Is your dog a snuffler or a snorter? Noisy nasal breathing is caused by the rigid nasal structures vibrating as air moves through passages which are narrow or partially obstructed.
There are several possible reasons why the nasal breathing of your dog (or cat) might be noisier than usual.
1) Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS): affects many flat-faced dogs which have been bred to conform to certain breed standards, resulting in a short muzzle and small, narrow and squashed airways (brachy = short; cephalic = head). There are more than 20 brachycephalic dog breeds including the Pug, French Bulldog, Shih Tzu and Boxer. Flat-faced Persians are an example of a brachycephalic feline breed.
Because of their shortened skulls these animals have very small nasal openings, an elongated soft palate which can obstruct their throat, and other malformations of their head and airways. This makes it much more difficult for them to breathe, especially in hot weather or during exercise, and contributes to much of the snorting and panting these animals make. (If you want an idea of one of the welfare challenges brachycephalic breeds face, try walking around breathing through a drinking straw and see how long it is before you can’t breathe properly).
If you have a brachycephalic pet who becomes exercise intolerant quickly or who generally has very noisy breathing, talk to your vet about your concerns. If it is suffering from BOAS, corrective surgery to allow easier passage of air through the airways might be needed (quite often referral to a specialist veterinary surgeon is necessary, due to the nature of the surgery and special care needed post-operatively).
Additional strategies to help them breathe easier include using a harness rather than a collar and lead for walking, careful exercising and not exercising in hot weather, a temperature-controlled environment, weight control and minimising stress.
2) Obstruction of the nasal passages: this could be due to a foreign body such as a grass seed, piece of grass or other foreign material, or abnormal growths such as nasal polyps or a tumour. These could cause discharge or bleeding from the nose, sneezing or infection in the affected nostril. Your dog might also paw at their face. Veterinary attention is needed to diagnose and treat these conditions.
3) Other possible causes include:
- bacterial, viral or fungal infection of the nasal structures
- dental disease which infiltrates the nasal structures
- other inflammatory airway disease causing narrowing of the nasal passages
- an allergy
- secondary to systemic disease (affecting the entire body).
These conditions could be acute (occurring suddenly and short-lasting) or chronic (ongoing, including untreated acute conditions); all require veterinary intervention.
If you are concerned about your pet’s ability to breathe adequately, it’s best to seek veterinary advice, particularly if your pet also appears to be unwell or distressed.
Noisy breathing can vary in severity from a mild irritation to a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment; it’s always best to investigate early on to prevent small problems from progressing to big problems. That way, both you and your pet will be able to breathe easier.
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