Dog Wheezing Causes, Treatments, and Chihuahuas’ Risk

Dog wheezing is common in chihuahuas

Dog wheezing gives the impression that your dog is having a hard time breathing, which is indeed true in most cases. This causes alarm for most caring pet owners. Wheezing in dogs is often an indication of an underlying problem. These causes range from less to more serious ones as you will find out in this page.

What Is Wheezing In Dogs For Starters?

A dog normally breathes in and out through a smooth, rhythmic expansion and contraction of the airways. Dog wheezing – that characteristic whistling sound – occurs when problems in the airways cause them to overly contract, making it hard for air to push through. When air pushes forcefully through the constricted airways as the affected dog passes air in and out through the nose, shrill wheezing sound results.

Dog Wheezing Causes

You are likely now wondering “why is my dog wheezing?” Well, here are some potential culprits:

Allergies

Allergies are the leading cause of dog wheezing. Allergies cause wheezing by making the airways (trachea and bronchi) to constrict. Allergies are most commonly linked to changes in the dog’s environment and can be triggered by both indoor and outdoor allergens. Although allergies can affect any dog, flat-faced breeds the likes of pugs and bulldogs are more prone to allergies than other breeds.

Airborne indoor and outdoor allergies that can trigger allergies and thus dog wheezing include:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Dust
  • Perfumes
  • Shampoos
  • Irritating fabrics
  • Incense
  • Detergents
  • Scented candle and air fresheners
  • Flea control products

Insect bites and stings can also trigger an allergic reaction that culminates in dog wheezing. Allergies are usually accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • A runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Dermatitis (skin irritation)
  • Itchy skin

How to Prevent and Alleviate Allergies Induced Dog Wheezing

  1. Run an air purifier and a humidifier to control allergens and increase air moisture. Dry air can further irritate the airways.
  2. Stop using scented candles and see if that helps.
  3. Keep your windows shut during the peak of the pollen season. Also, avoid spending too much time with your dog outside when the pollen count in your area is very high.
  4. Keep your air ducts and vents clean.
  5. Bathe your dog regularly.
  6. Don’t smoke inside the house or near your dog.
  7. Your vet may also prescribe antihistamines and other medications.

Heartworms

Parasites can also cause dog wheezing, with heartworms being the main culprit. These are often fatal. As the name suggests, heartworms migrate to the heart if left untreated for too long. There they block the flow of blood and hamper the oxygen supply leading to wheezing and other symptoms such as lethargy, weight loss, coughing, and shortness of breath. Heartworms will in most case not show any symptoms until it is too late. It is for this reason that vets recommend ensuring that every dog has been given preventative drugs for heartworms.

Heatstroke

Dog wheezing with no cough may be an indication that you have taken too much time walking or playing in the sun and your dog has developed heat stroke. Dogs don’t sweat. They rely on panting to cool themselves but this is not powerful enough a mechanism to sustain their body temperatures for hours on the end in hot weather. This makes them prone to overheating.

Brachycephalic dog breeds such as the pug, bulldog, Boston terrier etc., are most prone to overheating. Among the most common signs of heat stroke are heavy panting, drooling, and vomiting pale gums, and noisy breathing (wheezing). The dog may also have seizures or even collapse in most severe cases.

My Dog Is Wheezing And I Suspect It Is Overheated, What Should I Do?

If you suspect your dog is having a heat stroke, give it water and take it to a vet immediately. It is an emergency. On your way there, you can be cooling it down with a wet rag.

Kennel Cough

Dog wheezing and coughing may be the result of a respiratory disease called kennel cough. A kennel cough is caused by numerous airborne bacteria and viruses that are easily transmitted from one dog to another.

In addition to a hacking cough – kind of like a hairball is stuck in the throat – and wheezing (occasionally), more severe cases of a kennel cough are associated with symptoms such as loss of appetite, fever, and lethargy. These symptoms show up 3 to 4 days after infection and usually go away within 2 weeks without treatment.

Bronchitis

Bronchitis can also manifest as wheezing in dogs along with other symptoms such as coughing, gagging, fever, labored or rapid breathing, foamy saliva as coughing episodes ends(this is often mistaken for vomiting by dog owners), and lethargy. This respiratory disease occurs when the mucous membrane in bronchial tubes (the tiny tubes that carry air into and out of the lungs) become inflamed (swollen).

Obese dogs are at higher risk of bronchitis. Some dog breeds also appear to be more susceptible to this respiratory disease than others chief among them being Cocker Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers. Older dogs are also at higher risk than puppies and middle-aged dogs.

Treatment of bronchitis revolves around inflammation alleviation with anti-inflammatory drugs coupled with cough suppression to make the dog more comfortable. Your vet may also recommend an appropriate diet to control your dog’s weight if he/she determines that it is overweight.

Dog Asthma

Although a rare condition, dog asthma could also explain sudden wheezing in dogs. Also referred to as allergic bronchitis, dog asthma is caused by an inflammatory response to environmental allergens which then cause the bronchi to accumulate mucus. Dog asthma that has been around for too long can ultimately lead to chronic bronchitis. Dog asthma is not to be confused with reverse sneezing.

Tracheal Damage

According to David the Dogman, a very tight collar or leash can cause tracheal damage leading to wheezing in dogs. If you suspect the leash is to blame, take it off and then take your canine friend to the vet for an examination.

Heart Disorders

Wheezing and coughing that occurs after an exercise or when your dog is overexcited could be an indication of heart problems. This is especially more likely for older and overweight dogs.

Tumors

Lastly, dog wheezing could be caused by tumors. Lung tumors are in particular the most likely culprit for this problem.

Chihuahua Wheezing

Chihuahuas are particularly susceptible to wheezing, reverse sneezing, coughing, and other respiratory problems. This is attributed to tracheal collapse. Chihuahua and other small dog breeds are genetically prone to trachea collapse; think of Maltese, pug, toy poodle, Shih Tzu, Yorkie, and Lhasa apso.

Also known as the windpipe, trachea (the tube leading from the mouth to the main bronchi in the lung) is made of many C-shaped cartilage rings that helps to keep it open. These rings face upwards (think of letter U) and are covered by a thin layer of tissue referred to as a dorsal membrane.

When these rings get weakened, as it happens with Chihuahuas, they collapse or flatten when the affected dog is breathing. As a result, they get sucked into the air being breathed. This cause breathing difficulty. The resulting irritation can also show in symptoms such as coughing, gagging, and wheezing.

As a prime candidate for dog wheezing and other complications of tracheal collapse, Chihuahuas should be protected from the predisposing factors if possible which include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke
  • Exposure to allergens e.g. pollen
  • Bacterial and viral infections
  • Recurrent heart conditions

When to Be Concerned About Dog Wheezing

As you can see, the possible causes of wheezing in dogs are quite varied. Generally speaking, most episodes of dog wheezing take between 20 and 30 minutes and then stops. If that is the case, it is probably something irritating your dog’s airways and will most likely go away on its own.

You should be concerned however if the wheezing take longer than 30 minutes each time or occur frequently. Seek the attention of a vet f that is the case.

You should also have your dog evaluated by a vet immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms in addition to wheezing:

  • Sneezing
  • Nose bleeding
  • Coughing
  • Pale gums (or bluish in color) – This is often an indication of overheating (heat stroke) in dogs.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heavy panting
  • Vomiting

References

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