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Health Concerns: Respiratory System

Dear Veterinarian:
I wonder why my Collie dog always appears to be hot. Even though it is cold outside, she pants a lot. I keep the thermostat set low in the house but it doesn't seem to help.

Dear Pet Owner:
Dogs pant for different reasons. Most commonly it can be due to being hot. Dogs do not sweat. One of the only ways for dogs to lose heat in the body is to pant. The footpads can also be a small way to lose heat but this avenue is very limited. Dogs have hair all over their body. They are able to withstand colder temperatures than people can. What feels cold to you and me may be quite comfortable to a dog. Therefore a dog's comfort threshold is much different. Dogs also can pant when excited or nervous. This depends on the personality of the dog. Pain or discomfort can also cause panting in some instances. This situation would require medical attention. Also, sometimes panting can be confused with difficult, shallow breathing. To rule out any medical problem it would be necessary to visit your local veterinarian. She will do a complete physical exam and let you know if there is anything abnormal that would require diagnostic tests or X-rays.

Dear Veterinarian:
Sometimes my dog inhales air really fast through his nose. His whole body gets stiff and then the episode is over in less than a minute. Is this reverse sneezing? I've never seen my cat do this. Are cats prone to it also?

Dear Pet Owner:
A reverse sneeze occurs when the dog tries to clear his nasal cavity of post nasal drip. He forces an inhalation of air through his nasopharynx in an effort to clear his sinuses. He may extend his neck, bulge his eyes, or stand with his elbows apart. The inhalation can be forceful. Any fluid or secretion accumulated is then swallowed. It is normal and does no harm to the dog as long as the episode is not confused with a seizure and it does not last more than a minute or two. Massaging your dog's throat to induce him to swallow will stop the process. Most of the time, however, your dog will stop on his/her own. Reverse sneezing is more common in dogs but can occur in cats. If you notice any colored nasal discharge, trouble with breathing, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, or any lumps on the head or throat, you should take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible. If this process happens on a continuous basis, further examination is needed.

Dear Veterinarian:
My cat “Mouser” has had a dry hacking cough on and off for a couple of weeks. Lately he really wheezes, too. I thought he had hairballs, so I have been giving him hairball medicine. His cough is no better. He still eats and drinks. When I called the veterinarian's office, they said he needs to be seen, and that he might have asthma. If he does, how can he be treated? People use inhalers, and I can't imagine doing that with my cat!

Dear Pet Owner:
Cats do get asthma, although nowadays, it's often called feline bronchial disease. The common signs are a dry cough and wheeze, just as you have described. Some cats will have a severe attack and have great difficulty breathing, and that is an emergency.

The cause of the asthma is usually not identified. There can be allergies to environmental factors like pollen, dust, cigarette smoke, perfume, and house dust and molds. We've even seen a few cats who are allergic to the Christmas tree!

Your veterinarian will observe the cat's breathing pattern and rate. He will probably take X-rays of the chest and may do some blood tests. He wants to rule out other causes of breathing problems such as feline heartworm disease, fluid in the chest, and heart disease. If asthma is diagnosed, there is treatment available. If the cat is in severe distress, he will be hospitalized and given medication and oxygen until he is stable.

Most cats benefit from the use of corticosteroids (drugs related to cortisone) given orally at home. This relieves the inflammation in the lungs that causes the airways to narrow. The dose is gradually tapered down to a maintenance level, and sometimes the cats won't need medicine all the time. Some cats will only have a problem once a year, while others have more consistent problems. Cats that have to be maintained on oral medicine all the time may also have bronchodilators prescribed. This helps keep the airways open.

To answer your original question, there have been some veterinary pulmonologists who recommend the use of inhalers when oral medicine alone does not work well! The inhaler is sprayed into a plastic tube called a spacer. The spacer has a mask at the end that you can hold over the cat's nose and mouth, and then he breathes in the medicine for a few seconds. This is not a common treatment at this time, but we are always finding new ways to help keep our pets healthy!

Dear Veterinarian:
My dog Rocky has a swollen throat and I think he has mumps. Is it contagious to me?

Dear Pet Owner:
No, dogs don't get mumps. But Rocky really needs to be seen by a veterinarian soon. I've seen swellings in the throat area from deep skin infections or bites that are usually easily treated, but there could be a more serious cause such as a swollen salivary gland or cancer. Is the skin red and raw looking? Is he scratching the area? That could mean that Rocky has a skin infection. These can get quite severe, but proper treatment will clear these up completely. Hopefully that's all that Rocky has. Another cause of swelling in the throat is salivary gland disease. There are salivary glands under the ears and in other areas surrounding the mouth. These glands can become infected or the ducts can become blocked causing the gland to fill with saliva and swell. I've seen a few of these resolve with medical treatment, but most need to be surgically removed. And, finally cancer can cause swelling in the throat area. Besides salivary glands there are lymph nodes in the throat area. Lymph nodes and lymph vessels are the “clean up” system and the nodes in the throat drain the mouth and head battling infections and cancer. They're the first defense. These nodes can swell secondary to draining a cancerous area in the head or mouth or there can be primary cancer in the lymph nodes themselves. The most common primary cancer of lymph nodes is lymphosarcoma. If I suspect lymphosarcoma or another type of cancer I like to take a biopsy to develop the best treatment plan. I don't have the space to discuss lymphosarcoma here; it's a big topic! Just remember that lymphosarcoma is a treatable cancer so don't be afraid to ask your veterinarian about your options if it turns out that's what Rocky has.