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  • Colleen O'Brien, DVM, CVA

Breathe, Just Breathe.


Close up of cat's nose

Your dog and cat are mammals just like us, and like us, are born with two lungs (left and right). And just like us, they can have issues that cause them to cough or have difficulty breathing.


If you suspect your pet of having any type of breathing issues, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Here is a brief overview of some common respiratory issues:


1. Asthma: This is primarily seen in cats.

Ideally, we would figure out and address the underlying trigger (allergy). Just like in some people, the allergen may be able to be avoided, but sometimes, you are just allergic to everything. In those cases, your veterinarian may prescribe a variety of different treatments to help your kitty. One of the signs you may see at home that your cat has asthma, is your cat may start panting. Cats, unlike dogs, should never pant.


2. Collapsing Trachea: This is primarily seen in small breed dogs.

The trachea is the medical term for your wind pipe. Some dogs (especially brachycephalic breeds) are often born with a smaller than normal trachea. As dogs age, the trachea becomes weaker and can collapse on itself. This causes your pet to feel like they are breathing through a straw and they will often cough in an attempt to open their airway back up. There is surgery for this that a specialist can attempt, but most patients are treated symptomatically with medical management for as long as possible.


3. Heart Failure:

When the heart starts to give out and can not pump blood as efficiently any more, fluid will start to back up into the lungs. This can cause an increase in respiratory rate and effort. It can also cause coughing.


4. Kennel Cough: Think of this one as the doggie cold.

The Bordetella vaccine will cover for one of the things that causes kennel cough, but there are many more. Just like you may cough from the flu, COVID, or the common cold, a cough in a dog can be caused by many infectious diseases. Sometimes we are able to let the pet's body get over this cough naturally (similar to us with a cold), other times they need medical support.


5. Cancer: Pets can get cancer just like us.

Any time an older pet has a change in their breathing patterns, this unfortunately has to be on a list of possibilities. You can decrease the chance of you pet developing lung cancer though by not smoking around them or in the house.

To differentiate these and other causes of your pet's respiratory issues, an exam must be done by a veterinarian. This will involve at minimum a physical exam where the heart and lungs will be listened to with a stethoscope, potentially x-rays (radiographs), and other diagnostics (CT, Bronchoalveolar Lavage, Echocardiogram, etc...) depending on the clinical signs.


Acupuncture can help with respiratory issues to a certain extent, but it is important to get an accurate diagnosis first so that we can choose the best points and influence the Qi in the proper way.

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