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Why Is Your Dog Having Throat Spasms?

Throat spasms in dogs are more common than we may think and they’re not always the symptom of an underlying issue. In order to avoid costly trips to the vet for nothing, it’s important to learn the differences between the symptoms related to throat spasms.

Some dog’s throat problems are indeed the symptom of concerning conditions, but most often they’re just temporary discomfort that goes away before you can even reach the nearest hospital.

What causes throat spasms in dogs? 

Most of the time, when your dog has throat spasms it’s because your dog has an irritated throat or is having digestive issues. These issues may be due to the food eaten or a minor dysfunction in their digestive system that they have since birth.

Some of these issues aren’t a reason for concern and will most likely pass on their own after a while, others may require treatment.

One symptom you should look out for is coughing: this is usually the difference between a benign condition and a serious one like tracheal collapse or congestive heart failure.

Reverse sneezing 

When a dog suffers from reverse sneezing they might make noises that sound like the dog is having breathing spasms or choking.

This condition is also known as inspiratory paroxysmal respiration, which is a very complicated and ominous-sounding name to say that your dog makes a honking sound that feels like a reverse sneeze.

Reverse sneezing is caused by a dog’s soft palate spasm, where the mouth meets the throat. As a consequence, the trachea opening is temporarily reduced which makes the dog struggle to inhale.

These dog’s breathing spasms are due to irritation of either the soft palate or throat. Other causes may include:

  • Eating or drinking
  • Excitement
  • Tight leash around their neck
  • Mites
  • Items caught in the throat
  • Allergies
  • Perfumes
  • Household chemicals

An episode of inspiratory paroxysmal respiration usually lasts 30 seconds, during which the dog stands still, stretching their front legs and neck as its chest moves rapidly.

If reverse sneezing is recurring, it’s safer to have your veterinarian check your dog to see if the cause is something treatable like allergies or mites. Oftentimes, the cause remains unknown.

This condition doesn’t usually require the owner’s intervention, but in the case, it’s dragging out for too long, you can try helping your dog by softly massaging their throat or covering their nostrils temporarily to make them swallow.

Older dogs are the most affected by this condition, but it can show up in early adults as well and re-appear regularly throughout their whole life.

Collapsing trachea 

The trachea connects the throat with the lungs. This tube is commonly known as the windpipe and it’s encircled by rings of cartilage. However, in dogs, the cartilage doesn’t completely embrace the trachea, leaving a small portion of it surrounded by only a thin membrane.

The membrane along with the tracheal rings could lose rigidity and strength and consequently collapse when your dog inhales air into the lungs.

Sometimes this is caused by trauma or by a tight leash, but it can also happen unprompted, especially in older dogs (4-14 years old).

Some breeds are more prone to tracheal collapse than others, including:

  • Chihuahuas
  • Toy Poodles
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Pomeranians
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Shih Tzu’s

Tracheal collapse can occur in dogs of all breeds, but given that is most often observed in specific breeds, it is suspected there may be a genetic factor involved.

The most common symptom of a collapsing trachea is a dry cough that could persist even at night, and especially after eating, drinking, wearing a leash, or in humid weather.

Since cough can be the symptom of different medical conditions, an examination is necessary for a proper diagnosis. Usually, to confirm a diagnosis of tracheal collapse in dogs, radiography or endoscopy are necessary.

Other pathologies that could have similar symptoms to tracheal collapse include congestive heart failure, which happens when the heart cannot pump blood properly to all the organs.

Dogs affected by congestive heart failure will present pale gums and changes in their blood pressure on top of breathing difficulties. Your veterinarian will be able to rule out this disease upon examination.

A collapsing trachea doesn’t always need treatment, as good control and taking preventive measures should allow your dog to live their life with little to no risks, even though they may continue to experience throat spasms and coughing.

In order to fix a collapsing trachea, surgery is also an option, but the procedure is very complex and it is not recommended if not strictly necessary.

To prevent this condition from getting worse, your dog will need to maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight. In fact, overweight dogs could end up crashing their trachea even further.

Be careful of what you feed to your dog and avoid especially fatty foods full of oils and butter.

Acid reflux 

If your dog keeps hiccuping and swallowing after eating, maybe they’re experiencing acid reflux.

Acid reflux happens when the acids in a dog’s stomach, along with the enzymes responsible for digestion, go up through the esophagus.

Dog’s stomach acids are very strong, so this could be a dangerous condition in the long-term because it could lead to ulcers in the esophagus.

Acid reflux doesn’t have particular symptoms, but the inflammation of the esophagus provokes throat spasms and reverse sneezing.

Also, it’s not uncommon for acid reflux to provoke recurrent vomiting in dogs, which could cause aspiration pneumonia.

Symptoms of acid reflux in dogs include:

  • Obsessive swallowing
  • Regurgitation after meals
  • Burping
  • Gagging
  • Lack of appetite
  • Bad breath
  • Whining/howling after eating
  • Weight loss
  • Low energy levels after eating
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive salivation
  • Fever (in severe cases)

If you notice one or more of these symptoms, bring your dog to the veterinarian so they can formulate a diagnosis and start treatment right away.

Usually, for a diagnosis of acid reflux, it will be necessary to introduce a microcamera inside the esophagus (esophagoscopy) to see if the membrane lining the esophagus is deteriorating.

Young dogs are more commonly victims of acid reflux because their esophageal sphincters are not fully developed.

Other causes of acid reflux could be:

  • Frequent induction of vomiting
  • Obesity
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Post-surgery side-effect

Acid reflux is usually treated through a low-fat and low-protein diet, as fats and proteins increase gastric acids. It is better to feed your dog several small meals during the day rather than a few large ones.

Consult your veterinarian to see what treatment options are available for your dog’s specific case.

What should you do if your dog has throat spasms?

Sometimes when your dog is seemingly having throat spasms, they’re experiencing the so-called reverse sneezing phenomenon or they’re having some problems digesting the food.

In these cases, your intervention is usually not needed because your dog will be fine in a matter of minutes. However, if throat spasms are accompanied by other symptoms or if your dog looks really sick, you should have them checked.

Dogs can suffer from various gastrointestinal issues like acid reflux, just as we do. Sometimes, they simply have too much air in their stomach and intestines and are trying to get it out by licking and swallowing.

Excessive salivation can cause skin problems and make your dog’s lips turn pink so you should discourage this behavior. If your dog has a recurring digestive problem after eating, you should consult your veterinarian to see if there are treatments available.

If your dog has breathing spasms, they could have a respiratory issue and you should call your veterinarian immediately. In this case, some dogs start stretching their front legs and looking up in an attempt to inhale more air.

Esophageal disease in dogs. 

The esophageal disease is not a condition, but rather a family of conditions that could affect the esophagus of a dog.

It is not as common as gastrointestinal problems in dogs and it’s often misdiagnosed because its symptoms may be confused with GI tract conditions or are often too mild to be considered.

However, the esophageal disease can provoke a great deal of discomfort to your dog and impact their quality of life, so it’s important to diagnose it in time and begin treatment where necessary.

Scientists think that genetics has a role in the development of this disease. In fact, some breeds are more prone to esophageal disease than others, including:

  • German Shepherd Dog
  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Great Dane
  • Fox Terrier
  • Irish Setter
  • Newfoundland
  • Boston Terrier
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Labrador Retriever

Diagnosis of the esophageal disease requires different tools and tests because this family of conditions is very diversified and each specific condition needs its own test in order to formulate a proper diagnosis:

– Megaesophagus: as the name suggests, the esophagus expands abnormally and loses its ability to pass food through, therefore everything that is swallowed remains in the esophagus. Regurgitation is usually the most common symptom of this condition;

– Esophagitis: it is the inflammation of the esophagus, caused by acid reflux or the presence of a foreign object in the esophagus. In its mild version, it doesn’t show particular symptoms and doesn’t require treatment;

– Cricopharyngeal Achalasia: a dog affected by this condition cannot swallow food or water because the cricopharyngeal muscle doesn’t relax when needed;

– Esophageal Strictures: contrary to the megaesophagus, this condition causes the esophagus to shrink, usually after trauma or after dangerous ingestion. To treat this condition, the use of a balloon catheter that stretches the esophagus has proved successful;

– Esophageal Diverticula: this is a rare condition where the walls of the esophagus develop pouch-like dilations. Small dilations do not cause symptoms, but large ones may trap food inside, causing suffocation, vomiting, or lack of appetite. While small diverticula can be treated with a bland diet, large diverticula require surgery.

Recovery for esophageal disease depends on the type of condition and the severity of it. Your veterinarian will guide you through your dog’s esophagus problems and provide the best treatment for their situation.