Telltale signs of asthma in a dog are not unlike those found in humans. A dog that seems to be wheezing, coughing and having difficulty breathing may be suffering of an obstruction in its airways, causing an asthma attack. People may be surprised to know that just like humans, dogs can develop asthma, and more often than some may think.

Asthma, also called Bronchial Asthma, is likely caused by a reaction to an allergen or irritant in the dog’s environment. The dog inhales this trigger which then causes the bronchi to go into spasms and fill up with mucous. The airways become inflamed and constricted, making breathing hard for the dog, thus an asthma attack ensues.

Although asthma has no cure, it can easily be treated and managed with proper medications and veterinarian care. If you suspect your dog may have asthma, it is important to get it tested as soon as possible so it doesn’t end up suffering from complications due to respiratory distress. It is unlikely for the dog to die from asthma, but if complications are allowed to occur, treatment becomes much more involved and difficult.

As mentioned, in most causes an asthma attack in dogs is triggered by irritants or allergies of some sort. These irritants or allergens could include smoke (fireplace or cigarette), dust mites, mold, grasses, particular plants/bushes, air pollution, pollens, fertilizers, paint, and household chemicals (shampoos, carpet cleaners, household cleaners, soaps, air purifying sprays). The dog breathes in these irritants or allergens and breathing becomes difficult. This is because the trigger(s) has caused the bronchi to spasm and start to excrete mucus, which in turn creates constriction and inflammation in the lungs.

In order to completely prevent an asthma attack from occurring, owners will need to identify and remove the trigger(s) or at least try to avoid things that may be a trigger(s). Another option, if removing the trigger isn’t possible, is to administer medication that is meant to manage the severity of the attack.

For a dog with Asthma, symptoms may include:

  • panting;
  • coughing;
  • respiratory distress;
  • wheezing;
  • open-mouth breathing;
  • blue-coloured gums;
  • lethargy;
  • weight loss;
  • lack or appetite or lack of thirst; and
  • exercise intolerance.

Dogs at Risk
In terms of asthma, those dogs that are often exposed to common irritants and allergens are more likely to develop and suffer from asthma. Small breed, older dogs of either gender are also more likely to suffer from the condition.

Testing and Diagnosis
The veterinarian will often begin with blood work and a routine physical when determining if a dog has asthma. The symptoms of heartworm are similar to that of asthma, so it is important to rule this disease out right away. The next step in diagnosing is often to perform chest X-rays to give a clear picture of what’s happening in the dog’s airways and also rule out other types of infection.

When visiting the vet it is also helpful to have as much information as possible about the dog’s health. Keeping track of how often and when it seems to be coughing will help the veterinarian determine what the triggers may be and how to properly treat the asthma. Because avoiding triggers is key in prevention, owners will want to pay close attention to how the dog reacts to its environment.

Treatment and Prognosis
There are a number of treatment options, with the goal of managing the condition and making breathing easier for the animal. The severity of the asthma will be what determines the type of treatment. Asthma doesn’t have a cure, but treatments will make a huge difference.

Some of the treatments available include:

  • antihistamines, or allergy medicine, which is ideal in dogs whose trigger happens to be allergies;
  • oxygen to help the dog recover from the asthma attack quicker;
  • bronchodilators, a medication to help with the spasms and inflammation in the airways (these are very similar to the inhalers humans are prescribed); and/or
  • steroids, which help reduce inflammation and help make the attacks less severe.

It should be noted that continual use of steroids can have negative effects, so it is wise to discuss with your vet the possible side effects and long-term use plans before starting on them.

If a dog is placed on medication for managing its asthma, it will need to stay on that medication for the duration of its life.

Prognosis is usually quite good. In most cases asthma doesn’t affect the life-expectancy of the dog. However, the owner needs to not only be administering the proper medication but also take an active role to eliminate those triggers in the dog’s environment to ensure the dog’s condition stays manageable.