Canine Respiratory Disorders

Respiratory diseases and disorders are relatively common in the canine world, but that fact's of little solace when your buddy has trouble breathing; such events can be extremely frightening for you and potentially life-threatening for him. Seeking veterinary intervention at the first sign of trouble can save the dog's life.


Canine Respiratory System

The canine respiratory system includes the mouth, nose, trachea and lungs. It is responsible for taking in oxygen, transferring it to your dog's red blood cells and expelling carbon dioxide. Respiratory disorders disrupt this integral process and can lead to dyspnea, the medical term for labored breathing as well as tachypnea, excessively rapid breathing. Your dog's organs can begin to shut down if they do not receive sufficient oxygen-rich red-blood cells.

Signs and Symptoms

Respiratory disorders often manifest as difficulty breathing. Signs of labored breathing include extremely flared nostrils, breathing with an open mouth, excessive chest and stomach movement, neck extension and noisy breathing. These symptoms may present individually or together, and they may accompany coughing, wheezing and fast breathing with shallow breaths. Your dog may present grayish-blue gums, a sign of hypoxemia or low oxygen levels.


Some common environmental causes of respiratory disorders include allergies, kennel cough and parainfluenza. Food, pollen and mold are typical allergens that can cause respiratory distress in sensitive canines. Tracheal collapse and brachycephalic airway syndrome are breed-related respiratory conditions. Respiratory disorders can affect dogs of any age or breed; however, small and toy breeds such as Yorkshire terriers, miniature poodles, Chihuahuas and Pomeranians are predisposed to tracheal collapse (see ref 5). A brachycephalic breed has a shortened skull, elongated soft palate, narrow nostrils and a smaller than average trachea -- a combination that can lead to brachycephalic airway syndrome. Brachycephalic breeds include bulldogs, boxers, Boston terriers, Pekingese, pugs, Lhasa apsos, shih tzus and bullmastiffs. Respiratory problems can be secondary to myriad systemic problems such as heart disease and tumors.


It's important to stay calm if your dog experiences respiratory distress. The calmer you are, the calmer your dog is likely to be. Immediately take him to the vet for examination. If your buddy has pale gums and a low oxygen level, he may need oxygen therapy to help him breathe upon arrival (see ref 1). Once he's calm and stable, your vet can proceed with diagnosis and treatment. Your veterinarian will perform a number of tests that may include X-rays, blood work, ultrasound and electrocardiogram. Veterinarians often recommend plenty of rest and restricted activity for a period of time after respiratory distress; the amount of time varies from case to case, but in general, restrict activity for at least 24 hours. Always follow your vet's discharge and home-care instructions.

By Christina Stephens

About the Author
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.