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Canine Asthma Symptoms and Treatment

Canine Asthma

Canine asthma symptoms in dogs are likely to be noticed by dog owners considering that affected dogs tend to struggle to breathe. Just as it happens in humans, a variety of triggers are likely to evoke signs of asthma in dogs and it's therefore important to pinpoint these triggers so to prevent future asthma attacks. If you suspect your dog has asthma, please refer to your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. Other disorder can be confused for asthma in dogs. Following is some information about canine asthma symptoms and treatment by veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.

dog allergens

Asthma in Dogs 

Nowadays, asthma is a common medical condition among humans, but what about dogs? Can dogs have asthma? The simple answer is yes… dogs can have asthma. However, the exact term asthma is more closely associated with humans. When it comes to dogs, the analogue condition is termed canine allergic bronchitis.

The term canine allergic bronchitis is quite self-explanatory. Simply put, it indicates that the condition develops as a result of an allergic reaction to a substance in the environment. With that being said, it is only logical to ask oneself what are allergies? Basically, in an allergy, the immune system produces and exaggerated, inappropriate, and unnecessary response to an otherwise non-infectious and non-harmful substance.

The substances that are capable of triggering such exaggerated responses are called allergens. In other words, allergens hold the power to mistakenly provoke the immune system to produce an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Once produced, the IgE plays an important role in every allergic reaction – it is the trigger that initiates the whole reaction.

It may sound funny but the whole concept of allergies is fairly new. In fact, allergic reactions, in both humans and canines, were scarcely known or recognized before the 20th century. The exact term "allergy" was invented in 1906, by Baron Clemens von Pirquet who worked as a pediatrician in Vienna. It is even funnier that in spite of being relatively new, allergies are particularly common. As the incidence of allergies has increased in people, there has been a similar increase of allergies in dogs.

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Allergic reactions occur in various places and their clinical manifestation depends on where they occur. For example:
allergic reactions that occur on the dog’s skin cause itchiness, allergic reactions that occur on the lining of the gastrointestinal tract cause vomiting and diarrhea and allergic reactions that occur on the lining of the airways cause sneezing, coughing and difficulty breathing.

Asthma in dogs can be found in the literature by many names – allergic bronchitis, bronchial asthma or chronic bronchitis. By definition, asthma is an allergic reaction in the lungs that causes narrowing of the smaller airways thus making the breathing quite difficult. It is characterized by recurring attacks of wheezing, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.

Asthma Attacks in Dogs 

asthma dog

When an asthma attack occurs, the airways that lead to the lungs become constricted. A significant amount of mucus accumulates in the airways. The buildup of mucus leads to inflammation of the airways. In more severe cases, the airways may even become ulcerated. As a response to the developing menace, the airway muscles tend to spasm. Consequently the muscle spasm makes it very difficult for the affected dog to breathe.

Generally speaking, asthma attacks are considered to be acute conditions. However, if the causative agent remains present for a longer period of time, the condition can become chronic. Once the condition progresses to chronic, the sensitive tissue that lines the respiratory passageways is at risk of sustaining permanent damage.

Causes and triggers for asthma tend to vary. Asthma attacks can be caused or triggered by plethora of agents. However, the most common agents include: grasses, pollen, ragweed, dust mites, air pollution, smog and smoke, fertilizers and pesticides, home remodeling products (paints), household chemicals and cleaning products,
aerosol sprays (room air fresheners), cigarette, candle and fireplace smoke, mold and mildew, cat litter dust, and animal and human dander.

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What is the prevalence of asthma among dogs? Asthma is seen much more often in brachycephalic or flat-faced dogs. Statistically, the condition is more common among small and toy breeds. Veterinary records show that young and middle aged dogs are more prone to developing asthma than old dogs.

Panting in dogs on steroids

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Canine Asthma Symptoms and Treatment

The clinical presentation of asthma in dogs is as follows. Dogs with asthma cannot draw a deep breath.

A dog experiencing asthma will show the following signs and symptoms: wheezing that sounds like a high-pitched sigh, persistent, dry and hacking cough with either slow or sudden onset, labored breathing, open-mouth breathing, shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, lack of interest in physical activity, extreme fatigue without any obvious cause, pale to bluish mucous membranes, lethargy, lack of appetite and weight loss.

If you notice canine asthma symptoms, consider that diagnosing asthma is not straightforward. Sadly, a single test that can conclusively confirm that a dog has asthma, does not exist. The diagnosis is usually based on: presenting clinical signs, results from the physical examination (chest X-ray images are particularly important), history, ruling out other conditions with similar presentation.

Treatment options for canine asthma patients vary. The primary goal of the treatment is to identify and remove the inciting allergen. If the allergen cannot be identified or removed, a plethora of medications can be used to maintain the condition under control.

In patients that have developed chronic bronchitis, the goal of the treatment is to reduce the frequency and severity of the cough and simply make the dog’s life more comfortable. The most commonly used treatment protocol includes administration of glucocorticoids and bronchodilators. With prompt diagnosis and treatment, the prognosis for dogs with asthma is good to excellent and affected dogs can live relatively normal and high-quality lives.

Asthma prevention in dogs entails identifying and removing the inciting allergens from the dog’s immediate environment. Unfortunately, contact with certain allergens cannot be avoided. In those cases, medications should be used to manage the dog's asthma symptoms. Although medications do not prevent asthma in general, they do prevent stressful and potentially life-threatening asthma attacks.

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Does My Dog Have Asthma?

By selective breeding, humans have increased the genetic predisposition to allergies in certain dog breeds. Additionally, by altering the dogs’ natural environment we have also increased their exposure to potential allergens.
The following points are some helpful questions to ask when trying to decide if a sick dog has an allergy:

Has the problem occurred before?
Does the problem occur at a specific time or season?
Does the problem occur in a particular environment?
Are the ears involved?
Is there any history of allergies in the dog’s breed or immediate family?
If the answer to most of these questions is "yes" then an allergic cause is quite possible.

If you suspect your dog has asthma, please refer to your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

About the Author 

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

ivana crnec

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