Dogs naturally pant when they are hot or fatigued. But beware -- and aware -- for clues that may indicate asthma, a potentially life-threatening condition in pets.
As with humans, asthma in dogs is essentially an allergic reaction to something in the environment. Exposure to the allergen triggers inflammation and uncontrolled mucus or fluid production that may block or narrow airways to make breathing difficult.
Cats are much more susceptible to asthma than dogs, but small canines are more vulnerable than larger breeds.
Common allergen that can trigger an attack include smoke (from tobacco, fireplaces or wood stoves), household cleaners, air fresheners or deodorizers, perfumes, air pollution, airborne pollen, mold spores, pesticides and fertilizer, and cat litter particles. In some dogs, triggers may be as innocuous as cooking odors or the scent of a burning candle.
Fortunately, the signs of a canine asthma attack differ greatly from normal breathing and panting. Suspect asthma if your dog displays these symptoms:
* Pants more heavily and longer than usual. Look for “wide mouth” breathing and extreme expansion and contraction of chest muscles.
* Coughing, wheezing or seeming to be out-of-breath.
* Loss of energy or appetite.
* With severe attacks, the gums may be pale or even blue; that’s a sign your dog needs to get to the vet ASAP.
Asthma in dogs is usually diagnosed by X-ray and treated with various medications.
Consider these steps to create a safe living space for asthmatic dogs:
* Don’t smoke near pets.
* Use your fireplace and wood-burning stove as a decorative backdrop rather than to burn wood. Battery-powered candles, fake glowing logs, or non-toxic plants can give a cozy effect.
* Clean tile and hardwood floors with white vinegar, straight from the bottle or diluted with water.
* Consider ditching carpets. The manufacturing process loads them up with toxic chemicals that can probably never be gotten rid of.
* Instead of air fresheners and deodorizers, consider placing shallow bowls of baking soda around your house. They are easily hidden under furniture or behind knick-knacks and absorb odors well.
* Rather than wearing perfumes, consider essential oils that can be custom mixed to duplicate scents but without chemicals and allergens.
* Air-purifying machines are great for combating air pollution in your home. Less expensive options are reducing the humidity in your home by running the air conditioner and using a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter in your air conditioners or HVAC system.
* Switch to a natural pesticide such as boric acid in areas your dog can’t reach.
* If cats share your home, use dust-free cat litter – better for the whole family’s air quality as well as your cat’s lungs.
* Bathe your dog regularly, making sure he is thoroughly dried.
Image: fef560 / via Flickr