Can Dogs Have Asthma?

Sarah Wooten, DVM
By Sarah Wooten, DVM on Apr. 25, 2019

Can dogs have asthma? While asthma is much less common in dogs than in cats, dogs can suffer from asthma in much the same ways humans do.

Dog asthma is defined as an allergic disease. Asthma attacks in dogs are caused by an allergic reaction that results in airway inflammation, which causes constriction and spasming of the small airways in the lungs.

When diagnosed in dogs, asthma is usually seen in middle-aged dogs and some young dogs. Typically, small dogs are more likely to have asthma than large dogs.

What Causes Asthma in Dogs?

Asthma attacks are triggered by the inhalation of allergens. Some common allergens that can affect dogs with asthma include:

  • Mold spores
  • Dust and mold mites
  • Cat litter dust
  • Cat dander
  • Pollens
  • Household cleaners
  • Air pollution
  • Perfume
  • Air fresheners
  • Airborne pesticides or fertilizers
  • Smoke from cigarettes, pipes, e-cigarettes

What Are Some Asthma Symptoms in Dogs?

Dogs having an asthma attack will experience coughing, panting with a wide mouth, wheezing and an overall difficulty with breathing.

Dogs with asthma can also experience a buildup of excessive mucus and phlegm, which, if it is severe enough, can make a dog’s gums turn blue due to a lack of oxygen.

An asthmatic dog can be panicked and difficult to calm down. It is important to never impede an asthmatic dog’s ability to breathe by closing his mouth; doing so may result in bite injury.

How Are Dogs Diagnosed With Asthma?

Dog asthma can be tricky to diagnose if your dog isn’t having an active asthma attack, which is why it is important to get your dog to a veterinarian ASAP if you notice any of the above symptoms.

Dog asthma is usually diagnosed by a combination of the history you give and the findings from the physical exam and radiographs (X-rays). If your dog isn’t having an asthma attack, the radiographs may come back as normal and may have to be repeated at a future time.

Heartworm disease can also show the same types of symptoms as asthma, so your veterinarian may order a heartworm test and ask you if you regularly give preventative heartworm medicine for dogs.

If you are not able to get your dog to the veterinarian immediately, try to take a video of your dog’s breathing on your phone. You can then show this to your veterinarian when you get to the vet’s office.

What Are the Treatments for Asthma in Dogs?

The treatment for dog asthma will depend on the severity of the disease in your dog, as well as if your dog is having an active attack or if you are trying to prevent attacks.

Treatment for Severe Asthma Attacks in Dogs

An acute asthma attack should be considered an emergency. In these cases, your veterinarian may hospitalize your dog and place him in an oxygen cage to help him breathe better.

Your veterinarian may also place an IV catheter in your dog to deliver drugs or fluid therapy intravenously. Fluids may be administered if the pet is not eating or drinking or if the pet is dehydrated. IV medications can include bronchodilators and/or steroids. If there is an infection, IV antibiotics may be indicated.

The three mainstays of treatment include a bronchodilator (respiratory pet medication to relax bronchial muscles) to open up airways, an antihistamine (allergy relief for dogs) to reduce the allergic reaction, and a steroid to reduce inflammation of the airways.

Bronchodilators could include aminophylline, terbutaline or theophylline. Steroids could include, among others, prednisone, prednisolone or dexamethasone. Both bronchodilator and steroid medications will require a prescription from your local veterinarian.

Antihistamines that are commonly recommended include diphenhydramine and loratadine. Temaril-P is another drug that is often prescribed by veterinarians that contains both an antihistamine and a steroid.

Treating Mild Attacks and Ongoing Asthma Treatments

In mild cases, the mainstay medications are the same. Prescription pet medication can be given to your dog orally or through a nebulizer. A nebulizer is a medical device that converts liquid medication—like bronchodilators, antihistamines, steroids, or whatever is prescribed by the doctor—into mist that is then inhaled.

Some dogs can be trained to tolerate nebulization, which is an excellent way to deliver medication to the lungs immediately. Nebulizers have the added benefit of humidifying the air that your dog breathes, which can loosen respiratory secretions.

In addition to providing immediate benefit, nebulizers can help to reduce unwanted side effects of medications because they are inhaled and not ingested. Some of these unwanted side effects can include weight gain, increased appetite, excessive drinking and urination, increased susceptibility to infections, and muscle loss.

Nebulizing treatments can be done at a veterinary hospital, or you can purchase your own nebulizer for at-home treatments.

Talk with your veterinarian to learn if your dog is a good candidate for this option and for tips on training your dog to feel comfortable with a nebulizer.

What Can You Do at Home to Help Dogs With Asthma?

In addition to medication, avoidance of the offending allergens is necessary to prevent asthma attacks in dogs. You can ask your vet about having your dog tested for allergies, which is a noninvasive procedure, to determine what your dog is allergic to.  Additional preventive measures you can take include:

  • No smoking or vaping near the dog
  • Utilize a HEPA air filter in your furnace, or utilize a room air purifier
  • Wipe your dog off with baby wipes after going outside to remove allergens
  • Don’t use your fireplace or burn wood near your dog
  • Use dust-free cat litter if you have cats
  • Remove carpets from the home and replace with hard flooring
  • Wash pet bedding regularly
  • Use dust- and mite-proof mattress covers and pillow cases
  • Don’t burn incense or candles

By: Dr. Sarah Wooten

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Sarah Wooten, DVM


Sarah Wooten, DVM


Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. A member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists,...

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