Respiratory and Breathing

Submitted 6/30/08

Q.) I have noticed that while retrieving in the water it sounds as if my lab is suffering from nasal congestion. Is there anything I can do to cure this?

A.) This is an interesting question. I’m going to make a guess that it is not actually nasal congestion but the dog’s attempt at not inhaling water OR that the dog did inhale some water at entry and the sound you are hearing is the resulting irritation. I’d feel even more comfortable with this assumption if it is only during retrieves (with something in his mouth) and not just while swimming. Emma used to do this quite regularly. Initially it concerned me, as it does sound like there is indeed a great deal of congestion present. However, the more it occurred without incident, the less concerned I became. I always tried to figure out exactly what part of her anatomy was responsible for the increased noise, but I could never pinpoint the source.

The exceptions to this “don’t worry” answer would be if your dog has any other breathing issues, is an older dog or this is a new condition. Occasionally, usually in older dogs, we will see conditions like laryngeal paralysis which can result in loud noises while breathing. In addition as a dog ages, the elasticity of the airways change and can result in more noise.

That being said I’m guessing this is a completely benign noise your dog is making while retrieving.

Submitted 11/04/07:
My three-year old setter is in good physical condition and has no known health problems. When I take him out for conditioning or hunting he breathes very loudly when running. He’ll sometimes stop to chew grass, but shows no other signs of being distressed or uncomfortable; he doesn’t quit hunting. He recovers after exertion fairly quickly. The dog doesn’t snore or have unusual breathing or swallowing at any other time. Do you think we might have a problem or is this just something that is particular to my dog’s make-up?

My hunch is to say it is likely due to your dog’s make-up. My oldest setter, Maggie, is the same way. This past season my Dad commented how he doesn’t have to watch her some days, because he can hear her breathing from a great distance. With her I think it has always been this way, but I can’t say for sure. One speculation I have had is that she did have a traumatic injury to her nose a few seasons back, with a stick lodged up her nose for more than a month. My theory is that it potentially caused some damage that contributes to the breathing noise.

If it doesn’t affect his performance or appear to be affecting his health, I likely would not be too concerned. With that being said at the first sign of any changes I’d want to perform some diagnostics.

Submitted 3/15/2006:
My setter has developed a cough since a three-day hunt last week. The dog starts to cough as a rule upon getting up from sleeping or when highly excited, what do you think?

Coughing in any dog can be caused by a range of issues, from a mild irritation of the windpipe to heart failure or even a massive case of pneumonia. As a rule I like to get a cough looked at as early as possible, especially with a hunting dog. If the heart and lungs sound ok and it appears the cough is related just to the trachea I may be fairly conservative.

However, especially in a hunting dog, if I’m at all concerned there is something else going on I will immediately take x-rays. Early in the fall I see a lot of dogs with irritation as we have an overlap of heavy pollen loads and the start of fall dust from things like harvest. That being said, I’d hope for an irritation but would be suspicious of something more.

Submitted 10/32/05:
My two year old French Brit began sneezing six weeks ago after a trip to the South Dakota prairie. The nasal discharge was white, then purulent and has waxed and waned since even after two courses of antibiotics. My vet has x-rayed his chest and sinuses and looked into his nose with an otoscope about 4 cm with nothing abnormal to report. The washings grew out tow different types of bacteria but I’m not convinced that this is the primary problem. Does this sound like allergies, retained foreign body or something else? He looks well but is destroying the house with all the discharge. Any advice would be appreciated.

Unfortunately I have experienced nasal foreign body issues first hand (and ironically they occurred in South Dakota). Last fall my little setter had a go around with a stick that managed to stay in her nasal cavity for nearly a month.

There definitely is the possibility that there is a foreign body in the sinuses, but it is also possible that there is some other irritation causing these issues. If the discharge is only out of one nostril, I would be more suspicious of a foreign body or injury; if it is out of both, then I’d be more suspicious of other causes. It sounds like you have done all of the standard treatments and diagnostics, and it is probably time to get a little more advanced.

Definitely if it is discharging only out of one nostril, I would be highly suspicious of a foreign body and the next steps I would recommend would be to actually have the nasal passages scoped and also be prepared to have a CT scan performed. This will allow better visualization, as the scope gets in further than an otoscope will allow and the CT would allow an entirely different view.

When I went through this, I was on the last day of the antibiotics when the stick finally came out. My plan was to take Maggie to Iowa State the next week if things continued. One thing to note is that if there was some type of damage done (i.e. stick went in and came out), there is the possibility there will always be some abnormalities, with some degree of discharge if the injury was severe enough. Certainly purulent discharge is not normal even after an injury; however, it is possible that with injuries some dogs will have continual discharge.

Submitted 4/25/05:
I have a springer with sneezing and nasal discharge for about six month. Numerous rounds of antibiotics and two operations on the nose, otherwise the health is good. My vet takes my money and pleads mea culpa. Any other suggestions?

With the limited info you’ve given some of what I’m going to suggest may already have been done, but here goes. First I’d want to know was there any event that triggered the problem, like out hunting or running in the woods? Nasal foreign bodies do unfortunately occur in our sporting dogs. Also has any of the tissue or discharge been cultured for bacteria or sent in for microscopic exam (you don’t mention the dog’s age…older dog I’d be more worried about a tumor, younger dog a foreign body or infection). Also have you had any travel history??? Certain fungal infections can cause the problems you are describing and if they are not common in your part of the country your vet may not have them on his list.

As far as next steps I would likely want to do two things, the first being having a scope procedure done to go up and examine the nasal passages and look for a foreign object or tumor and if that turns up nothing than I’d recommend a CT scan. Nasal discharge can be frustrating and when the simple fixes don’t work, it can take several visits to finally turn up the right answer.

Submitted 9/20/04:
I have two dogs that recently came down with what I can only describe as a cold. Both were in a kennel here in Winnipeg for about a week while I was out of town. Upon my return I noticed that they both were sneezing and had a bit of clear discharge from the nose. I had them in a NAVHDA test the next day in Bismarck, ND but pulled both of them when it became apparent to all who were there that neither dog could smell a thing. I took them to a local vet who found that they were both running temperatures of about 103-104 degrees. She suggested a course of antibiotics as a precaution against a more serious bacterial infection.

Three weeks later the dogs seem much improved. They run well, have good appetites etc. Everything seems to be fine…except the nose. They are missing birds that I know they could have nailed. My other dog who did not come down with the same thing is finding 99% of all the birds. He is a good dog but not THAT good. The two that were sick are clearly having a hard time scenting.

My question to you is, how long do you think this sort of thing can last. It has now been three weeks and while I see improvement I am still worried about possible long-term problems.

From your description of the symptoms and with the recent episode of being boarded I would be highly suspicious that your dogs were suffering from Kennel Cough (or Kennel Cough Complex). Basically a combination of a virus and bacteria (Bordatella bronchiseptica) that attack the upper respiratory tract and trachea causing the symptoms you describe. In most adult dogs it is self-limiting, though very annoying, as some dogs develop a very hacking, dry cough. Most uncomplicated cases will resolve in about 14 days and with antibiotics it is usually about 10 days. The biggest worry with Kennel Cough is the development of a secondary pneumonia, which, thankfully it doesn’t sound like you experienced.

Kennel Cough is highly contagious, and we mainly see it in dogs that have been in a multi-dog/stressful situation, such as when they are boarded, groomed, hospitalized, shown, trialed, etc. There is a very effective vaccine for Kennel Cough, and I would recommend that any dog that is going to be in one of the above situations be vaccinated against the disease and boostered annually. That being said, we will occasionally see dogs that come down with Kennel Cough even though they have been vaccinated.

My speculation into your poor scenting situations is that their bodies just haven’t had enough time to fully repair the damage that was done. With all of the inflammation and irritation that occurs in this disease, it will likely take some time for the body, and the upper respiratory tract, to repair itself. I don’t have an exact timetable, but as long as you are continuing to see improvement I would not be too concerned.