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My Dog is Wheezing After Surgery, Should I be Worried?

Your dog just came out of surgery, and as a responsible pet owner, you’ve been monitoring their vitals, breathing, and everything in between.

You notice some wheezing and you’re concerned—what solutions are within your power to do?

Well, dog wheezing after surgery may not even be that big of a deal depending on the circumstances and variables.

We’re going to take a deep dive into this issue so you can know what is worth bringing them to the pet hospital over, and what is just part of the recovery process.

Determining the Cause of Wheezing

Photo of Dogs Wheezing

First thing’s first: you need to actually find where the wheezing is coming from.

Is it centered around the throat, or can you hear it deep in their lungs?

What complications is it causing? Let’s find out.

Sound

The most noticeable issue with wheezing is the auditory cues. If you can hear your dog wheezing without the need of a stethoscope, then there’s definitely something going on.

It doesn’t have to be life-threatening or require a follow-up surgery, but there can definitely be something wrong.

Once wheezing gets to the point that it’s audible, it will be far enough along that you can seriously consider contact the vet or going in to the pet hospital.

Do your best to listen for fluid rising up during coughs, if wheezing or coughing is dry, and the dog’s energy levels. All of this will be important when you contact a vet.

It’s a good measure to put your ear to your dog’s lungs and listen for breathing. You need to know just how severe the wheezing is before you make that phone call or visit.

Loud, phlegmy wheezing may mean that they got sick and are in the throes of getting better.

Inflammation

Inflammation is weird, because it’s designed to help the body (both in humans and dogs), but it also poises its own problems. Light inflammation is okay, and even moderate levels of inflammation after a surgery are also okay. Inflammation is designed to help your body heal.

However, there is a limit. While inflammation will be extremely prevalent after a surgery as the body begins to heal affected areas, the body can keep increasing inflammation to the point that it’s dangerous.

This can absolutely cause wheezing as swollen tissue surrounds the lungs and begins to apply pressure from multiple angles.

Dealing with this on your own is tricky. Ice packs and extreme cold help reduce inflammation, but cold also lowers the immune system, so if your dog is already wheezing is may not be a good idea to apply ice packs.

Blue Gums

Photo of Dogs Gums

When your dog has trouble pulling in oxygen due to wheezing, it will show on their lips. Just like with humans, their lips turn blue due to oxygen deprivation, which is an immediate sign that something is wrong.

However, when their gums turn blue, you need to take them to the hospital. Most signs of oxygen deprivation begin at areas farthest from the heart, such as the lips. When this blueness starts to move inward, it can be a sign that a slow lack of oxygen will cause eventual suffocation.

Since this is post-surgery, there may be some issue with any tubes or equipment used during the surgery. There’s a small chance that faulty equipment led to a tear or minor laceration that is slowly sapping oxygen when your dog tries to breathe in, resulting in wheezing.

Endotracheal Tubes Can Irritate and Inflame Dogs Epiglottis

Photo of Endotracheal Intubation

Tracheal trauma is a very serious thing, and because dogs are an entirely different surgical experience than humans, these issues tend to pop up more than they do in human surgeries.

When endotracheal tubes are placed during surgery, they can cause something called epiglottis.

As described by the Mayo Clinic : “Epiglottitis is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the epiglottis — a small cartilage “lid” that covers your windpipe — swells, blocking the flow of air into your lungs.”

This is more common than you might think in dogs, although most of the medical educational material available does discuss humans. So what do you do about it?

This is 100% a medical emergency at any degree. You want to get into the pet hospital or veterinarian’s office as soon as possible, and waste absolutely no time.

Is There Anything You Can Do to Stop the Wheezing?

Photo of Dog recovery after surgery

Immediately following surgery, there is little that you can do to stop the wheezing.

Your dog’s body is recuperating after something extremely taxing happened.

What you can do is follow some tips and rules to make sure your dog has the best possible immune system going into a surgery, and the highest chance of making a speedy and well-rounded recovery post-surgery.

  • Heart Medication/Supplements: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s a term we’ve all heard once or twice before, but when it comes to heart health, that’s not the case. You want to find preventative measures before you have to find a solution. Make sure your dog is taking some form of a heart supplement that is specifically beneficial to their breed (your vet can help you pick one out). One of the reasons your dog may be wheezing is due to the strain on their heart from trying to extract more oxygen from their lungs after being weakened from surgery. Heart supplements will help.
  • Balanced Diet: Another preventative measure is to make sure your dog has a balanced diet. You can have the grain vs. grain-free debate all day long, that’s not what I’m talking about; I mean a healthy blend of beneficial vitamins and minerals. Regardless of the source, your dog needs to constantly restock their muscles, tendons, and organs with beneficial nutrients to remain healthy. This will help prevent degradation of the heart, lungs, and other organs as they age. According to Dr. Lippert’s study, dogs can live almost up to three additional years with a homemade diet of quality foods. That also increases their quality of life over that time.
  • Regular Exercise: Good levels of exercise on a routine basis (not just walks to go to the bathroom) are associated with a better immune system thanks to the fresh air, better respiratory immune system responses, and a healthier heart. All of which will help your dog when it comes to post-surgical recovery. While it will take some time to fall back into a rhythm of exercise after the surgery, it will help them leading up to it, and potentially shorten their recovery time depending on the severity of the surgery.
  • Oral Hygiene: This seems like a complete 180, doesn’t it? Believe it or not, oral hygiene is directly associated with heart health. In both dogs and humans, the walls of our cheeks absorb what we’re eating and drinking before we even swallow. Bad oral hygiene means bacteria that’s constantly growing and being absorbed by the body. That doesn’t exactly help with your immune system.

When Should You be Worried?

When symptoms worsen. If you realize that your dog is wheezing immediately following a surgery, it’s not enough to really be worried.

Even for dental surgeries, dogs can wheeze for five to six days afterwards before returning back to their normal respiratory function.

Going into a surgery, you should be given information regarding medications used during the surgery, post-surgical care tips, and other packets of info that the vet gives you.

Do not disregard this information. Many people just throw the packets out or never bother to read them, but they have tons of helpful information.

If symptoms worsen, wheezing intensifies, or by the time you notice it they’re already having a difficult time breathing, seek aid immediately.

When to Call a Vet?

Photo of Veterinarian Examining A Dog

Vets will ask you questions, try to get a feel for what’s wrong over the phone, and sometimes they miss their mark.

It’s impossible to know the severity of a situation without being there. If you’re positive that your dog is encountering major problems, call the vet.

They may ask you to monitor symptoms, which is why we mentioned to document everything from the time you notice a problem.

Apart from being useful, this information tells the vet “They pay attention and know what to look for,” meaning they’re more likely to take you seriously.

Call the vet when symptoms worsen, when wheezing is extremely loud, or if you notice blue gums and excessive inflammation.

Monitor Your Dog

Monitor your pup after they have their surgery, record everything you can, and be sure to check on them regularly.

With many dogs, this is a result of tubes that were used to sedate them. A dog’s respiratory system is fragile compared to yours or mine, so they could be wheezing even if they are recovering properly.

Keep a level head, but do not hesitate to call your vet or take your dog to the nearest animal hospital if things progress. You are the only advocate for your dog’s health, and they’re relying on you.

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