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canine health problems
Dog nebulizer for pneumonia

Doggie nebulizer

The essentials

  • Pneumonia is a common condition in humans that also affects pets — Types of this illness found in dogs include viral or bacterial pneumonia, aspiration pneumonia, and fungal pneumonia.
  • Brachycephalic or flat-faced breeds, like bulldogs or pugs, are more at risk for respiratory illness — Dogs with underdeveloped or weakened immune systems, like puppies and seniors, are also more susceptible.
  • Studies have shown a survival rate as high as 81% in aspiration pneumonia cases in dogs — If given an antibiotic medication treatment. So, it’s important to learn and recognize warning signs to catch the disease as early as possible.

Symptoms of pneumonia

Like pneumonia in humans, this disease also causes respiratory system symptoms in doggies. Keep an eye out for these common warning signs in your pup:

Coughing. Excessive coughing in dogs can signal many things, including the common condition kennel cough. Untreated, bacteria from kennel cough can spread to the lungs, leading to pneumonia.

Difficulty breathing. Canine pneumonia affects the airways, lungs, and air sacs. Thus, it can impact your pet’s breathing. Labored or shallow breathing may be a sign of pneumonia. Owners should seek medical advice right away for an accurate diagnosis of your pet.

Loss of appetite/weight loss. Is your dog refusing dinner? More often than not, a major change in eating habits is a sign of trouble. If your dog has lost their appetite and begins losing weight, pneumonia may be a potential culprit.

Lethargy. Like eating habits, many dogs have somewhat predictable levels of energy. If you notice your dog is more tired or lethargic than usual, there may be something wrong. Lethargy or a decrease in a dog’s activity levels is a symptom common to many canine conditions, including pneumonia.

Fever. A fever can be tricky to pinpoint in dogs, but warm ears and a dry nose are good indicators. A dog thermometer can help confirm a high temperature or fever, which may be a sign of pneumonia.

4 common causes of doggie pneumonia

There are many potential causes of pneumonia in dogs. Different causes also can lead to different types of the disease. Recognizing what’s causing the condition can help pet owners aid in prevention and treatment.

Infection. Infectious pneumonia, often caused by a bacterial infection, is the most common cause of the disease in dogs. Bordetella bronchiseptica is often the bacteria responsible for the infection. But, other strains like Escherichia coli can result in pneumonia as well. Some types of bacteria are infectious and pass easily from dog to dog.

Secondary infections can also stem from viral infections like canine influenza and parainfluenza. In rarer cases, inhalation of spores can even lead to fungal infections which can cause pneumonia. Places like dog groomers and boarding facilities can lead to the transmission of pneumonia through shared bowls, toys, and leashes. Therefore, it’s recommended to always exercise caution around unknown canines.

Aspiration or inhaling foreign objects. Aspiration pneumonia occurs when dogs inhale foreign objects, causing inflammation in the lungs. Food, water, or even medication can cause this, as well as excessive regurgitation or inhalation of vomit.

Irritants. Dogs have a more sensitive respiratory system than humans. As a result, environmental irritants like pollutants, smoke, aerosols, and others, can lead to lung irritation, which in turn can cause pneumonia.

Disease. Some canine respiratory diseases, such as cancer or laryngeal paralysis, can lead to irritation and inflammation of the airways and lungs. This in turn can cause secondary infections which may lead to pneumonia.

Diagnosing and treating canine pneumonia

If you suspect your dog has pneumonia, you should visit your veterinarian as soon as possible. Since the disease can rapidly worsen, it’s important to determine the severity and type of pneumonia in order to determine treatment options.

👉 Early diagnosis is a vital part of treatment.

This can be accomplished through a series of examinations, tests, and/or chest x-rays by your vet. Intravenous (IV) fluids are often recommended for pneumonia cases. In some instances, a feeding tube is also needed. However, these types of decisions should always be made by a veterinarian.

Bacterial pneumonia

If your vet suspects bacterial pneumonia, they often perform a basic canine physical exam, including listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. Next, they can perform blood work and X-rays for a presumptive diagnosis. If a bacterial infection is detected, vets will often prescribe your pup a series of antibiotics as treatment.

In infections not responding to initial therapy, or for severe lung pathology, more may be needed. For instance, specialty hospitals can perform procedures to wash fluid from the airways and test for specific bacterial cultures.

In cases with severe symptoms, doctors may recommend breathing treatments like a bronchodilator or nebulization to improve respiratory function. A vet may also perform a type of physiotherapy called coupage. This involves physical manipulation of the chest area to help relieve and release mucus buildup.

Aspiration pneumonia

This type of lung infection happens when your dog accidentally inhales a foreign object. Inhaling fluids from vomiting or water while swimming is most common. Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia in pups often mirror those of a bacterial infection, but often also include a reddish-brown mucus and nasal discharge. Doctors may also notice bits of the foreign substance in coughed-up material.

Treatment usually includes a course of antibiotics. But, the outlook is more often dire in these cases, so preventing your day from inhaling liquids is always the best defense.

Fungal pneumonia

Though rarer than bacterial infections, fungal infections can cause canine pneumonia as well. This often occurs due to the inhalation of fungal spores and tends to affect dogs with compromised immune systems.

In these cases, a vet will prescribe antifungal medication, which may be needed for several months, even after symptoms have subsided, in order to properly treat the infection.

At-home treatment options

Treating pneumonia in dogs requires professional medical help. But, there are steps you can take to ease your pup’s symptoms. In general, rest is recommended, so a simple way to speed along treatment is to keep your pet’s activity levels low while they heal.

Feed your dog a high-quality diet — It may sound simple, but nutrition is also very important for your pet. It’s important to maintain a healthy diet, especially in dogs dealing with loss of appetite. You can try to add healthy treats or warm up your dog’s meal to entice them to eat.

Clear up dried mucusNebulization is another at-home option to soothe symptoms. A simple method is to run a hot shower for 15 minutes and have your dog stand in the bathroom. This steam treatment from the warm water will help to moisturize the airways. Doing so allows dried mucus to break up easier in the lungs and airways.

How to prevent your pup from contracting pneumonia 

As with many canine conditions, prevention is the best defense for pneumonia. Here are a few preventative measures you can take to keep your pup safe.

Vaccinate your dog — Vaccines are the best way to prevent bacterial and fungal infections that cause pneumonia. While many owners opt for core vaccines, consider non-core vaccines as well, such as those for bordetella and influenza.

Supplement their diet with omega 3’s — There are an increasing number of pet omega 3 supplements on the market with ingredients known to help boost your pup’s immune system. Our favorites include the Natural Dog Company Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil, and the Premium Care Omega-3 Chews for Dogs.

👉 While omega-3 are typically safe for dogs, heavy metals like iron and fat-soluble vitamins can be overdosed. You should therefore seek vet direction before supplementing your pup’s diet.

Keep the air in your home clean — Simple steps like using pet-safe aerosols or keeping your home free of smoke can go a long way. Inhaled irritants can often complicate pneumonia cases, so it’s best to avoid them altogether where possible.

Frequently asked questions about canine pneumonia

How did my dog get pneumonia?

Pneumonia in dogs has many causes, including bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, aspiration of objects, irritants, and more.

What’s the difference between kennel cough and pneumonia?

Kennel cough is a common and easily-treatable condition caused by bacteria in the respiratory tract. It usually affects the upper airways. Untreated, it can lead to secondary bacterial infections which can cause pneumonia.

What types of bacteria cause dog pneumonia?

Pneumonia can come from many sources, but three common bacteria causing the condition in dogs are Escherichia coli, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and Streptococcus zooepidemicus.

Is dog pneumonia contagious?

Yes. Pneumonia can pass from dog to dog, though there’s no current evidence that it can spread to humans from dogs.

Can a dog recover from pneumonia?

Yes. With early diagnosis and proper treatment, many dogs recover fully from pneumonia. Data remains scarce, but studies have shown survival rates of nearly 82% among dogs with aspiration pneumonia.