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Wheezing is frequently characterized by a raspy, whistling sound during inhalation and exhalation and occurs when there is some sort of blockage in the windpipe. This blockage can occur from a foreign object, an allergic reaction, or an illness that causes inflammation in the larynx or trachea. If your pet is wheezing consistently, it may indicate serious illness.

Common Reasons Your Pet Is Wheezing

Veterinarian giving a puppy an inhaler

The causes of pet wheezing can range from a mild allergic reaction to serious, ongoing inflammation. Here are the most common reasons your pet may be wheezing.

Asthma & Allergies

In animals like cats and dogs, asthma is typically related to allergies. When pets inhale something foreign such as pollen, dust, or mold in the environment it could trigger asthmatic breathing. When there is chronic irritation of the airways, this is known as asthma. Some pets may only have seasonal allergic reactions that cause them to wheeze, but if your pet has asthma they may wheeze often if they are exposed to airborne irritants.

Foreign Body Stuck In the Airway

Sometimes our pets may start chewing something with too much excitement, and this could lead them to get a piece of a foreign object stuck in their throats. The inhalation of plastic toys, bones, or other items left on the ground can cause a blockage in the airway and cause them to wheeze. As pets try to gasp for air, their breathing will become more strained and higher pitched. If your pet has ingested a foreign object be sure to get immediate medical attention.

Underlying Medical Condition

In rare cases, wheezing could be a sign of a medical emergency. Some illnesses that can cause wheezing include:

Heartworm Disease

Transmitted through mosquito bites, the parasitic worms in heartworm disease can cause heart, lung, and artery failure. This disease causes the blood to become dilated, which in turn can block the airways in animals making it more difficult to breathe.

Vet Tip

Do You Think Your Pet Has Heartworm Disease?

Common symptoms to look out for in heartworm disease are an irregular heartbeat, coughing after physical exercise, lethargy, or a bulging chest cavity.

Congestive Heart Failure

Wheezing and trouble breathing can be a common sign of congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart stops being able to pump an adequate amount of blood to the rest of the body. This condition is most frequently diagnosed in small dogs, but animal breeds of any size can still be susceptible to the disease.

Vet Tip

Do You Think Your Pet Has Congestive Heart Failure?

Common congestive heart failure symptoms in pets include shortness of breath, swelling in the belly, and fainting.

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a respiratory illness that occurs in dogs. This illness is highly contagious and can cause a dry, heavy cough and uncomfortable wheezing in canines. As the airways become continually irritated by the virus, dogs may need breathing assistance until their airways are healed.

Vet Tip

Do You Think Your Pet Has Kennel Cough?

Common symptoms to look out for in kennel cough are lack of appetite, runny nose, fever, and a loud, honking cough.

Tracheal Collapse

While the root cause of a tracheal collapse in pets is unknown, it usually occurs when the cartilage around the trachea weakens and shrinks the airways. A collapsed trachea can cause pets to gasp for air, or take high-pitched wheezing breaths. The only way to diagnose a tracheal collapse is by an x-ray of the chest.

Vet Tip

Do You Think Your Pet Has a Collapsed Trachea?

Common symptoms of a tracheal collapse are a chronic cough, blue gums, and extreme lethargy.

What Should You Do if Your Pet Keeps Wheezing?

Veterinarian giving a puppy an inhaler

If your pet keeps wheezing, you’ll want to assess any possible allergens that may be affecting their breathing or consult with a medical professional.

Remove Environmental Triggers

Some allergens in the environment can’t be avoided, especially in the springtime when pollen can be found everywhere. However, if your dog is having a serious reaction to irritants outside, you may try keeping them inside to see if their wheezing symptoms subside. Sometimes the key to pinning down allergies is simply by trial and error to determine your pet’s unique reaction to substances.

Keep Your Pet in a Well-Ventilated Area

Some pet owners like to keep their animals in the garage, or in a small dog house in the backyard. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these choices, if your pet is wheezing consistently their symptoms may improve if they stay inside a well-ventilated area indoors. Better airflow in a room can make it easier for them to take long, deep breaths.

Take Your Pet to a Vet

If you suspect your pet has a serious medical condition such as a tracheal collapse, always bring them to your nearest vet for an evaluation. Breathing problems should never be taken lightly, and having a healthy oxygen intake is vital for the longevity of both people and animals. Even if you think it’s just allergies, if your pet has difficulty breathing, that should be cause for concern and you should seek the advice of your vet.

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Dr. Bilal Qasim, DVM, established Dr. Phillips Animal Hospital in 2011 after practicing veterinary medicine for over 17 years with the help of talented and caring veterinary technicians.