Respiratory congestion

Respiratory congestion has numerous causes, but whatever the reason, it can make your dog or cat very uncomfortable. Getting to the root of the problem is the first step to alleviating his symptoms.

Respiratory congestion can also occur in dogs and cats for a variety of reasons. We talked to veterinarian Dr. Mark Newkirk for his expertise and advice on the condition.

AWM: What is respiratory congestion?

MN: Congestion means fluid of some kind in the lungs. This fluid can arise from many sources, such as infection, allergy, heart failure or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), sometimes called ‘old dog lung’.

AWM: What are the symptoms?

MN: Symptoms are similar no matter what the cause, but they differ in severity. They can include coughing, gagging up mucous, exercise intolerance, or excessive panting in the absence of heat or exercise, especially at night. Nasal symptoms may or may not be present. If there’s an infection, the animal usually also has a fever.

AWM: How is the condition diagnosed?

MN: Treatment depends on the cause, and diagnosis relies on the animal’s history – for example, is the problem seasonal, is the animal young or old, has he had exposure to kennels or dog parks? A physical examination will look for heart murmers, and also crackles and their location. Diagnostic tests most commonly include x-rays and blood tests. If a heart issue is suspected, then an electrocardiogram (EKG) and/or an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) are done.

AWM: What are the treatment options?

MN: Holistic and traditional treatments can be combined. If allergy is the cause, conventional treatments include hyposensitization injections, steroids, antihistamines and possibly temporary diuretics. To that we could add herbs such as dandelion (diuretic), licorice (which has cortisone-like activity) and yucca (an anti-inflammatory). Many Chinese herbal combinations could be used as well. Homeopathic remedies may be added, as well as glandulars to support the tissue.

Similarly, heart disease might be treated with cardiac drugs and diuretics, as well as dandelion, hawthorn, CoQ10 and glandulars.

COPD or “old dog lung” apparently arises for no discernable reason. We understand that joints “get old”, causing arthritis. Lungs “get old” too, causing pneumonitis, or an inflammation of the lung tissue itself. Diuretics and some of the herbs mentioned above would help this condition.

AWM: What about prevention?

MN: A healthier body “prevents” more illnesses from happening. So, if we eliminate food allergens and household and environmental allergens as best we can, feed healthy foods, do NAET to eliminate existing allergens in the body, strengthen weakened areas of the body with glandular and homeopathy, and minimize vaccinations — this creates less illness.

Break up mucus with sound wave therapy

A newer technology that’s being used to alleviate respiratory congestion is the VibraVM acoustic percussor ( This veterinary medical device generates sound waves that vibrate and break up mucus so the animal can get rid of it. It can be used for problems in both the upper and lower respiratory system and for acute and chronic conditions.

The device can also act as a bronchodilator, relaxing muscles in the airway so they open up for increased airflow and easier breathing.