge, and fever are other possible symptoms.
Pups can get a little too excited sometimes. Maybe you’ve been out for a while and your dog can’t wait to see you, or they’re happy to go for a ride or visit the dog park. These big, exciting moments for your furry friend may cause a bit of wheezing.
🚨Do you live in a west coast region like California? Dogs may experience respiratory issues due to poor air quality caused by fires. Environmental effects can also affect air quality and your dog’s respiratory health across the country.
Asthma and chronic bronchitis
Outdoor and indoor pollutants can trigger asthma. Excessive panting and coughing in addition to wheezing may be a sign that your dog has asthma.
This is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It causes wheezing along with symptoms like a runny nose, hacking cough that often sounds like a goose honking, sneezing, and a low-grade fever. Kennel cough is caused by a bacterial infection and can turn to a secondary condition like pneumonia. If you see signs of kennel cough in your dog, get them to an emergency vet right away.
Dog’s can catch parasites that live in the lungs. They are called lungworm and cause inflammation in the respiratory system. Other things to look out for are weight loss and general weakness.
If your dog is overweight, it can cause general stress to their immune and respiratory system, as well as their cardiovascular or heart health. If you’re concerned this is the cause, determine whether your dog is a healthy weight and work with your vet to figure out how to manage your dog’s weight.
Dogs contract mites via other dogs. They disrupt the nasal passages. They can also cause itching, nasal discharge, reverse sneezing, and repeated head shaking.
This is more common in small breeds. This is either genetic or caused by respiratory illness. In addition to wheezing, your dog will have noticeable trouble breathing.
Obstruction from a foreign body
When a foreign object of a certain size or texture gets stuck in a dog’s throat, it causes an obstruction. Your dog could have swallowed a small toy or a treat that was too big. Gagging might also be present.
This is a more severe allergic reaction that comes from something like an insect sting or a food allergy. It can cause your dog to wheeze, vomit, or seize. Anaphylactic shock is a medical emergency and needs to be treated immediately or could prove fatal to your dog.
⚠️ If you suspect that your dog is experiencing anaphylaxis take your pup to the nearest ER veterinarian immediately.
Diagnosing and treating dog wheezing
There are a variety of things dog parents can do about your dog’s wheezing. For mild causes of wheezing, it’s possible to monitor symptoms and treat the problem yourself. If you think a severe underlying illness is causing your dog to wheeze, consider making a trip to the vet. In either case, it’s important for pet parents to be aware of their dog’s respiratory behavior and determine a diagnosis, either from monitoring symptoms or visiting the vet.
Why diagnosing dog wheezing is important
While it may be easy to ignore, it’s important to monitor your pup’s wheezing symptoms and check in with your vet for an official diagnosis, especially if they’re wheezing excessively. Your pup’s wheezes may come from overexcitement or dust, or it could be a serious and potentially life-threatening issue. Because our four-legged friends can’t tell us if there’s something really wrong, it’s best to err on the side of caution and get your pup checked out.
Treatments for wheezing in dogs
If your dog seems to be having visible trouble breathing, you should consult your vet. Your vet will identify the underlying cause of wheezing and illness. This may require them to do bloodwork, take chest x-rays, or use a bronchoscope (a small camera that analyzes the inner airways of a dog’s respiratory system). The method of treatment your vet prescribes will depend largely on the cause of the problem.
- Antihistamines. This is the most common treatment for more severe allergies.
- Steroids. Steroids decrease severe inflammation caused by asthma and other infections. Inhalers are sometimes used to administer these steroids.
- Antibiotics. Some parasites and bacterial infections require specific antibiotics like amoxicillin or doxycycline.
- Topicals. The vet will apply these on dogs to treat things like worms and nasal mites.
- Bronchodilators. This opens airways that will allow air to penetrate deeper into your dog’s lungs. It helps with a viral infection, breathing problems, or a collapsing trachea. The vet may prescribe a tablet, capsule, or liquid form.
- Epinephrine injection. If your dog is suffering from a life threatening instance of anaphylaxis or a severe asthma attack, they may need this shot.
- Oxygen therapy. This instantly supplies your pup with oxygen in an emergency situation.
- Weight loss. If your dog is suffering with obesity, the vet may suggest weight loss or a new diet. Weight loss can also help a dog with a collapsing trachea.
- Bronchoscope. In the case that your dog has something lodged in their airway, they might need a bronchoscope. Bronchoscopes are a treatment procedure that uses a scope inserted into your pup to confirm there is an obstruction in the airway. Luckily, most lodged objects can be removed without this more invasive method.
🚨 Do not medicate your dog at home. The makeup and quantity of the prescription your pup needs depends on your dog’s size and illness.
How to prevent dog wheezing
Proactive testing and treatment
Getting your dog tested for underlying conditions or allergies is one of the most helpful tools in preventing dog wheezing. Your veterinarian can perform a series of tests to identify your pup’s allergies or other underlying conditions that might lead to wheezing. For some brachycephalic breeds (dogs with flat faces or short snouts), an innovative surgery may be an option that can help with opening their nasal passages.
Deep clean your home
If your pup’s breathing problems come from environmental factors or allergies, keeping their living space clean and tidy is a great preventative measure to help your dog. Clean your home frequently, making sure to vacuum, and dust and mop away any of the irritants that may exacerbate wheezing. Consider getting an air purifier to keep your home’s breathing space as clean as possible. If your dog suffers from allergies, keeping them bathed and well groomed can help remove irritants from their skin.
Proper outdoor gear
Respiratory problems can start or be impacted by weather-related events. Help your pup out by making sure they have the best outdoor gear for them when walking or taking a trip to the park. When the weather’s cold, keep your dog bundled up with a dog coat. If your furry friend has an issue with their trachea, consider leashing them on a harness instead of a collar.
Food and hydration
Making sure your pup maintains a healthy diet will pay off in dividends when it comes to your best buddy’s long-term health. In addition to giving your pup good, healthy dog food, it’s important to make sure they eat regularly and are eating enough. Also be sure your pup is drinking plenty of water each day. You can also help your wheezing pup out by avoiding giving them items that irritate a dog’s airways. Frozen foods, certain treats, and small toys can all potentially affect your dog’s breathing.
Regular vet visits and vaccines
Your veterinarian is the primary resource to help you ensure your pup lives a long, healthy, and happy life. Keeping up to date on annual or bi-annual vet visits is an extremely helpful preventative measure. Your vet can identify any respiratory health issues, and may be able to pinpoint a problem before it negatively impacts your dog’s health.
Keep your pup healthy
The best thing you can do to help your pup avoid wheezing and other respiratory issues is to keep them healthy. When dogs become immunocompromised, they are more likely to develop other health problems. Make sure your dog remains at a healthy weight and is exercised regularly.
Remember that when approaching any kind of treatment for wheezing and other illnesses, it is necessary to get clinical approval from your vet. That way, you are able to identify what is normal for your pup versus what should be cause for alarm. The better pet owners know their pups, the more they can help them breathe easy.
Frequently asked questions
Should I be worried if my dog is wheezing?
Sometimes wheezing is a symptom of allergies, environmental factors, or overexcitement. But it may also be a sign of a deeper respiratory illness. It’s always best to have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian if they are wheezing excessively.
How do you treat wheezing in dogs?
There are a variety of treatments for wheezing depending on the cause of a dog’s wheezing. Some treatments include medication, forms of therapy or surgical procedures.
Why is my dog wheezing but acting normal?
It’s possible a dog’s wheezing may be from overexcitement or environmental factors, and may not be causing them much distress.
What are the signs of respiratory distress in a dog?
Some of the symptoms of respiratory distress include rapid or continuous panting, exaggerated movements of the chest, whining or signs of physical distress, blue gums or collapsing.
What does a dog respiratory infection sound like?
A dog with a respiratory infection may make a noise that sounds similar to a goose honk.
Why does my dog have weird breathing sounds?
There are a number of reasons why your dog may be making odd sounds when breathing. This could be a sign of infection, allergies, environmental effects or overexcitement.