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The Top Prevention and Treatment Tips for Dog Asthma

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Nothing breaks your heart more than watching your pup suffer. Whether it's allergies, an upset stomach, or separation anxiety, these furry friends tug at your heartstrings. If your dog suffers from dog asthma, not only is it heartbreaking, it can also be life-threatening. But there are things you can do to prevent asthma attacks and decrease the severity of episodes. 

Here, we’ll show you the main causes of dog asthma and what symptoms you should watch out for. You’ll learn how to change your lifestyle to prevent asthma attacks in your pup and what to do in severe cases.

What Is Dog Asthma?

Dog asthma: closeup on a dog's nose

Dog asthma, also known as allergic bronchitis, is a condition that causes difficulty breathing. Just like asthma in humans, dog asthma can range in severity. Some dogs may have minor issues breathing when exposed to an allergen while others may suffer from episodes that cause hypoxia and other life-threatening conditions.

Dog asthma is triggered by allergens. The most common irritants include things like pollen, perfumes, fragrances, cat dander, dust from cat litter boxes, mold spores, and dust mites. Other triggers include cigarette smoke, essential oils, and household cleaning products. 

Outside, things like pesticides, fertilizers, and air pollution can also trigger a dog’s asthma. Asthma can be caused by seasonal allergies and only occur during certain times of the year or asthma may be triggered by irritants year-round.

Symptoms of Asthma in Dogs

Dog asthma: a small dog lies next to an exercise tunnel

Asthma symptoms in dogs are similar to symptoms seen with an allergic reaction. They can include difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, and exhaustion. Your dog may display dramatic rising and falling of the chest as he or she tries to breathe. The symptoms may come on suddenly and last for a few minutes, or they may last for hours in severe cases. Here are the main asthma symptoms to look out for.

  • Heavy open-mouth breathing
  • Heavy panting without strenuous exercise
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore chest muscles
  • Coughing
  • Lack of energy or unusual tiredness
  • Wheezing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Disinterest in food
  • Panicky behavior
  • Constant repositioning (laying down and standing up) in order to breath
  • Blue or whitish gums

If you suspect your dog has asthma or displays these symptoms, head to the veterinarian. It can be difficult to diagnose an asthmatic dog when it isn’t displaying symptoms, so make sure to follow up with the vet as soon as you can. If your dog is having severe difficulty breathing or has blue gums, seek medical attention immediately. Blue gums are a sign of low oxygen levels and are an indication of severe asthma.

How To Tell If It's Asthma or Something Else

It can be hard to tell if your pooch is panting because he or she has been playing rambunctiously or if it's actually asthma. Asthma symptoms are very similar to heartworm symptoms, and the two conditions can be easily confused. Veterinarians can diagnose asthma by performing a physical exam and taking chest x-rays to get a look at your pup’s lungs. 

As mentioned, diagnosis is best performed when your furry friend is displaying symptoms. If you’re out in the woods or can’t get your pet to the vet during an episode, take a video of your dog’s symptoms. The vet can use this information to make a diagnosis.

Dog Asthma Treatment Options and Prevention Tips 

Dog asthma: A boxer with its tongue hanging out of its mouth, panting

In general, asthma should be treated by a veterinarian. While you can make lifestyle changes to help reduce flare-ups, asthma can be a life-threatening condition. For severe asthma attacks, your pup may need a rescue inhaler or nebulizer to help deliver oxygen to the body. 

While asthma and allergy treatment can be scary, many asthma triggers can be prevented by identifying what causes the difficulty breathing and avoiding irritants. Here are a few quick fixes you can use to reduce the incidence of asthma attacks in your precious pooch.

Lifestyle Changes

Start by making an appointment with your veterinarian for allergy testing. This test can help you identify what your pup is allergic to and what may trigger an asthma attack. Once you know what allergens cause a reaction in your dog, you can make changes to avoid these irritants.

If your pup is allergic to pollen, dust, or grass, adjust the timing of your walks to avoid times when these allergens are at their peak. Try to take walks midday instead of early in the morning or at dusk when pollen counts are highest. On the other hand, pups who suffer from pollution-related asthma may be better off walking early in the morning before industries start-up and people start commuting to work. 

If the canine asthma is triggered by fertilizer or pesticides, avoid using these products in your yard and walk your dog on dirt trails or artificial grass. For dogs who suffer from asthma because of fragrances, limit your use of air fresheners like candles and essential oil diffusers. You can also invest in an air purifier or vacuum with a HEPA filter to help remove irritants from the air in your home. Avoid smoking in your home and around your pup to prevent asthma triggers.

In rare cases, dogs may suffer from asthma because of a food allergy. While there isn’t technically a completely hypoallergenic dog food, you can put your pup on a limited ingredient diet to help remove the most common triggers, including beef and chicken. In addition, some dog treats contain additives and preservatives that can cause asthma. Only buy dog treats from brands you trust and give your pooch a probiotic to aid digestion.

Medical Options

In more advanced asthma cases, you may need to give your pup medications to control the symptom. For allergies, give your pup antihistamines that help prevent the immune system reaction that causes allergic reactions. 

In some cases, your vet may prescribe a nebulizer to treat acute breathing problems. A nebulizer is similar to an inhaler and delivers breathing medications directly to the dog’s lungs. Dogs may be spooked by the nebulizer, especially if they’re older or don’t like things — like a muzzle — on their snouts. When using a nebulizer, stay relaxed. Your pup takes cues from you, so don’t panic or appear stressed out. 

Ultrasonic nebulizers are a great choice as they are quieter than other alternative devices. If you just can’t get your pup to accept the nebulizer, put the dog in a crate with the nebulizer machine turned on. Cover the crate with a heavy blanket to keep the medication in the air.

In severe cases, your pup may need to be hospitalized. If this occurs, your dog may be given an IV to supply medications that improve breathing. These medications include prescription bronchodilators, powerful antihistamines, and steroids. Bronchodilators and steroids offer anti-inflammatory effects that help open up the airways while antihistamines block the immune response that is triggering the allergic reaction. 

These medications may cause side effects such as weight gain and exercise intolerance. While medicine may save your dog’s life, the best long-term solution is prevention. Try to identify all of your dog’s allergy triggers and make lifestyle changes to minimize contact with the offenders.

Pause the Panting and Ease Asthma Attacks

Dog asthma: A dog and its owner sit at the end of a dock and look at the view

Like humans, dogs can suffer from asthma attacks that are triggered by allergic reactions. Fortunately, prevention can help reduce the incidence of attacks, and treatment options can help make symptoms better. You can schedule walks at times when allergens are lower and give your pup allergy chews that help reduce symptoms.

In moderate to severe cases, your pooch may need to take medications to reduce dog asthma. Focus on prevention at home and make sure to take your pup into the vet immediately if he develops more severe symptoms. Dog asthma is a manageable condition so once you figure out the main causes, Fido can get back out there, and run and play to his heart’s content.