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Sue H from PA asks:
My dog, Mollie, is a 5 year old shih-poo. Yesterday, she suddenly began acting like she was having trouble breathing and would cough when she tried to drink water. I had left her tied out for a little while the day before and she may have tried to chase a cat. Could she have hurt herself permanently? Thank you!
It’s scary when dogs have trouble breathing and I can understand why you are concerned about Molly. Breathing problems are one of the most common emergencies I see as an ER vet. If she is truly having trouble breathing consistently, she needs to see a vet right away. If these are brief episodes of abnormal breathing, there may be things you can do at home and she may be able to wait to see your vet for further treatment.
From the sound of it, Molly probably chased the cat and pulled at the end of her leash too hard, injuring her throat. This often is a problem that will get better in its own.
Due to Molly’s size, there are few things we need to keep in mind. Since she is a small breed dog, she is more likely to injure herself than a large breed dog by running to the end of her leash. Her trachea and neck muscles are not as strong. In addition, small breeds such as Miniature Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese, Shih Tzus, etc are more prone to a condition called collapsing trachea.
Collapsing trachea is a defect where the cartilage in the trachea (wind pipe) is not strong enough or doesn’t circle the trachea far enough and the tissue collapses down, as if you were drinking a milk shake through a straw and the straw collapsed. I don’t think Molly has this because she has not had trouble before and dogs with collapsing trachea often have a honking cough and more severe breathing issues.
Another possibility is that Molly could be experiencing reverse sneezing. This is a peculiar abnormality of dogs that doesn’t really sound like a sneeze but no one has figured out a better name for it. We think it is a way for a dog to clear their nasal passages. It can occur for no reason or due to upper respiratory irritation or infection. Reverse sneezing is an inward breathing action and it sounds as if they are struggling to get air through their nose.
If Molly is having episodes of reverse sneezing or the symptoms have improved significantly, you should be able to wait this out and this will probably resolve on its own. Try softening her food with warm water for the next few days until she is back to normal.
If you feel that her symptoms are getting worse or not improving, she should be checked by your veterinarian as soon as possible.
We all hope Molly is feeling better soon!
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