Respiratory tract disorders are common in both dogs and cats. Inhaled medications have long been used in the human world to treat non-infectious lung diseases, such as bronchitis and asthma. In veterinary care, medications such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids used to treat similar conditions in pets were traditionally given by injection or by mouth. However, these methods can lead to systemic (whole-body) side effects. Using a dog inhaler means that medication is directed straight to the lungs, where it is needed, without affecting the rest of the body.
Airway therapy using metered dose inhalers (MDIs) is now commonly used in pets, due to their efficacy and safety. Different types of medication can be administered this way to help manage many conditions, including canine bronchitis and feline asthma.
But how exactly do you get a dog to use an inhaler? It can be a daunting thought to be responsible for your pet’s medication, especially when it’s not just a tablet which can be hidden in some food. Well, there’s good news! The AeroDawg® is designed with a chamber and mask to allow a stress-free and effective way of dispensing inhaled medication to pets. Most dogs will accept a dog inhaler well, and there are plenty of tips and tricks to help you both adjust to this novel experience.
What medications can be given via a dog inhaler?
There are two main types of medications which can be given via an inhaler for dogs.
1. Corticosteroids – these reduce inflammation, which is common in respiratory conditions such as bronchitis. Steroids are very commonly used medications in non-infectious respiratory conditions. They can be given orally or by injection but can cause multiple side effects this way. A common example of an inhaled steroid is fluticasone.
2. Bronchodilators – these widen the airways to allow better airflow, and relax the muscles in the respiratory system, allowing relief when coping with chronic breathing problems. A commonly used bronchodilator is albuterol.
Inhalers are also called metered dose inhalers because they are designed so that an exact amount of medication comes out with each dose.
How can dogs use an inhaler?
Metered dose inhalers were designed for humans, not dogs: they fit our mouth size and the medication is dispersed correctly through the lungs following a long, deep inhalation. This isn’t quite so easy for dogs: how do you teach a dog to take an inhaler into their mouth and take a deep breath? Especially as chewing on the medication canister could be disastrous for your dog’s health!
The answer is to use a specifically designed spacing chamber and mask, such as the AeroDawg®. The chamber holds the medication which is released from the dog inhaler, and the mask fits securely around the dog’s nose and mouth so that the medication is taken into the lungs through a series of normal breaths. This equipment comes in a variety of sizes so that all breeds, sizes and shapes of dogs can be medicated in this way.
Training a dog to accept an inhaler
Having a mask thrust over your nose and mouth would be a terrifying experience for anyone if you didn’t know anything about it and weren’t expecting it! Training your dog to accept the mask, and pairing it with something positive will lead to huge rewards, both for you and your pet. Giving the medication will be easier and quicker if your dog is cooperative, and your pooch will gain all the benefits of a full dose of the drug.
Here’s a step-by-step guide:
1. Allow some investigation
Animals are naturally suspicious of anything new. Have the device (mask and chamber, not the actual inhaler medicine) out in the house for a couple of days and allow your dog to sniff and investigate it. No chewing, please! Keep the actual dog inhaler safely out of harm’s way: puncturing the container and ingesting the medication can lead to severe consequences for your dog.
2. Gradually accustom them to having the mask on
This stage is hugely important, and ideally should be taken slowly and calmly. Begin by holding the AeroDawg® device, and simultaneously giving your dog some reward and praise. Gradually,
practice bringing it closer to their face, always at a level that they are comfortable with and accompanied by treats, cuddles and praise. The aim is to get to a point where your pup accepts having the mask placed over their nose and mouth. Take this stage slowly, and back off if your dog has a negative response at any point. Keep sessions short and frequent, and involve lots of your dog’s favourite method of praise, whether that’s treats, toys, cuddles or verbal praise.
3. Using an inhaler for dogs
Once your dog is at a point where they will allow the mask to be placed over their mouth and nose and be held there for a short time, you can start actively using the medication. Firstly, remove the cap from the dog inhaler and attach it to the spacing chamber. Apply the mask over your dog’s mouth and nose, and then press the inhaler down to release a dose of medication. Hold the mask over your dog’s face until they have taken 7-10 breaths. Then remove the mask and give your dog a fun reward!
The frequency with that you do this will depend on the medication. Always consult with your vet and check the label before giving medication. Inhalers need to be stored correctly, and shaken gently before use.
Using an inhaler for dogs can be an efficient, quick and non-invasive way to give medication directly to the area of the body which needs it.
You may find the thought of using a dog inhaler challenging. Here are some additional tips that you may find useful:
● Set up a routine, so that your dog is accustomed to having their medication at a certain time, for example by linking it to a mealtime
● Be prepared, have the inhaler and mask ready to go
● The dog inhaler needs to be gently shaken before use
● Some dogs find the ‘puff’ of the inhaler scary: you can activate the inhaler before applying the mask quickly afterwards if this is the case
● Make sure the mask fits correctly: it should cover the nose and mouth but not the eyes, and have a secure seal with no gaps
● Clean the mask and chamber after each use with a damp cloth and wash the whole device regularly
● Keep inhalers well away from pets: they can be toxic if chewed or eaten.
Inhaled therapy offers a method of medicating which allows drugs to be taken straight to their target (the lungs), avoiding systemic side effects and increasing efficacy. This therapy is mostly well tolerated by dogs and compliance is improved when correct training is given to establish a good routine and full pet cooperation.
You can find out more, including how to buy an AeroDawg® here.