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Why Is My Dog Wheezing? 10 Common Causes and Solutions - PawSafe
Dog Healthcare

Why Is My Dog Wheezing? 10 Common Causes and Solutions

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

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Many owners have wondered why their dogs are wheezing; some breed pawrents more than others. Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that occurs when dogs breathe in or out, and it can be a sign of a serious underlying condition.

Any breathing difficulties in canines are understandably concerning, particularly if they persist. Some dogs, like the small breeds, may wheeze when their collars squeeze their fragile throats, requiring quality harnesses when going for walks to protect their throats. Others wheeze due to underlying medical issues you must address. 

If your dog is wheezing, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible for prompt assistance. Experts like Dr. Ryan Englar share their understanding of canine wheezing in the book Common Clinical Presentation in Dogs and Cats.

Dogs display all kinds of bodily changes indicating something wrong with their health. This may be soft poop, unusual stool colors like green, vomiting, and breathing abnormalities which are today’s article’s focus. 

Since canine wheezing is multifactorial, It’s important to identify the underlying cause of your dog’s wheezing to determine treatment. But first, let’s look into what wheezing is in the first place and how to identify it. 

What is Wheezing in Dogs?

Wheezing is a whistling or rattling sound that occurs when a dog breathes in or out. It’s caused by a narrowing of the airways, meaning that something has blocked or impaired airflow in the windpipe. 

This dog wheezing will give you a visual and auditory idea of what dog wheezing is (go to the 0:20 timestamp for the classic squeaky, rasping noise of a dog wheezing).

One common cause of wheezing in dogs is an obstruction in the airway, which creates two different noises called stridor and stertor. An academic review distinguishes the two noise types and states that both result from obstructive upper airway disease.

Stertor is a low-pitched sound that sounds like a snore and is more common in short-nosed Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs like Pugs or Bulldogs. These have an elongated soft palate or other physical abnormalities obstructing the airway.

Another type of wheezing is called stridor, which is a high-pitched whistling sound. This type of wheezing is more common with tracheal or laryngeal diseases. Usually, stridor comes from laryngeal paralysis or tracheal collapse and is what most people refer to when they say “wheezing.”

Check out this video to differentiate between Stertor and Stridor wheezing sounds. 

Wheezing can also be caused by fluid in the lungs, which could be from heart disease or pneumonia. This type of wheezing is usually accompanied by coughing and difficulty breathing. Wheezing is vastly different from coughing, reverse sneezing, and dry heaving in dogs.

It is important to identify the underlying cause of wheezing in dogs as it can be a sign of a more serious condition. If you notice your dog wheezing, it is important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

10 Common Causes of Wheezing In Dogs

1. Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Brachycephalic dog breeds, such as Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers, are prone to developing Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome (BOAS). This condition occurs when the dog’s airway is compressed due to the shape of its skull, leading to difficulty breathing and wheezing.

The wheezing sound due to BOAS is much lower than that caused by other factors and diseases. It’s also persistent, explaining why many short-snouted owners, like those with Pugs, are well aware of the snore-like sound coming from their dogs. 

2. Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions to environmental irritants, such as pollen or dust, can cause wheezing in dogs. Other symptoms of allergies may include itching, sneezing, skin irritation, and even hot ears.

When exposed to environmental or food allergens, the dog’s immune system reacts, causing inflammation in the airways and resulting in wheezing. Identifying and minimizing exposure to the allergen is crucial, resulting in a nearly immediate reduction in wheezing.

3. Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection that causes inflammation of the dog’s trachea and bronchi. It is commonly spread in places where dogs are in close contact with each other, such as kennels or dog parks. Kennel cough is the common name for canine infectious tracheobronchitis.

Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, nasal discharge, and runny eyes and nose. Reports show that most dogs with this disease cough like they have a hairball stuck in their throats, resulting in a honking sound.

4. Bronchitis

Bronchitis is a respiratory condition that causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes, leading to coughing and wheezing. Dogs with chronic bronchitis may experience difficulty breathing and fatigue.

5. Pneumonia & Other Respiratory Tract Infections

Pneumonia and other respiratory tract infections can cause wheezing in dogs. Bacteria, viruses, or fungi typically cause these infections and can lead to serious complications if left untreated.

The infections result in inflammation and excessive mucus production. The increased mucus and inflammation can narrow the airways, leading to wheezing sounds as your dog tries to breathe.

6. Collapsed Tracheas

A collapsed trachea occurs when the cartilage rings that support the trachea weaken, causing the trachea to collapse and obstruct the airway. Small dog breeds, such as Chihuahuas, Teacup Yorkies, and Toy Goldendoodles, are particularly prone to this condition.

Management options for tracheal collapse include weight management, avoiding triggers such as heat or excitement, switching from collars to no-pull harnesses, and in severe cases, surgical intervention.

7. Heart Disease

Certain heart conditions, such as congestive heart failure, can lead to fluid accumulation in the lungs, causing difficulty breathing and wheezing in dogs. When the heart isn’t functioning properly, it can result in fluid backup in the lungs, leading to pulmonary edema.

Other symptoms of heart disease may include coughing, fatigue, and exercise intolerance. The only way to manage heart issues causing wheezing in dogs is to get medical help before they escalate. 

8. Foreign Objects

Foreign objects, such as grass or small toys, can become lodged in a dog’s airway, leading to wheezing and difficulty breathing.

If you suspect your dog has a foreign object lodged in their airway, it is crucial to seek immediate veterinary attention to remove the object safely. This is because the vet may need to perform imaging on the dog to locate the object.

9. Laryngeal Paralysis

Laryngeal paralysis is a condition that affects the muscles that control the opening and closing of the dog’s larynx. This can lead to difficulty breathing, wheezing, and coughing.

Laryngeal paralysis is more commonly seen in older large-breed dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers and Saint Bernards. It can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired due to degeneration of the nerves controlling the larynx.

10. Asthma 

Dogs can also suffer from asthma, a chronic inflammatory condition affecting airways. Asthma can cause the airways to narrow and constrict, resulting in wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing.

While asthma is less common in canines than in our feline friends, it’s still a possibility. Most cases result from allergies, although even stress, obesity, and environmental factors can trigger the issue. 

What are the signs of respiratory distress in a dog?

Various factors, including allergies, infections, and underlying health conditions can cause respiratory distress in dogs. It is crucial to recognize the signs of respiratory distress in dogs to seek immediate medical attention. Here are some common signs of respiratory distress in dogs:

  • Wheezing or coughing: Wheezing or coughing may indicate your dog is having difficulty breathing. A raspy or hoarse sound often accompanies it.
  • Rapid breathing: If your dog is breathing rapidly or panting excessively, it may indicate respiratory distress.
  • Blue gums or tongue: Blue gums or tongue may indicate that your dog is not getting enough oxygen. This is a medical emergency, and you should seek immediate veterinary care.
  • Open-mouth breathing: If your dog is breathing with its mouth open, it may be a sign of respiratory distress.
  • Lethargy: Lethargy or weakness may indicate your dog is not getting enough oxygen.
  • Loss of appetite: Respiratory distress can cause your dog to lose its appetite.

If you notice any of these signs in your dog, it is crucial to seek veterinary care immediately. Early intervention can prevent further complications and improve your dog’s chances of recovery.

How to Diagnose Wheezing in Dogs

Physical Examination

When a dog is wheezing, a thorough physical examination is the first step in the diagnostic process. The veterinarian will listen to the dog’s lungs and heart with a stethoscope, checking for any abnormal sounds or signs of congestion. 

They will also examine the dog’s throat, nose, and mouth, looking for any signs of inflammation or obstruction. The veterinarian may also check the dog’s temperature, pulse, and respiratory rate to assess overall health.

Laboratory Tests

The veterinarian may recommend additional laboratory tests if the physical examination reveals any abnormalities. Blood tests can provide information about the dog’s overall health and detect any underlying medical conditions that may be causing the wheezing. A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel can provide valuable information about the dog’s organ function and blood cell counts. A urinalysis can also provide information about the dog’s kidney function and detect any urinary tract infections.

Imaging

Imaging tests such as X-rays or ultrasounds can provide a more detailed picture of the dog’s respiratory system and help identify any abnormalities. X-rays can show signs of fluid or inflammation in the lungs, as well as any tumors or foreign objects that may be causing the wheezing. 

Ultrasound can provide a closer look at the heart and blood vessels, which can help identify any structural abnormalities or heart disease that may be contributing to the wheezing.

How Can I Help My Dog With Wheezing? Dog Wheezing Treatment

If your dog is wheezing, it’s important to take action to help them breathe easier. Here are some ways you can help your furry friend:

Medication

There are a variety of medications that can help with wheezing in dogs. Your veterinarian may prescribe bronchodilators, steroids, or other medications to help open up your dog’s airways and reduce inflammation. This is especially important for problems like Kennel Cough. It’s important to follow your vet’s instructions carefully and give your dog the medication as directed.

Surgery

Surgery may sometimes be necessary to help your dog with wheezing. For example, if your dog has a collapsed trachea, surgery may be needed to open up the airway. Your vet can discuss the best options for your dog’s specific situation.

Lifestyle Changes

Making some lifestyle changes can also help your dog with wheezing. These include: 

Home Remedies for Dog Wheezing

  1. Helping your dog cut weight by feeding them a proper diet and giving them sufficient exercise. 
  2. Using a humidifier to moisten the air.
  3. Keep your dog away from things that may trigger their wheezing, such as cigarette smoke, dust, and other irritants.
  4. Avoid food and environmental allergens if your dog has been diagnosed with them.

Should I Be Worried When My Dog Starts Wheezing?

When a dog starts wheezing, it can be a cause for concern. Wheezing is a sign that there is some sort of obstruction in the airways, which can make it difficult for your dog to breathe. However, not all cases of wheezing are serious, and it’s important to know when to consult a vet.

If your dog is wheezing but can still breathe comfortably, it may not be a cause for immediate concern. However, if your dog is struggling to breathe, has a bluish tint to their gums or tongue, or is coughing up blood, it’s important to seek veterinary care right away.

Other signs that your dog may need to see a vet include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever

It’s also important to note that some breeds are more prone to respiratory issues than others. For example, bulldogs, pugs, and other brachycephalic breeds are more likely to experience breathing difficulties due to their short snouts.

Ultimately, if you’re unsure whether your dog’s wheezing is cause for concern, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and consult a vet. They can help determine the underlying cause of the wheezing and provide appropriate treatment to help your dog breathe more comfortably.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my dog wheeze when he breathes in?

Dogs may wheeze when they breathe in due to an obstruction in their airways. This can be caused by foreign objects, allergies, or infections. It is important to take your dog to the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Why is my dog suddenly wheezing?

Sudden dog wheezing can be caused by various factors such as allergies, asthma, heart disease, or respiratory infections. It is important to seek veterinary care if your dog is suddenly wheezing.

Why is my dog making weird breathing noises?

Dogs may make weird breathing noises due to various reasons such as respiratory infections, allergies, or obstructions in their airways. It is important to monitor your dog’s breathing and seek veterinary care if you notice any unusual breathing sounds.

Is it normal for dogs to wheeze?

Wheezing is not a normal sound for dogs to make during breathing. It can indicate an underlying health issue that requires veterinary attention.

Does Dog wheezing sound like whistling?

Dog wheezing can sound like whistling, but it can also sound like a high-pitched noise or a rattling sound. The sound and severity of the wheezing can vary depending on the underlying cause.

Why is my dog wheezing and coughing?

Wheezing and coughing in dogs can be caused by various factors such as respiratory infections, allergies, heart disease, or obstructions in their airways. It is important to seek veterinary care if your dog is wheezing and coughing.

Why does my dog wheeze in his sleep?

Dogs may wheeze in their sleep due to various reasons, such as allergies, obstructions in their airways, or respiratory infections. If you notice your dog wheezing in their sleep, it is important to monitor their breathing and seek veterinary care if necessary. Wheezing is far more concerning than canines whimpering in their sleep.

Final Thoughts

Wheezing in dogs can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from minor to serious health conditions. These factors include allergies, Brachycephalic Airway syndrome, tracheal collapse, Laryngeal paralysis, heart issues, respiratory infections, and irritants.

Pet owners can take certain measures to prevent wheezing in their dogs, such as keeping their environment clean, avoiding exposure to allergens, and providing a healthy diet and regular exercise. In some cases, medications or other treatments may be necessary to manage respiratory issues.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.