Owner holding dog's paw at the vet

Dog Congestion: Why "The Sniffles" Shouldn't Be Left Untreated


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Can our dogs get colds like we do?

Respiratory congestion can occur due to a variety of reasons, and when it comes to congestion in dogs, identifying the root cause of their discomfort is priority one to getting them back on the right uh, paw.

At its core, respiratory congestion is usually attributed to some type of fluid in the lungs. Treatment depends on the diagnosis, so a trip to see your veterinarian is important to rule out potentially serious problems. Also, managing their pain can be half the battle in severe cases. Here, we'll look at causes of dog congestion, potential problems a vet may diagnose, and treatment options to be mindful of.

Causes of Dog Congestion

Lung congestion in dogs is oftentimes due to minor respiratory flu or seasonal allergies in dogs. If they inhale something that irritates the lungs, like smoke or liquid, they can show congested symptoms. Kennel cough is another common cause of lung irritation, though you may know this infection more commonly as bronchitis in dogs. Fortunately, prevention of kennel cough begins with a vaccine.

A serious condition that can cause this is congestive heart failure, which is one of the more severe causes of canine lung congestion and will need to be diagnosed by a veterinarian.

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Symptoms of Respiratory Congestion

dog congestion dog with icepack on head  

There are a wide range of symptoms a dog may exhibit, so its important to take note of any unusual behaviors, however small, to help your vet identify the problem.

Symptoms to be aware of may include:

  • Fever: Normal body temperatures in dogs range between 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, so anything higher is cause for concern.
  • Difficulty Breathing: Congestion can cause a lack of oxygen intake, so be aware of irregular gasping. In severe cases, a blue-gray tint on a dog's lips, gums, or tongue may be present.
  • Coughing: Deep, hacking sounds may gets worse at night or after exercise. More severe, wet-sounding coughs may be a sign of pneumonia.
  • Lethargy and Loss of Appetite: Be aware of your dog's mannerisms and note changes around normal feeding times.

A complete physical exam will be performed and perhaps some blood tests. If your vet suspects a more severe respiratory infection, pneumonia, or congestive heart failure, they may also want to do a chest x-ray.

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Signs & Symptoms of Nose or Sinus Inflammation

dog with dog congestion and thermometer in bed

Congestion in dogs can also result in nose and sinus inflammation. Rhinitis is just inflammation of the mucous membranes inside your dog's nose, and can often present with sinusitis, where your dog's sinus linings become inflamed. It's easy for inflammation to spread out of control when animals are sick, so sinusitis can be very common after a respiratory infection.

These two conditions are often caused by a viral infection, like canine parainfluenza or canine distemper. Your dog can also develop nose and sinus inflammation because of an allergy to dust, pollen, or even mold. Dogs who inhale smoke or get a foreign object stuck in their nasal passages can also experience inflammation. Parasites, trauma, and chronic diseases can cause long-term inflammation in dogs, and require a prescribed treatment regiment.

If your dog's nose or sinuses are inflamed, you may notice them sneezing, snoring, breathing with their mouth open, or having breathing problems when at rest. Unnatural nasal discharge is a pretty clear indicator of an underlying issue as well, so don't ignore a basic runny nose. Sometimes dogs will reverse sneeze, where they inhale shortly and quickly, trying to clear their airways.

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What Does Treatment Look Like? 

dog with blanket over head congestion

Treatment will vary depending on what your dog is diagnosed with. If your dog's congestion or nose and sinus issues are the result of inflammation, your vet will prescribe an antibiotic to combat the problem. Allergies will be addressed if congestion is a result of a seasonal problem or something minor. A dog who is congested may feel dehydrated, so it's important to encourage them to hydrate and drink lots of liquids to help their system along.

Running a humidifier or using some over-the-counter antihistamines may be temporary home remedies, but it's important to consult your veterinarian first, especially when considering how much Benadryl to give a dog.

If your dog is congested because of something serious like congestive heart failure, your vet will administer diuretics to help remove fluid from the lungs.

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Ever had to bring your dog to the veterinarian for congestion or what appeared to be a cold? Share your tips & advice at our Wide Open Pets Facebook.

This article was originally published August 28, 2019.

READ MORE: 10 Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds That Go Easy On The Senses (And On The Eyes)

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