Sneezing, Wheezing, and Honking: Respiratory Noises in Pets

Most pets sneeze, wheeze, cough, or make other respiratory sounds at some point or another. Sometimes it is no big deal, but other times respiratory noises in pets are cause for alarm. Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital thinks it’s important for pet owners to know what’s normal, and when to worry.

Decoding Respiratory Noises in Pets

If you rushed your pet in for every grunt, snort, or sniffle, you might be in to see us quite often! While we don’t mind seeing your pet, there are lots of different reasons respiratory noises in pets happen, and some are perfectly normal.

Some of the more common causes of respiratory sounds in pets include:

Upper respiratory infections — Bacterial and/or viral infections can cause sneezing, nasal discharge, and watery eyes. In dogs, kennel cough (infectious tracheobronchitis) tops the list as the most implicated cause, while in cats herpesvirus is a common culprit.

Reverse sneezing — Any time the back of your pet’s throat (the nasopharynx) is irritated, the body’s reflex is to clear it by sneezing. Pets may also exhibit a reverse sneeze, which is a scary-looking but normal reaction of the body to dust, drainage, and other irritants. If your pet is sneezing or reverse sneezing a lot, though, give us a call so we can investigate further.

Brachycephalic syndrome — Pets with a squishy face (think pugs, bulldogs, and Persian cats) often have a combination of small nasal openings, an elongated soft palate, and a small windpipe that can result in snorting, snoring, and overall noisy breathing that may or may not prove to be detrimental.

Collapsing trachea — In some pets the windpipe, or trachea, does not stay open all of the time as it should. When a section of the trachea collapses in on itself, it elicits a cough reflex. This may worse with activity, pressure on the neck, age, or weight gain.

Asthma — Animals, especially cats, can develop asthma. This inflammatory reaction of the lower airways can result in labored breathing, wheezing, and coughing.

Cardiac disease — When the heart is not pumping properly, fluid may accumulate in the lungs, resulting in coughing secondary to congestive heart failure.

Respiratory noises in pets can run the gamut from totally benign to an emergency situation. It can be very difficult to tell the difference. That’s where our veterinarians come in.

When to Worry

There are certain circumstances that you can easily recognize to help you know when your pet needs help. While it’s always best to err on the side of caution if you are not sure, we recommend that your pet come in right away if:

  • Your pet’s breathing seems faster or more labored than normal
  • The gums and/or tongue are blue or grey colored
  • Your pet is less active than normal
  • There is discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Your pet seems lethargic or weak
  • Your pet seems distressed, scared, or painful
  • The noises are becoming more intense or lasting for longer periods

Sometimes pets can be noisy. It isn’t always an emergency, but if you have concerns about your pet’s breathing, we are here for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you are not sure- normal breathing is very important.

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