Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages
healthy canine living

How to treat wheezing in dogs

Wheezing can be a sign of larger respiratory issues. Here’s everything you need to know to keep your dog in top-top shape. 

Updated July 23, 2021

Created By

Victoria Lancaster,
Dog wheezing in hot summer heat weather

The essentials

  • Wheezing sounds like a continuous whistle — It’s a sign of respiratory issues.
  • Certain breeds are more prone to wheezing — Smushed face dogs wheeze more.
  • Watch your dog for troubled breathing— Wheezing with other symptoms is a warning sign of underlying illness.
  • 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.

What a wheeze sounds like and how to spot it

Hearing your dog wheeze can be nerve-racking. Wheezing will sound like a whistle that comes as your dog breathes both in and out.

Some wheezing is less severe and terminates on its own. Other wheezing points to more serious underlying issues. In general, it is a sign 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 blockages. The blockage 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. Dogs don’t sweat through their skin. Their respiratory system is responsible for regulating temperature. 

These dog breeds are more likely to wheeze

Smushed face or “ brachycephalic breeds” are more prone to wheezing than other dogs. They include bulldogs, Shih Tzu, and pugs. These dogs have shortened nasal passages, narrow or “stenotic” nares, and less airflow.

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.

Common causes of wheezing in dogs

There are a variety of different reasons your dog may be wheezing. Some of the reasons are not very severe and are fairly normal. Mild wheezing will usually terminate on its own.

  • Outdoor or seasonal allergies. Just like in humans, allergies to things like pollen cause restricted airways. 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.
  • 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.
  • Dog influenza. Especially in the winter, dogs with lighter coats are prone to influenza causing wheezing. Dog coughing, eye discharge, and fever are other possible symptoms.
  • Over excitement. Maybe you’ve been out for awhile and your dog can’t wait to see you. This running around and excitement 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.

Advertisement

When to worry about wheezing

Wheezing is something to worry about when your dog is having difficulty breathing. If your dog is wheezing with each breath, it is a cause for concern. There are a variety of serious issues that cause wheezing.

  • 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.
  • Kennel cough. This is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It causes wheezing along with symptoms like a runny nose, hacking cough, sneezing, and a low-grade fever. Kennel cough is caused by a bacterial infection and can turn to a secondary condition like pneumonia.
  • Parasite. 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.
  • Obesity. If your dog is overweight, it can cause general stress to their immune and respiratory system. If you’re concerned this is the cause, determine whether your dog is a healthy weight. This can also be an issue if your dog has an exercise intolerance.
  • Nasal mites. Dogs contract mites via other dogs. They disrupt the nasal passages. They can also cause itching, nasal discharge, reverse sneezing, and repeated head shaking.
  • Collapsing trachea. 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 an object of 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.

🚨 When choosing treats for your dog, you need to look out for a few things. You should avoid rawhide chews and actual animal bones. Over time, small parts of these long-lasting treats can break off the bone. Dogs might inhale the dangerous parts. Give your dog treats that are soft and eaten in one sitting. 

  • Anaphylactic shock. 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 to seize.

⚠️ If you suspect that your dog is experiencing anaphylaxis notify Animal Poison Control immediately: (888) 426-4435

Treatment

There are a variety of things you can do about your dog’s wheezing. For mild causes of wheezing, you can usually do something to treat the problem yourself. If you think a severe underlying illness is causing your dog to wheeze, you should make a trip to the vet.

At-home wheezing treatment methods

If wheezing is caused by allergies or a cold, you can probably treat the problem at home.

If you think your pup is suffering from allergies:

  1. Remove any irritants from their living space.
  2. Clean your house frequently as the wheezing persists.
  3. When your dog suffers from any irritation, bathe them often.
  4. Consider a multivitamin.

If you think your pup is suffering from a cold:

  1. Use steam to help clear up your pup’s airways.
  2. Make sure your pup is eating.
  3. Keep your dog hydrated.
  4. Bundle them up outside.
  5. Make sure they get lots of rest.

When to head to the vet

If your dog seems to be having visible trouble breathing, you should consult your vet. If an underlying illness is causing your dog’s wheezing, they may need antibiotics or further treatment.

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. Bronchoscopes are small cameras. They analyze the inner airways of a dog’s respiratory system.

If your dog has chronic lung and airway inflammation, they will likely need one of the following treatments.

  • 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.
  • Antibiotic. 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 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.
  • Surgery. In the case that your dog has something lodged in their airway, they might need a bronchoscope. Luckily, most lodged objects can be removed without invasive surgery.

🚨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.

Wheezing prevention methods

You can make a few small tweaks at home to prevent your dog from future wheezing.

  1. Test your dog for allergies so you know what to avoid.
  2. Use an air purifier to rid dust or smoke in your home.
  3. Bundle your dog up when they walk in the cold.
  4. Use a harness.
  5. Avoid frozen foods, certain treats, and small toys that can irritate your dog’s airways.
  6. Keep your dog fit.
  7. Stay up to date on vet visits and vaccinations.

Keep your dog’s immune system 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.

Get to know your dog’s healthy state and take them to the vet often. Remember that when approaching any kind of treatment for wheezing and other illness, 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.