Breathing Problems in Dogs and Cats

breathing problems in dogs

As pet owners, it’s important to pay special attention to our feline and canine friends. We can often take cues on their health from the way the act and behave.

A typically common concern is breathing problems.

If you notice that your cat or dog has breathing difficulties, you should call a veterinarian as soon as possible. Their ailment could be for a number of reasons, but is often in relation to the lungs, heart and respiratory system. On occasion, it may be to do with other factors.

There are a number of reasons why your pet may be experiencing breathing problems, here are some possibilities:

Heavy breathing (Dyspnea)

Medically known as dyspnea, labored, fast or heavy breathing is more commonly seen in dogs, but can also affect cats. It tends to be more frequent in ‘flat faced’ pets as well as some toy breed dogs that suffer from windpipe issues, smaller nostrils and elongated soft palates.

Symptoms can include coughing, shallow or rapid breathing that is usually noisy. Your pet may look like it’s in discomfort or in an awkward position, such as crouching. In dogs, you may see a shallow chest wall and the stomach moving more than usual. This is often a sign of your pet having to work harder to breathe.

Panting

Panting can be fairly common in dogs after brisk exercise. However, if this is different from usual, or coupled with apparent pain or a high temperature, it requires further investigation. Prolonged panting of any kind should be immediately escalated.

breathing problems in dogs and cats

Genetics

Brachycephalic pets or ‘flat faced’ pets are those with ‘short snout’ features, such as; pug dogs, Boston terrier’s dogs, boxer dogs, shih tzu dogs, exotic shorthair cats, Persian cats, Himalayan cats and Burmese cats.

Some of these breeds are known to suffer with breathing issues, which may result in noisy breathing and snoring. This is due to physical characteristics such as narrowed nostrils and small trachea. Diagnostic tests will be able to determine if this is the case. In limited cases, surgery can help. However, the best way to help your pet is by providing a comfortable setting; ensure the temperature isn’t too hot and keep them away from allergy-prone environments.

Asthma

Much like humans, cats and dogs can suffer from allergies or inflammation. Certain triggers can include; grass, pollen, cat litter, food, household cleaners, dust, mites, smoke, perfumes and cosmetics to name but a few.

If these cause spasms in the airway or lead to swelling, it may be categorized as asthma or bronchitis. It is usually seen in coughing or hacking, wheezing, runny eyes, open or wide-mouth breathing, and increased swallowing. In dogs this can often be seen in more panting than usual.

Anemia

Pets with anemia suffer a drop in red blood cells, which is vital for carrying oxygen around the body. The condition is often characterized by a number of signs, including; pale gums, tiredness, a fast pulse and weight loss. A lesser known symptom is also shortness of breath. Anemia is easily passed on through parasites or can be a result of immune related diseases. It may also be the result of trauma-related blood loss too. In severe cases a blood transfusion may be required, in lesser cases oxygen therapy or specific medication may be required.

Heart failure

This usually occurs when the heart muscle fails to pump blood around the body as well as it should. In pets this sometimes materializes in coughing, and/or with fluid or blood running from their nose. If heart failure is diagnosed, pets will likely receive treatment to remove the pulmonary edema using a diuretic, along with oxygen therapy and possibly medication.

Respiratory disease

The respiratory system can be affected by a host of issues, ranging from influenza and pneumonia to choking.  Respiratory disease can take many forms, from laryngeal paralysis, tracheal issues and cancer. A veterinarian can carry out tests to ensure your pet receives the appropriate treatment.

Severe symptoms

While it is always important to get breathing issues checked promptly, any of the following symptoms may indicate a serious issue. Therefore, if your cat or dog is suffering with any of the following, do seek immediate medical care:

  • A respiratory rate that is higher than 60 breaths a minute
  • Coughing up blood (or fluid)
  • Gums that are blue or purple in color
  • Contracted abdominal muscles and deep breathing
  • Breathing that is noisy
  • A neck that looks outstretched or struggling for breath
  • Fluid leaking from the nasal passage
  • Prolonged wide-mouth breathing

Visiting the veterinarian

A visit to the vet will rule out any issues for concern and help with a diagnosis. To listen to your dog’s breathing, a vet may press your pet’s windpipe to instigate them to cough. Further diagnostic tests may also include; chest X-rays, blood tests, urine/fecal tests, an ultrasound scan, biopsies, rhinoscopy or bronchoscopy to look at the airways. In severe cases, your pet may be kept in for treatment or sent to an animal hospital.

Prescription medicines may be recommended, along with IV fluids, oxygen therapy. It is wise to limit your pets exercise habits until their breathing condition is controlled.

The prognosis for your pet will depend on the severity of their symptoms and immediacy of care they receive.

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