You may be familiar with asthma, have it yourself or know someone who has asthma. This a very common health issue in humans, but can dogs get asthma? That’s a question many pet parents about their canine companions. In this article, we’ll take a look at what asthma is, what causes it, and if dogs can have asthma. Let’s get started!
What is asthma?
Asthma is a disease of the lungs, which is caused by inflamed airways. The inflammation works to narrow the airways, resulting in difficulty breathing. This is a serious, sometimes life-threatening condition. Asthma is a life-long lunch disease; however, with proper treatment, it’s possible to have a long, happy life.
Allergic reactions to airborne allergens such as pollen, dust mites, and other pollens can trigger asthma attacks. Asthma can also be triggered by other factors such as exercise, stress, infections, food allergies, or contact with other animals.
The symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. The severity of the condition can vary from mild to severe. Asthma is diagnosed based on a thorough medical history and a physical examination.
In dogs, persistent cough, excessive panting, and other symptoms should always be investigated by a veterinarian. The vet will perform an examination to determine the severity of the condition and to rule out other possible causes of asthma.
Can Dogs Get Asthma?
Yes, dogs can develop asthma just like their pet parents; however, this medical serious condition is not as common in dogs as it is in humans. Your pet’s condition may be more severe or it may not progress as quickly.
Bacterial infections, viruses, allergies, parasites, and inhalant irritants are all possible causes of asthma in dogs. However, dogs are generally more susceptible to bacterial infections and allergic reactions than humans. Cleaning products, pesticides, and medications may cause your dog to have an asthma attack. However, this is a rare occurrence.
In most cases, asthma in dogs is due to an underlying health condition that triggers the onset of the disease. It is possible for your dog to have asthma even if he or she does not have any of these underlying conditions.
Loss of appetite, weight loss, and increased panting are the most common symptoms of asthma in dogs. Similar symptoms are caused by other lung conditions, but the lack of appetite is a telltale sign of asthma.
The airway muscles in your dog’s lungs can become weak and swollen, causing your pet to gasp for air. This may be accompanied by coughing and wheezing.
The type of asthmatic dog will depend on the severity of the condition. Dogs with mild or moderate asthma may have some signs but are not severely affected by their condition. In contrast, dogs with severe asthma will have many of the symptoms described above.
Lack of oxygen to the lungs may lead to death. This can occur in as little as two hours, so your pet must be taken to the veterinarian immediately if you notice symptoms.
What Causes Dog Asthma?
A dog’s asthma can be triggered when he’s exposed to allergens and irritants. Common asthma triggers include:
Cigarette, pipes, and e-cigarette smoke
- Dry air
- Air Pollution
- Dust from cat litter
- Smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces
- Mold spores
- Cat dander
- Household cleaners
- Air fresheners
- Airborne fertilizers or pesticides
These triggers are pretty much the same as asthma triggers in humans. The action of asthma in the lungs causes excessive mucus and phlegm, which make it more difficult to breathe. During an asthma attack, the lungs are not able to expel the air already inside, which makes it more difficult to breathe in more air. If you don’t have asthma, you can experience how it feels. Find a straw that’s used for drinking. Put the straw to your mouth and inhale. That’s how normal breathing feels. Now, put your finger partially over the end of the straw and inhale. This is how a moderate attack can feel. Lastly, put your finger completely over the end of the straw and breathe in. This is how a severe asthma attack can feel. It can be a frightening experience, to say the least. Asthma attacks can be mild, moderate or severe. A severe asthma attack is life-threatening, and your dog will need to see the vet immediately.
Symptoms and Common Signs of Asthma in Dogs
Canine asthma has many of the same symptoms as the human version. Having said that, if your fur baby’s having an asthma attack, the symptoms will be very noticeable. A dog with asthma symptoms may display the following:
- Long, heavy panting (that’s more than normal)
- Breathing with a wide mouth—trying to take in air
- Extreme expansion and contraction of chest muscles
- Coughing and hacking
- Wheezing (sounds like crackling in the lungs)
- Out of breath
- Loss of energy or appetite
- Severe asthma attacks: blue or pale gums (this is a sign your dog is suffering a life-threatening asthma attack)
You’ll notice your fur baby is having difficulty breathing and he may seem anxious or panicked, and hard to calm down. During the early signs of an asthma attack, you may notice your fur baby’s coughing more than normal. You may even hear him wheezing. Your dog may also be restless and anxious. As the asthma worsens, you’ll notice your pup is breathing harder and is obviously having a hard time breathing. A severe asthma attack, as noted earlier, is a life-threatening situation. Your precious canine companion may breathe with his mouth wide open, wheeze more, and you may also notice that his chest muscles are expanding and contracting very hard. Your pup’s gums may also become pale or blue, this is due to not getting enough oxygen into his system. In this case, your dog will need to see the vet immediately for treatment, or he could die.
Diagnosis of Asthma in Dogs
If you suspect your fur baby may asthma, it’s time to see the vet. The vet will ask about the time symptoms first began, the symptoms your dog has displayed, and if you know what may have triggered the asthma attack. One note—if possible, it might also be helpful to take a video of your pup when he’s having trouble breathing. This may also help the vet with a diagnosis. Next, the vet will do physical exam, and will listen to your canine companion’s breathing. The vet may also order additional tests, including x-rays. X-rays will show if your dog has lung disease, or if heart worms could be the cause of his asthma.
In addition to heart worms, the vet may also check to see if your dog:
- Has an infection (such as kennel cough)
- Has parasites
- Chronic bronchitis (which is slightly different than asthma)
- Heart problems
- Tracheal collapse
- A foreign object stuck in his throat
If allergies are suspected, then the vet may also want to perform allergy testing to find your dog’s exact triggers.
Dog Asthma Attack Treatment
There are several different treatments available to dogs with asthma. Some may require the vet to administer the treatment, while others you can do at home.
- Dog asthma inhaler medications: these are bronchodilators that help to open the airways and reduce inflammation, they include aminophylline, terbutaline or theophylline.
- Steroids: include prednisone, prednisolone or dexamethasone.
- Injections: may be used during a more severe asthma attack—the vet usually will give your dog epinephrine, which immediately works to reduce swelling in a dog’s lungs.
- Supplemental oxygen therapy: can help during an asthma attack, as it will give your canine companion the oxygen he needs during an attack. The additional oxygen may help him calm down and not over breathe.
If your dog has allergies, he will need to avoid all exposure to his asthma and allergy triggers. Your vet may also prescribe antihistamines including diphenhydramine, loratadine or Termaril-P (which contains an antihistamine and a steroid). Mild attacks can treated at home. Your vet will instruct you in the use of your dog’s medication. Some medication is given orally, while inhaled medications are given through nebulizer. A nebulizer is a medical device that changes liquid medication into a mist that can be easily inhaled. Nebulizers are a great way to get the inhaled medication quickly into your dog’s lungs. They also help cut down on side effects of medications that are ingested, such as prednisone. Prednisone can cause a number of side effects including:
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Excessive drinking & urination
- Make a dog more susceptible to infections
- Muscle loss
Some dogs may not take well to using the nebulizer, while others will be just fine. If you have trouble giving your fur baby nebulizer treatments, then these can be done at the vet’s. Dogs that don’t tolerate a nebulizer may be able to be trained to feel more comfortable with the treatment.
Treatment of Severe Asthma Attacks in Dogs
A severe asthma attack in your fur baby must be treated immediately. You’ll need to get him to the vet, where the vet will have treatments that can intervene and stop the attack. This is serious, life-threatening situation. The vet may need to hospitalize your fur baby until he’s feeling better. Treatment may include supplemental oxygen, to ease the dog’s breathing. The vet may also put an IV on your pup to deliver medications more quickly. IV medications may include bronchodilators and/or steroids. Fluids may also help if your dog has stopped eating or drinking. Your fur baby may also require antihistamines if his asthma was triggered by allergies. A nebulizer may also be used to deliver asthma medications quickly to your dog’s lungs.
Canine Asthma Requires Life-long Treatment
Once your dog has been diagnosed with allergies, he will require treatment for the rest of his life. There’s currently no cure for asthma in humans or dogs.
How To Help Dog with Asthma
Along with giving your fur baby medication, there are additional steps you can take to prevent his asthma attacks. You can take these steps to minimize your canine companion’s asthma trouble:
1). Stop smoking or vaping near him
2). Use a HEPA air filter in your furnace and/or use a room air purifier (avoid those that create ozone, as ozone will worsen your dog’s asthma)
3). Try to use a dust-free cat litter if your dog is sensitive to your cat’s litter
4). Remove carpets from your home, and replace them with hard flooring
5). Wash your fur baby’s bedding at least once a week (wash in hot water)
6). Wipe your dog with baby wipes after he’s been outside, as this can help remove any pollen and other outdoor allergens
7). Avoid using your fireplace or wood stove
8). Don’t burn incense or candles, avoid using air fresheners, perfumes
9). If your dog sleeps with you, it can help to have dust- and mite-proof mattress and pillow covers
10). Make the switch to natural fertilizers and pesticides, and avoid using these in your dog’s part of the yard
11). Bathe your fur baby regularly to move allergens
12). Vacuum and dust your home at least weekly to remove dust and dust mites
While these steps may seem excessive or drastic, they may help to reduce your fur baby’s asthma triggers and avoid asthma attacks. The goal is complete avoidance of his asthma triggers. In addition to trigger avoidance, you can ask the vet to teach you how to use a nebulizer. This isn’t difficult, but the vet will have some good advice and guidance on the use of this medical device.
Alternative Treatments for Canine Asthma
In addition to medical treatment of canine asthma, there are some alternative therapies that may help. Caution is needed if you’re thinking about using essential oils for dog asthma. Essential oils may ease some dog’s asthma; however, if your fur baby is sensitive to strong perfumes and odors, it’s best to avoid using essential orders. Before using alternative treatments on your dog, ask the vet if these could be beneficial or harmful. Not all treatments, such as essential oils, are good for your fur baby, depending on his triggers.
Alternative treatments for canine asthma include:
- Quercetin: a flavonoid found in the peels of fruits and vegetables, which has antioxidant properties. This is considered a natural antihistamine and an anti-inflammatory.
- Inula helenium: this is an herb that has been used since ancient times to treat asthma. The herb has a soothing effect, calming effect. It is also used to treat bronchitis and coughs.
- Mullein & licorice root: both of these herbs are anti-inflammatories and work to soothe coughing.
- Using a humidifier: this can help to loosen mucus, which makes it easier for your dog to cough out. The best is a cold-moisture humidifier; however, if your dog has asthma attacks caused by humid weather, then avoid using a humidifier, unless recommended by your vet.
Prognosis for Dogs with Asthma
Dogs diagnosed with asthma have a very good prognosis. Asthma is rarely life-threatening (in most dogs), and there are medications that your fur baby will need to take for the rest of his life. Even so, your dog has an excellent chance of living a long, happy life, in spite of asthma.