Respiratory Emergencies (Wheezing or Coughing) in Dogs

Some respiratory conditions can be serious

Many dogs can display respiratory symptoms ranging from:

  • The common kennel cough
  • Signs of increased yellow or green eye or nasal discharge
  • Varying degrees or coughing or wheezing.

The sound of the cough itself can vary. For coughs similar to the sound of a goose honking, this is most typical of either kennel cough or an anatomic or inflammatory problem of the airways. Examples of anatomic problems are often seen with collapsing trachea syndrome common in toy breeds such as Pomeranians or Yorkshire Terriers.

In other cases, the cough can be from an allergic/inflammatory condition such as chronic allergic airway disease or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). For moist/wet sounding coughs, these can be seen in cases of pneumonia, heart failure secondary to mitral valve disease, or a heart disease called cardiomyopathy.

If the pet is still active, eating, and has a pink tongue and gums, then it is likely not an emergency. However, if a dog shows any of the below symptoms, then immediate emergency veterinary evaluation and care is required so that a proper diagnosis and treatment plan is started.

If your pet displays the below respiratory symptoms, seek veterinary care immediately:

  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Is wheezing
  • Has an accelerated rate of breathing (during rest)
  • Shows blueish gums/tongue

Some of the more severely affected pets may need oxygen initially to stabilize them before X-rays, blood work, and a more thorough complete respiratory or cardiac workup is performed. It’s for this reason that having natural calming agents on hand can help ease the anxiety and stress the pet is under until being seen by a veterinarian.

With common and seemingly uncomplicated kennel cough signs, pet owners can try remedies like Echinacea or Vetri-DMG to boost the immune system. If the cough worsens or the pet stops eating, a full veterinary exam is needed and antibiotic therapy will likely be required.

If your pet is diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory respiratory ailment or collapsing trachea, sometimes prescriptions for pet medications such as Theophylline and Temaril-P are needed on a long term basis and can be purchased from 1800PetMeds with a written prescription from your veterinarian.

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34 Comments

  1. Pingback: PetMeds®: PetMeds®: Chronic Coughing or Gagging in Dogs and Cats | 1800PetMeds Blog

  2. Hi: My german shepard is outdoors alot during the day and inside at night; most evenings and early mornings she will begin wheezing for 1 or up to 3 minutes (what I call an inner sneezing…..Is this due to allergies while romping in the woods?? She is a year old and has had all her shots and spade;bloodwork was also performed and all came back negative. Any ideas on what the cause is and also what I might do to help her through the night???

  3. Is there something I can give her to help relieve the wheezing??/

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianOctober 14, 2010 at 11:12 pm · Reply

      First should have a diagnosis of why wheezing. If allergies antihistamines and/or low dose cortisone can be helpful. IF infections, antibiotics needed. If due to airway anatomic issue, than meds to dilate airways like theophylline can help., Vet check is needed to sort these out.

  4. My kitten is very sick it started with a cold and now has tun into infection.she is coughing and mucus is comming out her nose and mouth.I dont have any money,is their something you can reccomend for me Please . Sincerly TriciaBeals

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 10, 2010 at 8:28 pm · Reply

      Best of course to take to vet. You can try immune boosters like DMG liquid from 1800petmeds. Also from local health food store vitamin C in form of ester C at dose of 250 mg twice daily as well as pediatric echinacea and goldenseal. Use infant dose. Also consider transfer factor as supplement from http://www.tfpets.com Putting her in steamy bathroom a few times daily for 10 minutes at a time can help loosen up secretions. Good luck. Not easy situation.

    • Hi Tricia,
      Try to apply for Care Credit. If approved, find a vet that accepts it. Care Credit is a specific credit care for use at Vets, and dentist for people. If approved they give you your card number right then and there and the vet will accept that as payment.
      Also Care Credit has 6 months same as cash.
      Goo Luck

  5. Our 11 month old poodle chihuahua terrier mix got into wild rhubarb plant burrs, stuck onto her feet, she attempted to bite them off, I believe. This was approx. 1-2 weeks ago. She has since developed a cough/wheeze when excited. Any correlation? Anything we should do for her?

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianNovember 12, 2012 at 6:49 pm · Reply

      I dont think the cough/wheeze has anything to do with burrs. If symptoms persist, see vet for exam and evaqluation.

  6. My elderly beagle is coughing and it is productive of thick white phlem. This occurs at rest or with activity. Any ideas what this could be? I notice mild dysnea at times with occasional wheezing.

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 27, 2013 at 11:09 pm · Reply

      Hi Betty. Could be inhalent/allergic airway disease like collapsing trachea, COPD, as well as parasites like heartworms. In this breed leaky mitral valves may also cause the coughing. Full vet exam and chest x rays, etc are needed here for proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

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  8. We adopted a 3 month old rotti last week and was told he had an upper respitory infection and had been on antibiotics for 14 days. When he brought him home, he was still playful, eating, and rarely coughing but still had a runny nose and was slightly lethargic. The day after we brought him to the vet, he started to become worse. He is wheezing non-stop, very lethargic, and has discharge coming out of his nose. The vet gave us an antibiotic and told us not tow worry since he is still eating. Today (2 days after the first vet visit) he has taken 3 antibiotics and is wheezing more than ever, sounds like he has stuff in his chest, and is no longer eating. We called the vet and he said to give the antibiotics time to work. I am very concerned. Should I just keep waiting?

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianFebruary 16, 2015 at 4:02 pm · Reply

      Best to have proper recheck exam and evaluation, as may need different antibiotic, and possibly checked for pneumonia with chest x rays.

  9. My pomeranian has a coughing, weezing and sneezing and he also has bad breath. Can I give him anything over the counter. Or should he go see a vet. He has had this for a couple of months now.

  10. I have a beagle puppy that wheezes mostly while he is eating and sleeping. Is there anything I can do over the counter? He is very playful all day long, and eats very good. But he has had the wheeze the entire 4 weeks we’ve had him. It doesn’t seem to bother him, but it bothers me. I plan to make a vet visit, but was hoping I could do something over the counter first.

  11. my dog went missing for a few days, it was chilly but did not freeze during this time however it did rain, he typically stays outside during the day and comes in around dark. I did not notice any issues when we found him a few days ago but i noticed a cough today when i brought him in with a white foam in his mouth and very bad breath, water does seem to help and when he begins coughing he will get water and be mostly fine, i also noticed he is breathing faster than normal. my nearest vet is an hour from my house so if it is just a cold i dont want to drive him all that way

  12. Hi, my dog Madis is having problems but I’m not sure if it’s related to this. She currently is having trouble breathing so she’s breathing heavily and at times wheezing and gagging. She’s lost a lot of energy and barely eating. We took her to the vet last week and they did a checkup, heart worm test, blood work, and X-rays. All the vet said was that her lungs are functioning abnormally and they prescribed some antibiotics to be taken every 12 hrs. Is there anything else you would suggest?

    • if she is no better than I would return to vet and ask about specific diagnosis other than infection, such as chronic airway disease, or even heart issues. Sounds like accurate diagnosis needed here before further recommendations can be made

  13. I have a Bassett/Sheltie mix she’s 1 1/2 ever since she was little she had a cough after she would drink some water.well here lately she’s been doing this cough more and more.today she woke me up early and she got sick like 3 or 4 times and it was all white/yellow.shes been laying around not as active as she usually is.she has had all her shot and been dewormed but she has been around my moms dogs.do you think maybe she could of got something from them?her dogs are all up to date on shots also but I just have no clue what could be going on.she has a vet appointment in a week but just wanted to see what you think.

  14. Many possibilities of coughing including kennel cough infection, simple virus, parasite, allergy, collapsing trachea, etc just to name a few. Best to have vet exam and evaluation when you can for proper diagnosis and treatment plan

  15. hi i have an 9 yr old pitty boxer who all the sudden developed a dry cough and hacking… nothing comes up when she hacks… we live in Arizona..and she outside a lot.loves to sun in the dirt… what should i do to help her.

  16. You need to have a vet exam and evaluation if cough persists, as many causes from simple infection or parasite, to something more complex such as inflammatory airway disease, heart issue, etc.

  17. WE HAVE A 13 1/2 YR OLD CHICHIUAUA, 8 LBS., LIVE IN MICHIGAN’S UPPER PENINSULA. HE JUST HAD A FULL WORK UP, XRAYS, HEARTWORM AND LIME DISEASE CHECK. TREACHEA IS OPEN. ALL ORGANS VERY GOOD. NO DIABETES. HE TAKES 7 1/2 MG OF PHENOBARBITAL 2 X A DAY FOR MILD SEIZURE CONDITION. HASNT HAD A SEIZURE FOR LAST 2 YRS. MAIN REASON FOR VET VISIT IS HE WAS VERY LETHARGIC FOR A FULL 12 HR PERIOD. I NOTICED HE HAD A BLUISH TONGUE AND IMMEDIATELY CALLED OUR VET, THUS THE WORK UP. HE COULDN’T PIN POINT THE ISSUE. WAS EATING PURINA LIGHT AND HEALTHY AND JUST SWITCHED TO EUKANUBA. HE HAS HAD PROBLEMS SNORTING AND TRYING TO GET AIR INTO HIS LUNGS OFF AND ON FOR A FEW YEARS. CAN THIS BE AN ALLERGY TO HIS FOOD? WHEN HE RESTS I OFTEN HEAR A RATTLING SOUND AND SOMETIMES STOPS BREATHING WHICH IS SCARY TO ME. HE LIKES HIS HEAD ELEVATED ON A LITTLE PILLOW. WHAT MORE CAN I DO.? WHAT WOULD BE THE BEST FOOD FOR HIM DO YOU THINK?

    • Sounds like complex question, and you have indeed had good workup. If your vet is stumped, then sounds like you need a referral to vet internal medicine specialist in your area to review the workup and see if any diagnoses and/or needed testing missed. You can also ask your vet to have x rays sent out to board certified radiologist, which many vets have access to ie such as Idex Laboratories, etc to get expert opinion on this. I doubt simple allergy to food.

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  19. I have a 5 year old, spayed Border Collie mix who wheezes, is always scratching and chewing herself and most days has a clear eye discharge. She also sneezes frequently. She has had these symptoms since she was a newborn. She has all her shots, including for kennel cough. She is on a monthly flea/tick preventative and I give her Benadryl everyday, which is the second allergy med I’ve tried for her. What is going on and why aren’t the allergy meds seeming to benefit her?

    • Hi Rachel. she likely needs to be treated with stronger allergy meds such as low dose prednisone, cyclosporine(known as atopica) or even the newer drug known as Apoquel, which you can read about as a steroid alternative for allergies. Most of time dogs have inhalent/contact allergies to molds, trees, dander, house dust mites, pollens, etc which is called atopy or what I call doggie hayfever. I would also add fatty acid to meals such as nordic naturals pet omega 3 from 1800petmeds.

  20. Thanks! I will check into the products you recommended and go back to my vet armed with this information. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  21. Hi there, my five year old toy poodle has had a wheezing type cough going on for the past week or so (it has happened before in the past but did not continue as long as it has now). She has also become more fatigued and lethargic, she still likes to play but is much more tired than usual. Could it have been something she ate? I don’t believe it would be allergies as we don’t smoke, vacuum weekly, and she only goes outside to potty. Thank you!

  22. My dog wheezes every once in a while but I can never figure out why. She only does it for about a minute but it still worries me. She stays inside most of the day (we live in an apartment) is there anything I can do to help her?

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