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Dyspnea (Trouble Breathing) in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Diagnosis

Diagnostic tests are needed to determine why your pet is having trouble breathing. Tests that may be performed include:

  • A complete medical history and physical examination with emphasis on stethoscope examination (auscultation) of the heart and lungs

  • A chest radiograph (X-ray)

  • Measurement of blood pressure

  • An electrocardiogram (EKG)

  • Ultrasound examination of the heart (echocardiogram)

  • Laboratory (blood) tests

    Treatment

    The treatment for dyspnea depends upon the underlying cause. Often, treatment is initiated to help stabilize your pet and allow him to breath easier while tests are being performed to determine the underlying cause. This treatment may include:

  • Hospitalization with administration of oxygen

  • Minimizing stress

  • Thoracentesis, which is drainage of fluid that has accumulated around the lungs (pleural effusion) with a needle

  • Diuretics. A "water-pill" such as the drug furosemide (Lasix®) or spironolactone may be administered or prescribed

  • Combination drug therapy. If heart failure is suspected, treatment with oxygen, a diuretic such as Lasix, and nitroglycerine ointment is often initiated

  • The drug digoxin (Lanoxin®, Cardoxin®) may be prescribed in some situations

    Home Care

    Dyspnea is usually an emergency. See your veterinarian immediately. When you first note that your pet is having trouble breathing, note his general activity, exercise capacity and interest in the family activities. Keep a record of your pet's appetite, ability to breathe comfortably (or not), and note the presence of any symptoms such as coughing or severe tiring.

    Optimal treatment for dyspnea requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical and may include the following:

  • Never withhold water, even if your pet urinates more than normal, unless specifically instructed to do so.

  • Administer all veterinary prescribed medication as directed and be certain to alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your pet.

  • Schedule regular examinations with your veterinarian. This will include an interview regarding your pet's clinical symptoms and quality of life. Be prepared to answer questions about your pet's activity, appetite, ability to sleep comfortably, breathing rate and effort, coughing, exercise tolerance and overall quality of life.

  • Bring your medications with you to show your veterinarian. Dosing is critical for heart medication. If your pet is on digoxin, your veterinarian may want to measure levels of that drug in the blood to make sure that the appropriate amount is being administered.

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