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Can Dogs Have Asthma?

Dog gasps for breath
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Asthma can be scary for humans, especially during a severe attack. But can dogs have asthma, and do they have similar symptoms? Let’s take a closer look.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is an allergic disease that causes inflammation in the lungs, which results in coughing and difficulty breathing. When a person or pet is exposed to something they are allergic to, the airways in the lungs become inflamed. This inflammation causes the airways to constrict and spasm and for fluid to build up in the bronchi and bronchioles, which are the small and large airways of the lungs. All of these airway reactions result in the symptoms associated with an asthma attack. 

Can Dogs Have Asthma?

Yes, any dog can develop asthma. However, it is much less common than asthma in cats or humans. Small, middle-aged dogs seem to be more affected by asthma than other dogs. 

The cause of asthma is the same whether it is in a dog, cat, or human: constricted airways spasm and become filled with fluid, resulting in difficulty breathing. 

Dogs are less likely to become panicked during an asthma attack than a human. Dogs having an asthma attack are more likely to sit or stand quietly and try to breathe with their mouth wide open. 

Common Dog Asthma Triggers

Dog in grass coughing

Asthma attacks in dogs can be triggered by anything the dog has an allergic reaction to. Some of the more common environmental allergens that can trigger asthma include:

  • Tree and grass pollen
  • Mold and mold mites
  • Dust and dust mites
  • Cat dander
  • Scented candles
  • Air fresheners
  • Hair spray
  • Household cleaners
  • Smoke, including cigarette smoke
  • Insect particles

In addition to the allergens listed above, certain infectious agents, such as heartworms, lungworms, fungus, or bacterial lung infections, can cause allergic reactions in the airways that mimic the signs of asthma. 

Dog Asthma Symptoms

As mentioned, dogs don’t tend to panic during an asthma attack like humans do. They tend to become very focused on getting enough air, and will often become very still, refuse to lie down, and breathe or pant with their mouth open. You may also notice that it looks like they are working very hard to breathe with exaggerated movements of their chest wall trying to move air in and out. Additional signs your dog may be having an asthma attack include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Blue-tinged or pale gums
  • Decreased eating and drinking
  • Lagging behind on a walk
  • Decreased energy for play or lack of interest in playing
  • Laying around more, lethargy

What to Do If Your Dog is Having an Asthma Attack

Dog with vet in X-ray room

If you notice your dog having difficulty breathing, blue gums, or wheezing, it is very important to get your dog to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible for evaluation. Asthma attacks are considered a medical emergency. If you can’t get in to see your regular vet, call an emergency clinic. 

It is also important to get your dog seen as soon as possible while they are having an attack because dogs with asthma can be completely normal in between episodes and not show any signs of disease at all. If you can’t get to a veterinary hospital right away, take a video of your dog with your phone so your veterinarian can see what is going on.

If you are just noticing a lack of energy, decreased appetite, and coughing, it may or may not be asthma. You may not need to go to the veterinary clinic right away, but there is still something wrong with your dog, and it is best to call for advice and get an appointment set up on the calendar. In the meantime, monitor your dog, keep them in a cool, quiet environment, watch for any worsening symptoms, and if you notice any, seek emergency care. 

While an asthma attack is often not life threatening, the symptoms of an asthma attack can be identical to other conditions that are life threatening, including heart failure, pneumonia, foreign bodies that are stuck in the windpipe, or pulmonary hypertension. 

Your veterinarian will conduct a full physical exam, including listening to the heart and lungs. They will also want to take radiographs (X-rays) of your dog’s chest. Your veterinarian may also want to check blood work and/or urine and fecal samples for any parasites if they suspect a worm infestation or infection. 

Dog Asthma Treatment 

Dog using an inhaler

Treatment of dog asthma consists of immediately reducing airway inflammation and reopening airways so the dog can breathe and over the long term, minimizing exposure to offending allergens. 

To help dogs who are having an asthma attack breathe, oxygen may be administered. Medication that opens airways (bronchodilators) and reduces inflammation (steroids) is used. Bronchodilators may be prescribed in pill form, or they may be in an inhalant form. Dogs who have repeated problems with asthma can have a special inhaler created for them that fits to their face. Antihistamines are also used to stop the allergic reaction. 

If a dog has airway inflammation due to worms or other infections, then additional treatment will be aimed at resolving those conditions as well. 

How to Prevent Dog Asthma Attacks

Dog lying on rug as pet owner vacuums

As best as possible, remove any triggers from your dog’s environment that cause asthmatic episodes. Strategies to avoid dog asthma attacks include: 

  • Changing furnace and air conditioner filters on a regular basis and using high efficiency air filters on your indoor air exchange and vacuum cleaners 
  • Stopping smoking inside 
  • Removing carpeting where possible and replacing with hard flooring
  • Washing pet bedding regularly with hot water or sanitize cycles and using unscented detergent
  • Keeping your dog up-to-date on parasite control
  • Talking to your veterinarian about seasonal usage of antihistamines, if your dog has seasonal asthma