What Is A Bronchodilator For Dogs?

What are bronchodilators?

Bronchodilators are medications that open up the airways in the lungs by relaxing the surrounding muscles in the bronchial tubes (bronchi). This allows more air to flow in and out of the lungs, making breathing easier (1).

Bronchodilators work by targeting receptors in the muscles around the bronchial tubes. This causes the muscle bands to relax, preventing airway constriction and allowing the airways to expand. There are two main types of bronchodilators:

  • Short-acting bronchodilators provide quick relief and last for 4-6 hours. These include short-acting beta2-agonists like albuterol.
  • Long-acting bronchodilators provide longer lasting symptom relief for up to 12 hours. These include long-acting beta2-agonists like salmeterol and formoterol.

By opening the airways, bronchodilators make it easier to breathe and allow air to move in and out of the lungs more freely. This provides relief from symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing (2).

(1) https://www.nhsinform.scot/tests-and-treatments/medicines-and-medical-aids/types-of-medicine/bronchodilators

(2) https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/17575-bronchodilators-asthma-purpose-types–side-effects

Why dogs may need bronchodilators

Dogs may be prescribed bronchodilators to help treat respiratory conditions that cause narrowed airways and difficulty breathing. Common conditions that cause airway restriction in dogs include:

  • Asthma – a chronic inflammatory condition of the bronchial airways. Asthma in dogs often involves bronchospasm, mucus production, and airway remodeling.
  • Chronic bronchitis – long-term inflammation of the bronchi. It is characterized by coughing and airway obstruction.
  • Tracheal collapse – a progressive disease in which the tracheal rings flatten and the airway narrows.

Symptoms that may indicate the need for bronchodilators include wheezing, coughing, exercise intolerance, rapid breathing, and blue-tinged gums. Diagnostic tests like radiography, bronchoscopy, and CT scans can help identify the underlying cause and severity of airway restriction.

By opening constricted airways, bronchodilators make breathing easier and relieve symptoms. They help improve air flow in and out of the lungs. Early treatment with bronchodilators can prevent complications and improve quality of life for dogs with respiratory disease.

Benefits of bronchodilators for dogs

Bronchodilators provide several benefits for dogs suffering from respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and collapsed trachea. By relaxing the muscles around the airways, bronchodilators can relieve asthma attacks, improve breathing capacity, and increase oxygen levels in the bloodstream and lungs.

During an asthma attack, the airways constrict and fill with mucus, making it difficult for the dog to breathe. Bronchodilators open up the airways by relaxing the surrounding smooth muscle, allowing more air to flow in and out of the lungs. This relieves the acute symptoms of an asthma attack such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Bronchodilators prescribed for asthma are considered “rescue medications” because they provide fast relief during an attack.

For dogs with chronic respiratory disease, regular use of bronchodilators can improve their overall breathing capacity and endurance. The medications allow the airways to remain open and expanded, increasing the amount of air the dog can move in and out with each breath. With improved airflow, more oxygen can reach the lungs and enter the bloodstream. This increases the oxygen levels throughout the body, improving the dog’s energy and reducing fatigue.

Bronchodilators have also proven effective for treating collapsed trachea in dogs. Collapsed trachea causes the trachea to flatten and collapse during breathing, obstructing airflow. Bronchodilators can help relieve this obstruction by dilating the trachea.

Types of canine bronchodilators

Bronchodilators for dogs typically fall into two main categories – short-acting and long-acting. Short-acting bronchodilators provide quick relief but effects wear off within 4-6 hours. Long-acting bronchodilators provide sustained relief over 12 or more hours. There are also oral and inhaled bronchodilator options.

Common short-acting inhaled bronchodilators include albuterol (Ventolin, ProAir HFA) and levalbuterol (Xopenex). These provide rapid bronchodilation and are often used for quick relief of acute bronchospasm episodes. Effects last 4-6 hours.1

Long-acting inhaled bronchodilators such as salmeterol (Serevent) and formoterol (Foradil, Perforomist) have a slower onset but provide bronchodilation for 12+ hours, making them useful for regular management of chronic bronchospasm. 2

Oral bronchodilators like theophylline (Theo-Dur, Elixophyllin) allow systemic delivery over 8-12 hours. However, the therapeutic index can be narrow and regular monitoring of blood levels is required.3

Inhaled bronchodilators are often preferable due to more direct and rapid action on the airways with fewer systemic side effects. Vets will recommend the most suitable type and delivery method depending on the specific condition being treated.

Administering Bronchodilators to Dogs

Bronchodilators are most commonly administered to dogs using metered dose inhalers (MDIs) or nebulizers.

For metered dose inhalers, a spacer or chamber is recommended to help ensure the medication is properly inhaled. The inhaler is inserted into the chamber, then held over the dog’s nose while the inhaler is pressed to release medication into the chamber. The dog should inhale the medication through the mask or mouthpiece attached to the chamber [1].

With nebulizers, the bronchodilator medication is converted into a mist that the dog inhales through a mask or mouthpiece connected to the nebulizer machine. Nebulized treatment usually lasts 5-15 minutes [2].

Oral bronchodilators like theophylline are also sometimes prescribed, often in tablet form. Dosage guidelines are based on the dog’s weight and medical condition. Timing and frequency depends on the specific drug and can range from every 12 hours to 3 times a day.

Side effects of bronchodilators in dogs

While bronchodilators are generally safe and effective when used as prescribed, they can cause some side effects in dogs. Some of the most common side effects of bronchodilators include:

Increased heart rate and tremors: Bronchodilators like albuterol can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, leading to a higher heart rate and tremors or shaking in dogs. This effect is usually mild but can be concerning for some pet owners.

Paradoxical bronchospasm: In rare cases, bronchodilators may cause paradoxical bronchospasm, which is a tightening of the airways. This side effect is seen more often in cats than dogs.

Insomnia and restlessness: Bronchodilators like theophylline have stimulant effects and may cause insomnia, anxiety, or restlessness in some dogs. These effects are generally temporary but can disrupt a dog’s normal behavior.

Pet owners should monitor their dog closely for side effects when starting bronchodilator treatment. Mild side effects often resolve within a few days but should be discussed with a veterinarian. Serious side effects like severe shaking, breathing difficulty, or collapse require prompt veterinary attention.

Contraindications and drug interactions

Bronchodilators can pose risks for dogs with certain pre-existing conditions. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, theophylline should be used with caution in dogs with heart disease, seizures, stomach ulcers, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, or kidney disease (Theophylline – VCA Animal Hospitals).

Similarly, albuterol sulfate carries warnings in dogs with heart conditions, hyperthyroidism, seizures, and diabetes, as it may exacerbate these conditions (Albuterol Sulfate – VCA Animal Hospitals).

It’s important to inform your veterinarian of any other medications your dog is taking, as bronchodilators can interact with other drugs. Theophylline should not be used with certain antibiotics like erythromycin, anti-seizure medications, or heart medications. Albuterol can also interact with heart meds, diuretics, antidepressants, and MAO inhibitors.

Lifestyle changes to support treatment

Making certain lifestyle changes can help ease symptoms and improve your dog’s quality of life when using bronchodilators. Some recommendations include:

Avoid smoke, dust, and other respiratory irritants. Keep your dog away from environments with cigarette smoke, fireplaces, dusty conditions, air fresheners, etc. These can exacerbate breathing issues (1).

Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight puts more pressure on the lungs and airways. By keeping your dog trim, you reduce the work of breathing (2).

Get regular, gentle exercise. Going on short, relaxed walks can strengthen respiratory muscles. But strenuous activity that causes breathing distress should be avoided (3).

Use a harness for walks. Collars put pressure on the trachea, worsening symptoms. Switch to a comfortable dog harness to reduce irritation (2).

Provide a stress-free environment. Anxiety can worsen breathing issues. Keep your dog’s environment calming with minimal loud noises or commotion (1).

Make dietary changes if needed. Some dogs do better on low-fat or easily digestible diets. Consult your vet on specialized food options (4).

When to seek emergency care

In most cases, bronchodilators will help alleviate coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing in dogs. However, severe respiratory attacks unresponsive to medication warrant immediate veterinary attention. According to VCA Hospitals, signs requiring emergency care include:

  • Severe bronchospasm attack unresponsive to bronchodilators
  • Labored breathing and respiratory distress
  • Cyanosis (blue gums)
  • Collapse or loss of consciousness

If your dog experiences any of these life-threatening symptoms, rush to the closest 24-hour emergency vet clinic. Timely veterinary intervention with oxygen therapy, IV medications, and monitoring can be lifesaving. Alert the vet staff about your dog’s condition and any bronchodilators administered at home.

According to the VIN Veterinary Partner, prolonged bronchospasm attacks unresponsive to bronchodilators may result in respiratory failure and death if not treated promptly. Therefore, do not hesitate to seek emergency veterinary care if your dog’s breathing problems seem severe or worsen despite medication.

Long-term management

Managing bronchodilator treatment for dogs requires regular follow-up with your veterinarian and consistent monitoring at home. Some key aspects of long-term care include:

  • Follow-up vet exams – Your vet will want to see your dog periodically while on bronchodilators to assess their breathing, listen to their lungs, and determine if medication adjustments are needed. Exams may occur every few weeks initially and then stretch out to every 6-12 months once the condition is well-controlled.
  • Monitoring medication effectiveness – Pay attention to your dog’s breathing, coughing, activity levels and appetite at home between vet visits. Keeping a log can help identify patterns and changes to discuss with your vet. Notify your vet promptly if you notice a decline or worsening of symptoms.
  • Treatment adjustment as needed – Your vet may adjust the medication type, dosage, frequency or delivery method over time to maintain optimal control of your dog’s condition. Close monitoring and follow-up allows proactive adjustments to be made before symptoms worsen.

With regular veterinary oversight and vigilant home monitoring, dogs with chronic bronchial disease can often enjoy markedly improved breathing and quality of life with long-term bronchodilator therapy.

Scroll to Top