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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Have pet health questions? For any medical concerns, we always recommend you consult your veterinarian. However, for non-emergency questions, you can contact Dr. Dym directly using our Ask the Vet form.

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57 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. I am from USA, I was diagnosed of Emphysema (COPD) in 2015 and I have tried all possible means to get cured, i even visited pulmonologist but all to no avail, until i saw a post in a health forum about a herbal doctor from Africa who prepare herbal medicine to cure all kind of diseases including Emphysema, at first i doubted if it was real but decided to give it a try, when i contacted this herbal doctor via his email he sent me the Emphysema herbal medicine through courier service, when i received this herbal medicine, he gave me step by instructions on how to apply it, when i applied it as instructed i was totally cured of this deadly disease within 12-14 days of usage, if you are suffering of this diseases you can as well Contact this great herbal doctor via his email drlusandaherbal(at)gmail(dot)com

  3. Thank you Heather for sharing this information. Please email me his information as I am interested in checking it out. doctordym@gmail.com

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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?

  9. Hello I just adopted a terrier mix from a local Shelter he is 3 years old I was told by the Director of the Shelter as I was signing papers at the last minute after I signed that the dog has kennel cough and was given the antibiotic to give him at home and that the Kennel Cough is not contagious and it will be gone in 6 days. I believed her and took the dog home with the medication. Now we are three days home with him and about 1 hour ago he is having a hard time breathing he cant catch his breath he is wheezing then it stops and he lays back down. I am searching also for a 24 hour vet is this part of the kennel cough?

  10. HI Marie. I disagree with the Director of the shelter that kennel cough is not contagious to other dogs. IN fact, it is, even though other dogs who come in contact, may only get mild or self limiting sneezing or mild coughing symptoms. The wheezing you describe sounds like the “reverse sneeze” syndrome of dogs, which most of time, I dont worry about that. It sounds like a throat spasm. See the you tube videos on reverse sneeze syndrome, to see if that is what your dog is doing. If you are concerned, I would recommend recheck exam with local vet to make sure infection might not be worsening and/or if your pet needs additional prescription medications, change in antibiotic, etc. Most cases of kennel cough do resolve in 10-14 days, even sometimes on its own, if uncomplicated infection

  11. I have a 5 YO Labradoodle who just started having mild, intermittent spasm/stomach contraction/cough, is lethargic and wants to be isolated (highly unusual). He also has foul breath (different from a dental smell). He threw up 1x which was clear and thick. No nose discharge. Doesn’t seem urgent but he definitely isn’t his normal self. Anything to worry about/check out?

  12. Hi Trish. Many possibilities here from simple virus or parasite, to other more serious items like parasites, inflammation of the pancreas, liver, etc. If concerned or signs persist or worsen, see your vet for complete evaluation, blood work and x rays.

  13. I have a 15 yo blue healer. She has been gaining weight over the last 3 years do to sore hips. She’s getting more and more inactive and I have gotten rimadyle for pain/inflamation. We had her treated for heart worms like 6 years ago, however the vet told us (about 2 years ago) that there were signs that she still may have them. I felt she was too old to put her through treatments again. She has been dry hacking and wheezing for about 6 months with it getting worse. I don’t know if there is anything that can help her as I mentioned my question to the vet with no answer. I realize she is very old. I just want to make her comfortable. Her wheezing is getting much worse the last couple of days. I think I read somewhere about a med called geophyl… maybe on this site, that is supposed to help with getting oxygen by opening airways or something to that affect. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help her. BTW, we have to other dogs. One that almost died 3 months ago from infectious tumors contracted just after a spade. So, $3000 later she is finally recovering. Hoping for help with a medication to ease the end of life for this precious one.

  14. HI Lori. It does sound like you love your canine companions quite alot and have taken excellent care of them. A simple heartworm blood test can rule in or out current, active heartworm infection in your dog. Sometimes old heartworm infections from years ago, even if treated, can result in damage that manifests in symptoms like this years later. I believe you are referring to the drug theophylline, which can help dilate airways on occasional dogs, although I have not found it that useful in my 25 years of practice. I have also found combination antihistamine/cortisone/cough suppressant meds like the prescription drug Temaril P also can help many of these dogs. Some benefit from prescription cough suppressants like Hydrocodone, while others need low dose prednisone, which can also help many of these.. In the recent few years, we have explored the use of the prescription drug Viagra(generic Sildenafil) which has worked WONDERS in many dogs with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(known as COPD) and wheezing and coughing. I would explore all of these possibilities with your local vet to see which approach works best

  15. I have a 5week old shish tuz puppy that is wheezing and coughing a little is there anything I can give her .

  16. HI Wendi. She likely has kennel cough, which is could be a bacterial and/or viral infection. If signs persist, best to see vet for antibiotic, etc. You could try over the counter Mucinex cough medicine for children at dose of 1/2 teaspoon per 5 pounds of body weight twice daily

  17. I have a 50 day old beagle. He has this constant cough that happens to him in regular intervals. He’s eating properly and is extremely agile. As he’s too small I want to avoid anti biotics. How should I go about it ?

  18. Hello Harry. It does sound like possible kennel cough complex for your young beagle, which is due to a combination of viruses and/or bacteria. you can try natural herbal supplements like colloidal silver(see internet for dosing based on weight) or the excellent super immune product from http://www.animalessentials.com which has combo of echninacea, olive leaf, etc. If signs persist or worsen, see vet for exam and evaluation

  19. We just came home from a breeder with a boxer puppy. He is all white. The day after we got him home, he began coughing and struggling for air. This occurred when he was excited. Once he would lie down, the symptoms would stop. We took him to the emergency vet, who diagnosed him with kennel cough and started him on an antibiotic and cough suppressant.

    The next day (yesterday) he continued to get worse. The coughing and gasping for air became worse, and he became lethargic. Any time he moves at all, the symptoms occur; he is only quiet when he is completely still. He was also not eating or drinking well. We took him to our vet, and they gave him an stronger cough suppressant, and a steroid injection. Ghey left him on his antibiotic. They said to put him a room with a humidifier.

    He has been home with a humidifier for 9 hours now. He has received two doses of cough suppressant as well as his regular dose of antibiotic. He does not seem to be getting better, even with the steroid injection.

    Are we missing something? Is it possible we are treating the wrong thing? Please help, this is killing my wife and I

  20. Coco is our 9 year old Yorkie Maltese mix. Within the last few days she has a rapid rate of breathing even when relaxing (48 bpm). She is eating regularly. She also coughs up a clear type of mucus after drinking water on a fairly regular basis. She does not have any prior history of illness or disease. Any ideas would help…

  21. Hi. I have a nine year old chocolate lab. He started acting lethargic, not eating or drinking, and wheezing two days ago. Then yesterday he became active again, ate and drank, and seemed fine. Today the symptoms came back. Not sure what would cause these symptoms to come and go. Any idea?

  22. Even in dogs, A CT scan in August of 2009 verified that I had Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. My first symptoms were cough and shortness of breath. I was on prednisone and inhalers. My blood oxygen level was 50 and i was extremely short of breath, i was barely able to breath. I went through cardio pulmonary rehab, It helped but not too long before all the severe symptoms returned. December last year, a family friend told us about Rich Herbs Foundation and their successful lungs disease treatments, we visited their website w w w. r i c h h e r b s f o u n d a t i o n. c o m and ordered their IPF herbal treatment, i am happy to report this treatment effectively reversed my Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and symptoms. I am back on my feet, i walk daily now and has made me able to walk my two dogs again without shortness of breath or sudden loss of energy. My activity level is up again.

  23. I have a chihuahua she is about 12 years old 12 and 13 years old she’s wheezing when she breathes she coughs like she’s got something stuck in her throat and she’s only like around 1 and 1/2 lb to 2 lb she’s lost a lot of her teeth and your tongue hangs out of her mouth and she has a runny nose

  24. HI Bryson. Sorry to hear about your boxer puppy. All white pure breed dogs sometimes have immune deficiencies and need extra attention and care and are also often sensitive to drugs, vaccinations, etc. I would return to vet and get chest x rays, as well as possibly additional antibiotics.

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