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Dyspnea (Trouble Breathing) in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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The causes of respiratory difficulty can be classified as follows:

  • Infections. Pneumonia or infection of the lung can lead to symptoms that are similar to those of dyspnea. Heartworm disease, a parasitic infection of the heart and blood vessels of the lung, must be excluded as a possible diagnosis. This infection can lead to lung injury as well as dyspnea.

  • Inflammatory diseases of the lungs and airways such as chronic bronchitis. This is similar to a smoker's cough. The cause of most canine bronchitis is not known but treatment is different than for other causes of dyspnea.

  • Lesions causing airway obstruction or compression

  • Trauma

  • Diseases of the lung tissue. These include edema, hemorrhage, pneumonia, cancer and fibrosis.

  • Tumors of the mediastinum, which is the area between the left and right lungs. These tumors can cause symptoms that resemble those of dyspnea.

  • Fluid surrounding the lungs (pleural effusion). When fluid accumulates within the chest cavity, it can cause shortness of breath. Pleural effusion is a common problem in dogs.

  • Diseases of the heart and blood vessels of the lungs.

  • Other causes of altered respiration include: metabolic diseases, neurologic disease, steroid or drug (for example, phenobarbital) administration, ingested toxins and drug reactions.

    A detailed list of potential causes of dyspnea include:

    Mechanical Disorders Causing Airway Obstruction

  • Obstructed nostrils or nasal cavity                                        

  • Pharyngeal (throat) disorder, such as post-nasal drip, overlong soft palate, pharyngeal polyps (cysts)

  • Hair, hairballs or foreign bodies

  • Laryngeal (voice box) diseases, including paralysis; granuloma, polyp or tumor; trauma; edema (abnormal accumulation of fluid in tissues)

  • Aspiration of liquid or solid into the lungs

  • Tracheal (windpipe) diseases. Collapse or hypoplasia (incomplete development of trachea), foreign body, trauma/hematoma (blood clot), compression from thyroid mass lesion

  • Primary bronchial collapse (collapse of airways)

  • Bronchial compression from hilar lymphadenopathy

  • Bronchial foreign body

  • Trauma to the bronchopulmonary tree

    Non-infectious Inflammatory Causes

  • Bronchitis. Idiopathic (occurring without known cause), allergic

  • Bronchiectasis, which is chronic dilatation of the bronchi and bronchioles with secondary infection

  • Pulmonary granulomatosis, which is a collection of tumor-like masses in the lungs

  • Pulmonary infiltrates (foreign bodies in the lungs) with eosinophilia (collection of specific white blood cells in the blood)

  • Inhalation of noxious gases or smoke

  • Alveolitis (inflammation of the walls of the alveoli in the lungs) leading to pulmonary fibrosis

    Infectious Causes of Respiratory or Thoracic Disease

  • Viral, including infectious tracheobronchitis, viral pneumonia

  • Rickettsial infections, which is a type of parasite

  • Bacterial infections, including pharyngitis (infection of the voice box), tonsillitis (infection of the tonsils), bronchitis (infection of the breathing tubes/airways), pneumonia, lung abscess (growth, cysts and tumors)

  • Mycoplasma pneumonia

  • Toxoplasmosis, which is a contagious disease caused by a parasite

  • Systemic mycosis, which is any disease caused by fungi, including histoplasmosis, blastomycosis and coccidioidomycosis

  • Osleri osleri, including nematodes and traveling parasites

  • Lungworms

  • Larval migrans, which is migration of parasites through the lung

  • Dirofilariasis, which is infection with heartworms

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