Pneumonia can be a serious — even life-threatening — lung disease for dogs. Our vets in Baltimore explain symptoms and how to treat pneumonia in dogs.
Located in the lower respiratory tract, dogs’ lungs and lower airways can develop numerous issues, including pneumonia. Similar to people, dogs can have difficulty breathing due to pneumonia, which can even turn life-threatening.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a lung disease that causes inflammation inside the microscopic parts of the lungs referred to as air sacs. This leads to swelling and a buildup of fluid and pus, making it difficult for a dog to breathe. There is also less room for oxygen to fill these balloon-like structures inside the chest.
By gaining a better understanding of this problem and being able to recognize signs and symptoms, in addition to how to treat pneumonia in dogs, you can better care for your dog if he’s diagnosed with the condition.
Signs of Pneumonia in Dogs
Dogs with pneumonia will often display signs similar to people when they have this condition. Signs of pneumonia in dogs include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Shallow, short breaths
- Green, yellow or bloody mucus coming from the nose or after a cough
- Loss of appetite
- Blue, grey or purple mucus membranes
Mucus membranes can become tinged with purple, grey or blue if oxygenation is extremely poor. Lethargy and fatigue are also common symptoms. Because a dog won’t be able to smell its food and won’t feel well, he may experience lack or loss of appetite.
Causes of Pneumonia in dogs
Pneumonia in dogs can be attributed to many potential causes, including infection, injury or irritation of the lungs, such as:
- Diseases (laryngeal paralysis, cancer, cleft palate)
- Viruses (secondary bacterial infections and inflammation due to viral infections such as parainfluenza. Viral infections can easily spread from dog to dog)
- Aspiration (when a dog inhales food, liquid or solid material into its lungs - often seen in a dog that has vomited)
- Inhaled irritants (smoke, air pollutants, aerosol sprays and more)
- Bacteria that lead to infections, resulting in pneumonia ( Escherichia coli, Bordetella bronchiseptica, Streptococcus zooepidemicus and more)
Book an appointment with your veterinarian, who can perform a full physical examination to confirm whether your dog has pneumonia or another condition. The vet will check for symptoms noted above, including shallow breathing, coughing and fever. We will also use a stethoscope to listen to the lungs, and potentially take X-Rays to look for fluid or inflammation in the lungs.
To check for bacteria in the lungs, a bronchial lavage will sometimes be done, and samples of lung fluid or nasal discharge may be collected to identify the type of bacteria causing the pneumonia. Bloodwork may also need to be taken to check for an elevate white blood cell count so we can learn whether an infection is systemic.
Bordetella bronchiseptica causes Kennel Cough and can lead to pneumonia if it enters the lower airways. It is also contagious and can easily spread dog-to-dog. That said, other bacterial causes of pneumonia (such as Pasteurella multocida, E. coli, Mycoplasma and Streptococcus zooepidemicus) are not necessarily contagious.
Treating Pneumonia in Dogs
After a pet has been diagnosed with the condition, you’ll likely want to know how to treat pneumonia in dogs. While pneumonia is a serious condition that may turn life-threatening, the condition is treatable with qualified medical attention, and most dogs will fully recover, although there is a danger the condition can reoccur. Recurring pneumonia is a higher risk if the vet is unable to determine the underlying cause.
Treatment for pneumonia will depend on the cause, as will the cost of treatment. For example, antibiotics are often used to treat bacterial infections and may need to be administered for three to four weeks, and perhaps a while after the infection dissipates. Your vet may also prescribe medications to prevent new infections from entering the lungs.
A pooch with pneumonia will typically need to be admitted to our animal hospital so we can monitor their breathing and provide medications. Close monitoring and a range of medications may be necessary to manage symptoms, from antibiotics to bronchodilators, expectorants and sometimes even steroids.
With aspiration pneumonia, the vet may try to use suction to remove the foreign material from the lungs that’s causing the issue.
The vet may use nebulizers or humidifiers to loosen mucus. Brief exercise sessions may be required to help your pup to cough up the mucus. In severe cases, oxygen levels may be low and your vet may recommend supplemental oxygen to help the body get enough oxygen circulating. Sometimes, damaged lung tissue will need to be removed surgically.
Pneumonia in Dogs: Home Treatment
Depending on the severity of your dog’s pneumonia, you may be able to treat them at home. If the pneumonia is mild, your vet may prescribe bed rest and you may need to administer antibiotics every day. It’s usually best to provide them with food to prevent stomach upset. Activity levels should be kept to a minimum until they are symptom-free for at least one week.
Humidification is another popular remedy. Your vet may recommend running a warm shower for about 15 minutes 3 to 5 times per day. Have your dog stand in the bathroom with the door closed. This process is officially referred to as Nebulization and Coupage, and will help to break up mucus in the lower airways.
Nutritious meals will also be vital to helping your dog recover. You may want to warm up your four-legged friend’s food and offer baby food or enticing smelling canned food to help them gain interest in eating. Your vet may also prescribe medications to stimulate appetite. In some cases, your dog may need a feeding tube and IV fluids to administer medications and prevent dehydration.
Ensure you follow all treatment procedures, recommendations and prescriptions provided by your vet to reduce risk of recurrence. Typically, recovery takes at least 3 to 5 weeks, and your dog will likely need antibiotics for at least 4 weeks. Your vet may want to take chest X-Rays after your pooch has been on antibiotics for 2 weeks to check progress and tell how much longer they will need medications and rest to recover.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.