If you heard your pup wheezing or fighting for breath, it was probably a frightening experience for you. Though asthma in dogs is uncommon, puppies can develop asthma -- it's called allergic bronchitis when it occurs in dogs. If Gus is one of the rare puppies who suffers from asthma, take heart -- it's a manageable condition.
Basically, asthma is a condition in which the air passages to Gus's lungs fill with mucus, swell and begin to spasm. The process limits the amount of air reaching his lungs, making it difficult for him to breathe. You won't know there's a problem until your puppy begins coughing, the primary symptom of asthma. He may also wheeze and seem to gasp for air if he's experiencing an asthma attack. Don't be alarmed if he paws at his face or moves around in strange ways; Gus may be panicked, trying to get more air.
If your pup has asthma, it's likely triggered by an allergic reaction to something in his environment. Allergens can be almost anything but are often inhaled -- cigarette smoke, air pollution, pollen, perfumes and fumes from household cleaning products, fresheners or fertilizers. Gus may be sensitive to his dog food; perhaps he's reacting to an additive or flavoring. There are many potential triggers in day-to-day life, so it's not unusual to never discover the cause.
It's not easy to diagnose asthma because, chances are, the vet won't witness one of Gus's spells first-hand. The vet will give your puppy an exam, including a chest X-ray, and may take a tissue sample to rule out other respiratory conditions. The more information you can provide about his episodes, the better informed the vet will be to make a definitive diagnosis, as there's no specific "asthma test" to confirm the condition. If you can, capture one of his episodes on video, which will assist the vet in the diagnostic process. Describing the spells in as much detail as possible will also help; for example, information about whether Gus wheezes or has a dry or wet cough, about the frequency of the episodes and about how long they last will give the vet a more thorough picture.
A variety of medications work to help widen air passages and reduce inflammation to help an asthmatic dog breathe easier. Antihistamines reduce fluid and mucus in airways, corticosteroids reduce inflammation in lungs and air passages, and bronchodilators decreases welling of air passages. If Gus develops a chronic cough from asthma, the vet may prescribe a cough suppressant. You may have noticed themes in Gus's attacks; perhaps they occur after he's been to a specific park, or maybe he reacts after being around a friend who smokes. If possible, the vet will try to identify triggers to help minimize the occurrence of the attacks. Gus may take oral medication or use an inhaler, and if his attacks are severe, the vet may prescribe medication to immediately reduce the swelling in his air passages. Though Gus may have to take medication for his asthma through his life, he can still enjoy a long, happy partnership with you.
By Betty Lewis
About the Author
Betty Lewis has been writing professionally since 2000, specializing in animal care and issues, business analysis and homeland security. Lewis holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from West Virginia University as well as master's degrees from Old Dominion University and Tulane University.