Respiratory System

Dogs normally breathe 12 to 20 times a minute. Cats breathe a little bit faster, 20 to 30 times a minute. If your pet is breathing significantly faster (or slower), you need to figure out what is going on.

Since overweight is a common cause of breathing difficulties, take a look at your pet's midsection. Better yet, feel his side: If you can't feel the ribs, he is probably too heavy and needs to shed a little weight. Once he slims down a bit, his breathing should come back to normal.

Daily exercise is important, but diet is absolutely essential for losing weight, says Dr. Headley. He recommends switching to a low-calorie, high-fiber food, which you can get from your vet or in pet supply stores. At the same time, avoid slipping leftovers from the dinner table into his food bowl since many human foods are high in fat and calories. If your pet hasn't lost any weight after a few weeks, you are going to need to feed him less.

Before starting any weight-loss plan, it is important to check with your vet. "You have to be careful about how much weight your pet loses and how quickly he loses it," says Dr. Headley. "You have to make sure that your pet is getting the proper nutrition while dieting."

Heartworms are extremely serious, so it is important to do everything that you can to prevent them. There are a number of medications -- given either once a day or monthly -- that will kill heartworms before they have a chance to mature and cause problems. It is also a good idea to avoid damp, swampy areas where mosquitoes thrive and where the risk for heartworms is high.

Pets with asthma always need to be under a veterinarian's care. If your cat is having an attack, however, you can help him breathe more easily by putting extra moisture in the air, either with a humidifier or by taking him into the bathroom and turning up the steam. The warm, moist air will help unclog his breathing tubes, explains Dr. Boggs.

Since asthma attacks are sometimes caused by dust, it is helpful to use dust-free litter, says Dr. Boggs. You should also use an unscented variety since the chemicals that give litter its scent may trigger attacks in some cats.

It is not always easy to tell if your pet has swallowed something that is blocking the flow of air. Even if you can see the object, it is not always safe -- for your pet or for you -- to remove it. "If your pet is having trouble breathing, don't open his mouth because the risk of a bite is high," advises Dr. Boggs. Instead, get him to the vet right away.

In fact, any breathing problem should be considered an emergency, Dr. Drobatz says. "If an owner calls and says that his pet is having trouble breathing, we don't mess around. "We tell them to come in right away." On the way to the office, put your pet in front of the car's air-conditioning vent. This will make it easier for him to breathe.

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