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Similar to humans, dogs are susceptible to lung diseases, but it can be hard to notice lung problems, such as pneumonia, in dogs if you don't know what you are looking for. Pneumonia is a condition that affects the lungs and airways, and it can cause coughing and difficulty breathing. Different types of pneumonia, such as aspiration pneumonia, can affect your pup in different ways. Learn more about the clinical signs and treatment options should your dog contract pneumonia.
Types of Dog Pneumonia
Anything that causes inflammation in the lungs and airways can cause pneumonia. This may include accidentally inhaling food contaminated with bacteria, or even upper-respiratory infections, accidental inhalation of grass seeds, fungal infections and tick-borne infections. Some of the most common types of pneumonia include:
Aspiration pneumonia in dogs is one of the most common types of pneumonia. It occurs when food or vomit contaminated with bacteria is accidentally inhaled or "aspirated" into the lungs. Aspiration pneumonia can occur in dogs who have laryngeal paralysis, a cleft palate, megaesophagus, acid reflux, dogs who have seizures, are in a coma or under anesthesia.
There are a wide variety of infectious organisms that can ultimately result in pneumonia. A few of the more common infectious causes include viruses, such as the influenza or distemper viruses, both of which can primarily infect lung tissue and can sufficiently damage the lungs in a way that allows secondary bacterial infections to develop. Bacteria may also be the primary cause of pneumonia with certain diseases such as Bordetella, the bacteria that causes kennel cough. As a pet parent, it's very important to be aware of these three infectious causes of pneumonia as well as how they are extremely contagious to other dogs. Dogs may also develop bacterial pneumonia by inhaling foreign objects that become lodged in the lung tissue. Most commonly, this occurs with things such as grass seeds or foxtail awns and may be particularly problematic in certain areas of the country, such as the Midwest and west coast, where foxtail weeds are very common.
Another major group of infectious causes of pneumonia in dogs include fungal pneumonia, which occurs when fungus is inhaled from contaminated soil or plant debris and colonizes the lungs. Blastomyces, Histoplasma, Cryptococcus and Coccidioides immitis are the main culprits in fungal pneumonia and where you live in the country will influence which fungi pose the biggest threat to your pup. For example, Blastomyces tends to be more common around some of the Great Lakes states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois) and the Ohio River Valley, whereas Coccidioides tends to show up more in the dry, arid climates of the southwest. Although fungal causes of pneumonia are not directly transmissible between people and dogs (or between dogs), it's important to remember that these fungal spores live in the environment and that many of the same fungi that cause pneumonia in dogs can infect people as well.
Lastly, although much less common, there are certain types of parasites and protozoa that can cause pneumonia as well. These more commonly affect young puppies or animals that have a compromised immune system from medications or other diseases such as cancer, severe kidney disease, diabetes mellitus or Cushing's disease. In particular, there is a rare type of protozoal pneumonia to which Dachshunds and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are particularly susceptible due to an inherited immune system defect sometimes seen in these breeds.
Another type of pneumonia is called eosinophilic pneumonia, more commonly seen in certain breeds such as Rottweilers. Although this disease process is not well understood, it's believed to occur as part of an allergic response to things including pollen, fungal spores and heartworms. Other respiratory parasites have also been reported to cause allergic or eosinophilic pneumonia, as well as tick-borne diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis.
Dogs can develop interstitial pneumonia, which results from damage to either lung cells or to tiny blood vessels in the lungs called capillaries. Damage can be due to a variety of factors, ranging from inhalation of smoke during a house fire, toxins and certain viral infections. A form of this disease, interstitial pulmonary fibrosis, can be seen in middle-aged to older West Highland White Terriers.
Clinical Signs of Pneumonia in Dogs
The most common clinical signs of pneumonia in dogs include coughing, fever and general fatigue. A cough associated with pneumonia often sounds moist and can be worse when a dog is resting. Additional signs can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Nasal discharge
- Blue gums in severe cases
If you notice any of these clinical signs, call your local veterinarian as soon as possible.
Diagnosing Pneumonia in Dogs
Pneumonia is diagnosed via a combination of physical examination findings and laboratory results. Your veterinary care team will ask you questions about how your dog is doing and what your main concerns are. Try to provide as many details as possible, including any medications or supplements your dog is on and any recent travel history.
If your vet suspects pneumonia, they may recommend laboratory tests and imaging studies, such as chest X-rays, as well as blood work. In some cases, additional studies, like testing fluid from the lungs, may be recommended as well. Try to follow all recommendations for testing as this will give your vet the information they need to make the best decisions for your dog.
Treating Pneumonia in Dogs
If pneumonia is diagnosed, treatment depends on the type and cause of pneumonia as well as how sick your dog is. In most cases, dogs with pneumonia can be treated at home unless they're very ill or infectious. Any of the following treatments may be recommended:
- Increased fluid intake to help clear the lungs and balance the body
- Humidification to loosen lung secretions
- Antibiotics, parasite treatment or antifungal therapy
- Restricted activity
- Physical therapy such as nebulization and coupage
It's very important to follow all treatment recommendations from your vet and finish all medications as prescribed, even if your dog seems to be feeling better. Bring your dog back to the vet for checkups as recommended. If your dog is very sick or considered infectious, hospitalization may be recommended. Hospitalized treatments can include oxygen therapy, IV fluid therapy, antibiotics, and sometimes even surgery to remove foreign bodies and abscesses.
If your dog has developed pneumonia due to other underlying causes, such as laryngeal paralysis, megaesophagus or a suppressed immune system, then these issues will need to be treated.
Preventing Pneumonia in Dogs
To minimize your dog's chances of developing pneumonia:
- Maintain year-round parasite control for heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas and ticks.
- Take your dog in for yearly checkups, keep vaccines up to date and have your dog's feces checked every six to 12 months for parasites.
- Maintain good air quality in your dog's living spaces, and avoid dusty or moldy environments.
- If your dog has an underlying condition that increases their risk for pneumonia, such as megaesophagus or laryngeal paralysis, follow your vet's recommendations to minimize the chances of developing secondary pneumonia.
If your dog is coughing, it could be kennel cough, or it could be pneumonia. It is always better to be safe than sorry. If your dog is acting abnormally, call your local vet and schedule an appointment to have your dog examined.
Dr. Sarah Wooten
A 2002 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and certified veterinary journalist, Dr. Sarah Wooten has 16 years experience in small animal veterinary practice, is a well known international speaker and writer in the veterinary and animal health care spaces, and is passionate about helping pet parents learn how to care better for their fur friends.