If you have asthma, you know how scary it can be. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says 26 million Americans suffer from this respiratory disease, but there’s no mention of dogs. So, can dogs have asthma? The answer is: sort of, but not really. We know canines can have allergies. But asthma is different. It’s the chronic inflammation or swelling of airways, to and from the lungs, which makes breathing more difficult. We asked Dr. Zac Pilossoph, consulting veterinarian at Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, to tell us more about asthma in dogs
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Meet the Expert
Dr. Zac Pilossoph is the consulting veterinarian at Healthy Paws Pet Insurance who previously helped us determine whether dogs can be depressed (yes) and what to do about it (extra cuddles and playtime).
Can Dogs Have Asthma?
Like we said, dogs don’t really have asthma the way humans do. “It is possible for dogs to get an inflammatory bronchial airway disease,” Dr. Pilossoph told us. “But dogs rarely experience any disease that resembles human asthma.”
Dogs definitely can contract other respiratory infections. Dr. Pilossoph said the common ones are tracheobronchitis (kennel cough), pneumonia and collapsing large airway syndrome (tracheal collapse), which occurs more frequently in toy and small breeds.
The ASPCA says asthma-like symptoms in dogs typically result from allergic reactions. Unlike human asthma patients, who have a diagnosable disease, dogs with similar symptoms have likely been exposed to irritants that caused their airways to constrict or build-up with mucus. Small breeds and older dogs are at a greater risk for these types of ailments.
It’s also worth noting brachycephalic breeds like French Bulldogs and Boxers are known for having breathing issues unrelated to asthma. In their cases, short snouts can mean difficulty breathing and panting. Since panting is a dog’s go-to method for keeping cool on hot days, brachycephalic dogs are at greater risk of overheating. This definitely isn’t asthma, but it is a breathing issue dog parents should be aware of.
Signs of Asthma in Dogs
“In the rare event that a dog has asthma, they would experience shortness of breath, increased respiratory rate, increased breathing effort and wheezing,” Dr. Pilossoph said. It’s also wise to take note if your dog is coughing more than usual or producing lots of mucus. Again, this could be a sign of an allergic reaction affecting the airways.
Gums and tongues that turn gray or blue are also big indicators your dog isn’t getting enough oxygen. Whether they’re having an asthma attack or are choking on something, this requires immediate attention.
Finally, any drastic change in energy levels or appetite must be investigated. Dogs who can’t breathe properly or are having allergic reactions may become lethargic or begin turning their nose up at food.
How Is Asthma Diagnosed in Dogs
Vets are the only people who can diagnose asthma in dogs. Dr. Pilossoph said vets can run several tests to see if asthma is the culprit. These tests could include chest radiographs and bloodwork. They may also need to sample your dog’s airway or do a more in-depth analysis to see what’s up.
How to Treat Asthma in Dogs
Yes, they make inhalers for dogs. Depending on your pup’s diagnosis, you may need to use one to keep their asthma under control. If breathing problems are caused by irritants in the air or other products, an inhaler may not be the first thing your vet prescribes. Instead, you may need to resort to household and dietary changes to ensure allergies don’t lead to asthma-like attacks.
Don’t fret too much about asthma attacks, as they are very rare in dogs, according to Dr. Pilossoph. If you want to be extra cautious, the ASPCA lists a bunch of things dog parents can do to decrease the chances of a doggy asthma attack. Many of these are similar to precautions taken with kids and adults who suffer from asthma. All of them are generally healthy practices for overall well-being.
How to Avoid Asthma Attacks in Dogs
“Since any airway crisis is considered a medical emergency, in almost every case, my recommendation is to bring your pet to an emergency room for immediate triage evaluation,” Dr. Pilossoph added.
At the end of the day, asthma is rare in canines, but possible. Always take notes on your pup’s condition and check with your vet for an official diagnosis.