Congestion is practically a fact of life for people. But what about dogs? Do you ever hear what you think is a cough, sneeze, or snore coming from your pup and think, my dog sounds congested?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In this article we’ll go through what congestion in dogs sounds like, what causes it, and what you can do to treat and prevent it.
Do Dogs Get Congested?
Yes, dogs get congested and have many of the same symptoms of congestion that we experience, such as sneezing and coughing.
Congestion in dogs occurs for many reasons, such as respiratory infections or allergies. It isn’t life-threatening, but it’s reasonable to be concerned if your dog suddenly starts sounding congested and isn’t feeling too well.
Viral and bacterial respiratory infections in dogs are highly contagious, so it doesn’t take much for dogs in close contact with each other to get sick and start sounding congested.
Some dogs are naturally prone to congestion. Brachycephalic dogs, like Bulldogs, can sound congested because of their smoosh-faced facial structure. They have short snouts, making breathing more difficult. Their congestion is considered normal, but medical care may be needed to manage their breathing challenges.
What Dog Congestion Sounds Like
If your dog is congested, you’ll hear it. Dogs who are congested often cough, and that cough can be distinctive. For example, dogs with kennel cough, caused by the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica, have a dry, “goose honk” cough.
Coughing due to congestion may worsen when a dog is lying down at night. Severe coughing fits can even make a dog gag or retch, which certainly isn’t pleasant to hear.
A congested dog can also have noisy, labored, and rapid breathing because they have to work extra hard to get oxygen into their body. They might breathe with their mouth open because their nose is too stuffy for oxygen to pass through the nostrils. Sneezing and snoring are also common in congested dogs.
Why Is My Dog Congested?
There are numerous potential reasons why your dog is congested. Many cases of dog congestion are caused by a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection, while others may be due to chronic disease. Here’s a list of what could be causing your dog’s congestion:
- Canine influenza virus (dog flu)
- Canine respiratory coronavirus
- Canine adenovirus type 2
- Canine parainfluenza virus
- Canine distemper virus
- Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough)
Viral and bacterial respiratory infections are easily transmitted through an infected dog’s respiratory droplets that land on high-touch objects like food bowls and toys. The fungi Aspergillus can get breathed in as a dog roots through the soil with their nose. Once these tiny pathogens enter the respiratory tract, the immune system starts fighting back, causing an immune response that makes dogs congested.
Beyond these common causes, there are other reasons your dog may be congested.
Seasonal allergies. Dogs with seasonal allergies are allergic to environmental substances, like pollen. Breathing in these allergens will trigger an allergic response that will make a dog congested.
Congestive heart failure. An end-stage heart disease, congestive heart failure is when the heart can no longer pump blood effectively, so fluid accumulates and leaks out of the blood vessels. A fluid buildup in the lungs can lead to symptoms of congestion, like coughing and difficulty breathing.
Heartworms. Heartworms get lodged in the pulmonary (lung) arteries and damage the lungs. Dogs with heartworms often cough and have difficulty breathing.
Foreign body. If something is stuck in your dog’s nose, their immune system will work hard to get it out, causing dog nasal congestion symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose.
Respiratory tumors. A tumor in the respiratory tract can block the normal flow of air, leading to congestion.
Obesity. Excess weight makes the heart and lungs work extra hard. More pressure on the lungs can lead to a dog having difficulty breathing and sounding congested.
Diagnosing the Cause of Dog Congestion
Call your veterinarian if your dog sounds congested. Not all cases of congestion warrant a trip to the doctor, but do not assume that home remedies are all your dog needs.
Your veterinarian will advise you on bringing your dog in for an appointment. For example, if your dog sounds congested when he breathes and becomes lethargic or isn’t eating or drinking well, they will need to be seen by your veterinarian.
During the appointment, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam, paying close attention to your dog’s lungs, heart, and nose.
Diagnostic tests will help your veterinarian figure out why your dog is congested. Blood work will give clues about your dog’s overall health, and chest x-rays will help them see abnormalities in your dog’s lungs or heart.
A rhinoscopy, which would let your veterinarian look in your dog’s nose, would be helpful if they suspect a foreign body or tumor in the nose.
Treating Congestion in Dogs
Treating congestion in dogs depends on the underlying cause. Here are some potential treatments your veterinarian may recommend, once they have diagnosed what’s causing your canine’s congestion:
- Infection – If an infection is causing your dog’s congestion, your veterinarian will customize a treatment plan based on the type of infection (viral, bacterial, or fungal) and risk level. For example, antiviral medications are typically not prescribed to treat viral respiratory infections like the flu or kennel cough. Instead, your vet may recommend at-home care until the illness runs its course (usually 5 to 10 days). However, if the risk of a secondary infection is high, such as in puppies and dogs with weakened immune systems or shelter situations, your vet may prescribe an antibiotic, doxycycline.
- Allergies – If your dog’s congestion stems from an allergic reaction to inhaled allergens like ragweed, pollen, or dust, your veterinarian may prescribe an antihistamine, such as Vetadyl Flavored Tablets or generic options, like cetirizine or diphenhydramine.
- Congestive Heart Failure – To ease fluid build-up in dogs with congestive heartfailure, veterinarians often prescribe a diuretic, such as Salix tablets (or the generic form, furosemide).
- Heartworms – If your dog tests positive for heartworm disease, your veterinarian with come up with a treatment plan based on the severity of the disease. And to help your dog breathe easier during treatment, your vet may prescribe a steroid like prednisone to alleviate the inflammation heartwoms can cause in the lungs and blood vessels.
- Obesity – Some dogs are predisposed to develop obesity, which can cause congestion — especially in brachycephalic breeds. If your veterinarian determines that excess pounds are causiong congested breathing, they may prescribe a weight management diet, such as Hill’s Prescription Diet Metabolic Weight Management or Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets OM Overweight Management dog food.
Do not give your dog any over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to relieve their congestion without talking to your veterinarian first. These medicines may contain ingredients that are safe for people but toxic to dogs.
Benadryl is a common OTC medicine for relieving allergy-related congestion in humans but should only be given to dogs with veterinary supervision and guidance.
Home Remedies for Dog Congestion
At-home supportive care includes rest, hydration, and good nutrition for mild cases of congestion. Adding moisture to the air helps make breathing easier and can be done with a humidifier or by having your dog in the bathroom while you shower.
Wiping your pup’s nose and eyes with a warm, damp cloth to remove discharge is another helpful dog congestion home remedy.
How to Prevent Dog Congestion
Because there are so many potential causes of congestion in dogs, preventing it is not entirely practical. Vaccines are the best form of prevention against viral and bacterial respiratory infections. Limiting your dog’s time in crowded dog facilities like doggie daycares can also help decrease your dog’s risk of getting congested from these infections.
People commonly take supplements that claim to boost immune health, but these are not recommended for dogs. Currently, there’s no scientific evidence that immune-boosting supplements are beneficial for dogs.