Sounds of gasping, wheezing or a hacking cough coming from your dog can be unsettling at best. Sometimes such conditions are relatively harmless, but others are emergencies. Constriction of your dog's airways caused by bronchial asthma is a potentially fatal condition, and prompt veterinary care is imperative. Determine whether your dog is having an asthma attack, and get him the immediate care he needs.
Get Your Dog the Help He Needs
Make sure your dog is actually having an asthma attack, not reverse sneezing -- which is not a tremendous cause for alarm but is worth talking to your vet about -- or choking, which is an emergency Asthma is characterized by wheezing, shortness of breath and bluish gums. In reverse sneezing, a dog makes rhythmic snorting or honking sounds as he inhales air with an outstretched neck for a minute or two, after which he will go back to being completely normal. Intervention is not necessary, but inducing your pet to swallow by rubbing his throat, pressing his tongue or covering his nostrils briefly can sometimes end the episode, according to Dr. Karen Becker. When a dog is choking, meanwhile, he will usually paw at his mouth, gag and retch.
Dial the doctor. If this is your dog's first asthma attack, get on the phone to your veterinarian. He will help you determine whether it is an actual asthma attack, a reverse sneeze or a choking episode. If possible, use a handset that you can put on speakerphone and bring it close to the dog so the vet can hear what the dog sounds like. He may have you bring your dog to the clinic for an examination if he suspects asthma or choking.
Tell the vet all you know. Let your vet know about any episodes of coughing your dog has had prior to the incident and what they sounded like. Your vet will listen to your dog's lungs with a stethoscope and may take X-rays to look for inflammation of the bronchia. He will usually test for heartworm and other parasites that cause chronic coughing.
Treat asthma seriously. Your doctor will usually prescribe daily oral medications as well as a metered inhaler with an attachment that fits over your dog's muzzle to use during subsequent attacks. Help prevent attacks by eliminating sources of potential triggers from your home. Some common causes of bronchial irritation in dogs include pesticides, cigarette smoke, carpet cleaners, air fresheners and scented kitty litter.