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Ask The Vet: Can Dogs Get Pneumonia?

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Whether dogs can get pneumonia may be something dog owners may worry about. Perhaps your dog is struggling with breathing and you are wondering whether your dog may be suffering from some type of condition impacting his lungs. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana discusses pneumonia in dogs, its possible causes and how this serious condition can be treated in dogs. If you suspect your dog is suffering from pneumonia, please don't hesitate having your dog see your veterinarian.

Is gabapentin making your dog wobbly?

Dogs can get pneumonia, and older dogs maybe predisposed.

Can Dogs Get Pneumonia?

The short answer is yes, dogs can get pneumonia. Pneumonia, also called pneumonitis, is the inflammation of the lungs due to bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. When inflamed, the air sacs of the lungs fill with fluid or pus (based on the type of inflammation) which leads to impaired breathing and coughing. The condition is serious and requires prompt veterinary attention. Fortunately, if treated timely and properly, the prognosis for most dogs with pneumonia is good.

When dogs catch pneumonia, the causes of pneumonia in dogs can be several as mentioned. So let's take a closer look at the various types of pneumonia that can affect dogs.

Pneumonia in dogs can be bacterial. In most cases, the culprit is Bordetella bronchiseptica. This bacteria is highly-contagious and it is the causative agent of the popular disease in dogs known as "kennel cough." Other bacterial causes of pneumonia include Pasteurella multocida, Streptococcus zooepidemicus and Escherichia coli.

Pneumonia in dogs can also be caused by viruses. Usually viral pneumonia can be caused by Canine Distemper Virus, Canine Influenza Virus, Adenoviruses and Parainfluenza Virus. Although highly-contagious, most viral forms of pneumonia can be prevented through vaccination. Dogs with viral pneumonia are at high risk of developing secondary bacterial infections.

Fungal pneumonia, also known as mycotic pneumonia can be caused by a number of different fungi such as Aspergillus ssp., Blastomyces dermatitidis, Candida ssp., Cryptococcus neoformans, Histoplasma capsulatum and Coccidioides immitis. The infection occurs when the dog inhales spores. Valley fever in dogs is a common cause of fungal pneumonia in the desert Southwest.

Some forms of pneumonia in dogs may be causes by parasites. This is most common in young pups. Namely, the pup inherits worms from its mother. If there is a heavy load and the worms are not treated with effective anti-parasitic drugs, they can migrate through the lung tissue and may cause conditions ranging from mild bronchitis to severe or even life-threatening pneumonia.

Inhaling irritants can lead to pneumonia. The most commonly inhaled irritants in dogs include cigarette smoke, environmental toxins and cleaning supplies. When the smallest air passages in the lungs are involved in an allergic reaction, an affected dog shows signs of pneumonia. It is called PIE (pulmonary infiltrate with eosinophils).

And then there is aspiration pneumonia. This occurs when food or fluid gets into the dog's lungs. For example as a result of impairment of the dog’s swallowing mechanism in laryngeal paralysis or during general anesthesia. Aspiration pneumonia is a life-threatening emergency that requires prompt veterinary attention.

What's the incidence of pneumonia among dogs? Pneumonia often occurs as a secondary infection that has spread from the upper respiratory tract. It is uncommon in healthy dogs, occurring most frequently in very young or very old dogs, or those with impaired immune systems. The risk of developing pneumonia is also higher among individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as bronchitis or collapsing trachea.

At the Vet's Office

The signs of pneumonia in dogs are various. Typically, a dog with pneumonia is depressed, feverish and breathes fast. There is often a moist-sounding, bubbly cough. If the pneumonia is severe, the affected dog may sit or stand with its head extended to make its breathing easier.

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Diagnosing pneumonia in dogs requires some testing. As in any other case, the diagnostic process starts with physical examination. The vet will be able to set a preliminary diagnosis based on the initial findings. However, the definitive diagnosis is made by chest x-rays and blood tests.

Treating pneumonia in dogs requires close monitoring. Treatment with antibiotics begins immediately for dogs with bacterial pneumonia and continues for at least 3 weeks, until x-rays show that the lungs are beginning to heal. Parasitic pneumonia is primarily treated with anti-parasitic drugs and aspiration pneumonia is managed with antibiotics. Fungal pneumonia is primarily treated with antifungal drugs. All forms of pneumonia require extensive supportive care. The exact type of supportive care depends on the exact clinical manifestation.

Depending on the severity of the clinical manifestation, some dogs need to be hospitalized and placed in oxygen-enriched kennels. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to relieve the discomfort.

Contrary to popular belief, cough suppressants are not used in patients with pneumonia. This is because the coughing is beneficial in patients with pneumonia since it helps clear the blocked air passages and expel the mucus.

Some dog owners may wonder whether inhalers or nebulizers can be used for dogs with respiratory conditions. Inhalers are not used for self-evident reasons, but nebulizers may be useful for dogs willing to accept your applying the face mask for 10 minutes three times daily. A dog may be nebulized with simple sterile saline, which helps to break down mucus and hydrates tissue, or with drugs such as corticosteroids, bronchodilators or antibiotics. All of these medicines are available in nebulizer form for use with human infants. Drug doses are varied according to the dog’s body weight.

Are oxygen tents available for dogs that need extra oxygen? Many vets use human baby incubators as oxygen units for treating small dogs. For larger dogs, Plexiglas oxygen tents are available. In an emergency, you vet will make an oxygen unit by converting a standard kennel crate using plastic sheeting. Portable oxygen cylinders, together with face masks adapted for dogs, are available for home use.

Prognosis of Pneumonia in Dogs

What's the outlook for a dog with pneumonia? In general, bacterial and parasitic forms of pneumonia tend to respond well to immediate treatment with antibiotics and anti-parasitic drugs. Viral pneumonia (caused by Distemper) is more serious, due to damage in other areas of the body, and has a poorer outlook. Systemic fungal pneumonia must be treated very aggressively, but even with treatment the outlook is only fair. Aspiration pneumonia usually responds to antibiotics and symptomatic care. In all instances of pneumonia, full recovery takes many weeks or months.

There are also potential complications to be aware of. Pleurisy (more commonly known as pleuritis) is inflammation of the chest cavity. It usually occurs in conjunction with pneumonia or as a result of an untreated pneumonia. An affected dog breathes shallowly, has a fever and shows signs of pain if it is touched on the chest.

If your dog has pleurisy, the vet will hear friction sounds when listening to the chest with a stethoscope. Treatment includes appropriate medication to eliminate infection and provide pain control.

Did you know? Ordinarily, dogs cannot catch respiratory infections from humans, but in unusual, rather rare circumstances, a dog may contract tuberculosis from its owner. Anyone with tuberculosis should consider their dog to be at risk of contracting the disease and should avoid face-to-face contact with the dog.

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About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

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She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.

Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

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