All About Dog Pneumonia What You Need to Know About This Potentially Life-Threatening Condition

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Pneumonia is never a good diagnosis whether itโ€™s in people or dogs. Pneumonia is a serious disease that causes damage to the lungs and lower respiratory tract, and if left untreated can be deadly.

There are many things that can cause a dog to cough, including allergies, kennel cough, upper respiratory infection, heart disease, and inhalation of a foreign object (such as grass). Pneumonia -- though relatively rare in dogs -- can also cause coughing; specifically a loose, gurgly cough that proclaims “there’s fluid in the lungs!” If you’re hearing this type of cough from your dog, it’s time to get them checked out for pneumonia.

What Causes Dog Pneumonia?

Simply put, pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs or lower respiratory tract. A number of things can cause this inflammation, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. Oftentimes, bacterial and viral pneumonia will be preceded by another infection, such as kennel cough, bronchitis, or parainfluenza.

Aspiration pneumonia -- also known as inhalant pneumonia -- is another form of the disease that is characterized by inhalation of fluid or particles into the lungs or airways, and it commonly occurs alongside conditions that affect respiratory functioning. Predisposing conditions include megaesophagus, gastroesophageal reflux disease, collapsing trachea, laryngeal paralysis, and reflux of the gastric contents of the stomach into the lungs, such as during vomiting or while under anesthesia.

In addition, some dogs develop pneumonia after inhaling or ingesting chemicals such as smoke, gasoline, or kerosene.

Pneumonia is relatively uncommon in healthy adult dogs; young dogs, old dogs, dogs with compromised immune systems, and dogs with respiratory disorders or defects are most at risk.

Symptoms of Dog Pneumonia

The symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • Loose, gurgly cough (indicating presence of fluid in the lungs)
  • Fever
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thick nasal discharge

In severe cases, a dog may sit with their legs splayed and head lowered to allow for greater expansion of the lungs

Diagnosing Dog Pneumonia

Contact your veterinarian if your dog is exhibiting any of the above symptoms. A pneumonia diagnosis is usually reached through blood tests and chest x-rays. In addition, advanced blood work can help a veterinarian determine the cause of the infection and thus the proper course of treatment.

It is also important to note that in many cases, pneumonia is discovered while treating or testing for another disease or condition, so make sure that your vet checks your dog thoroughly.

Treatment for Dog Pneumonia

Treatment for your dog’s pneumonia will depend on the severity of the condition as well as the cause. If your dog is suffering from respiratory distress, has a fever, or is showing signs of dehydration, they may require emergency care that involves oxygen and fluid therapy.

If the dog is stable, they will likely receive outpatient treatment.

Bacterial pneumonia is commonly treated with a course of antibiotics, and the antibiotic prescribed will depend on the specific infecting bacteria discovered during blood testing. Dogs with viral, fungal, or parasitic pneumonia are also treated with medication that is selected based on the specific cause of the disease. For aspiration pneumonia, your veterinarian may use suctioning to remove the irritating material from your dog’s airway.

Bronchodilators -- medications that work to dilate a dog’s airways -- may also be prescribed in some cases to ease breathing.

If a dog does not respond to treatment, surgical removal of damaged lung tissue may be required.

Prognosis for Dog Pneumonia

The prognosis will depend on the severity of your dog’s condition as well as any complicating factors, such as an underlying disease or defect. Many cases of pneumonia are treated successfully, and if the underlying cause of the disease is also identified and treated, recurrence is unlikely.

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