trouble breathing in dogs

Dyspnea (Trouble Breathing) in Dogs

Overview of Dyspnea (Trouble Breathing) in Dogs

Respiratory distress, often called dyspnea, is labored, difficult breathing or shortness of breath that can occur at any time during the breathing process, during inspiration (breathing in) or expiration (breathing out). When your dog has trouble breathing, he may not be able to get enough oxygen to his tissues. Additionally, if he has heart failure, he may not be able to pump sufficient blood to his muscles and other tissues. Dyspnea is often associated with accumulation of fluid (edema) in the lungs or the chest cavity (pleural effusion). This fluid can lead to shortness of breath and coughing.


What to Watch For

Diagnosis of Dyspnea in Dogs

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

Treatment of Dyspnea in Dogs

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:

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:

In-depth Information of Trouble Breathing in Dogs

The causes of respiratory difficulty can be classified as follows:

Mechanical Disorders Causing Airway Obstruction

Non-infectious Inflammatory Causes

Infectious Causes of Respiratory or Thoracic Disease

Other Causes to Trouble Breathing in Dogs

Lung Disorders

Tumors and Mass Lesions

Cardiac and Vascular Diseases

Diseases of the Mediastinum and of the Pleural Space

A complete medical history and physical examination should be performed by your veterinarian. These diagnostic tests depend on the duration of signs, presence of other abnormalities, and what is found on the physical examination. They may include:

Diagnosis In-depth

Diagnostic tests to determine why a dog may have trouble breathing may include:

Definitive therapy is always dependent on establishment of a diagnosis. Since there are numerous potential causes of dyspnea, it is necessary to identify a specific cause to provide optimal therapy. Goals in therapy may include improving heart function, preventing fluid accumulation, preventing further deterioration of the heart muscle and antagonizing chemicals and hormones produced in excessive quantities in dyspnea. Rarely is it possible to cure heart disease.

The most important causes of dyspnea in dogs are valve degeneration and cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease). Definitive treatment likely would require valve replacement (which is rarely done in dogs) or heart transplantation (not done currently).

Dyspnea caused by fluid accumulation in the sac around the heart (pericardial effusion) is not treated by drugs but instead requires drainage of the fluid or removal of a portion of the pericardial membrane. Congenital (present at birth) heart defects should be referred to a specialist for management.

Animals with respiratory distress must be handled with care because struggling can result in respiratory arrest.

Treatment In-depth

Initial treatments may include: