Warmer Weather Presents Breathing Problems for Some Dogs

There's a significant risk of breathing problems in warmer weather for some dog breeds. These  respiratory problems can lead to a life-threatening crisis. Newtown Veterinary Specialists advises pet owners to be aware of the types of breathing problems their pets may be predisposed to. We advise using caution during the warmer weather months, both in and out of the home. 

Brachycephalic airway disease

Brachycephalic dog breeds have shorter muzzles, including Pugs, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers and others. Because the muzzle is shorter, the nasal passages, mouth, larynx and surrounding structures develop with a common group of abnormalities that veterinarians call “brachycephalic airway syndrome.”  These abnormalities include:

1. Narrow nasal openings;

2. A long soft palate in the back of the throat;

3. Eversion of the lining of the airway opening in the back of the throat that decreases room for air flow;

4. An inappropriately narrowed trachea; 

5. Over time, a softening of the laryngeal tissue that allows it to collapse.


These abnormalities cause brachycephalic dogs to have narrowed passages for movement of air while breathing, causing them to make snoring noises while awake and asleep. They have to breathe harder and faster to move the same amount of air as compared to a dog without these airway abnormalities. Brachycephalic dogs will often breathe through their mouth instead of through their nose.

In cool, non-humid weather most brachycephalic dogs can be very active without problems. However, as the temperature and humidity rise, they have greater risk of consequences from their airways. Panting is the main way dogs cool themselves. Brachycephalic breeds cannot pant as effectively and therefore cannot cool themselves as effectively as other dogs. As they work harder to breathe, their airways become progressively swollen and narrowed.

Unfortunately, brachycephalic dogs can have a life-threatening breathing crisis in hot, humid weather characterized by very noisy labored breathing, collapse and heat stroke-type illness. If you have a dog that would be considered brachycephalic, there are several things you can do to prevent this type of  emergency:

·         Use a harness instead of a neck collar to prevent pressure on the airways in the neck.

·         Go for walks in the morning or evening when temperatures and humidity are lower.

·         Take shorter walks and stop immediately if your dog is slowing down or tired; then carry your pet home to cool off in an air-conditioned environment.

·         Use air-conditioning in the home, even if just one room, to help them breathe easier.

If you observe the following signs, seek veterinary attention immediately:

·         Fast, noisy breathing that causes your pet to struggle to breathe or have labored breathing;

·         Collapse or weakness associated with activity;

·         Purple-blue gums or tongue instead of your pet’s normal pink color (for comparison, look now while your pet is normal).

If you're concerned about your pet, don't hesitate to call your primary care veterinarian or the Newtown Veterinary Specialists 24/7 Emergency Service at 203-270-VETS (8387).

Stay tuned for information on other respiratory problems associated with the warmer months, including laryngeal paralysis in dogs and asthmatic conditions in cats.

--Edited by Joan Eve Quinn, Communications Specialist, Newtown Veterinary Specialists, joan.q@newtownvets.com




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