Dog Pneumonia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Dog Pneumonia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

If your dog is sick with a cough, you might be tempted to dismiss it as a cold. After all, humans get colds all the time, and they’re usually no big deal. However, many illnesses can give your dog a cough, including dog flu, kennel cough, and other upper respiratory infections. But can dogs get pneumonia? It might surprise you to discover that they can. Learn to recognize the signs of pneumonia in dogs, so you can give your pet a speedy and effective recovery.

What Is Pneumonia in Dogs?

Dog pneumonia is an inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs, known as alveoli. Alveoli are found deep in the lung tissue, where oxygen exchange occurs between the inhaled air and the blood. As a result of the inflammation, these air sacs can fill with fluid, which can solidify the sacs and interfere with oxygen absorption. According to Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the AKC, “Pneumonia can occur in both lungs or only in certain lobes of the lungs. The inflammation and accumulation of fluid or pus causes difficulty breathing and the coughing associated with pneumonia.”

There is no difference between pneumonia in dogs and in humans – it’s simply inflammation of the lung’s alveoli. So, you might wonder if you can get sick from your dog. Dr. Klein says, “People are not likely to contract pneumonia from a dog under most circumstances.”

Rottweiler laying down in the couch sleeping in the sunshine.


How Do Dogs Get Pneumonia?

Dogs can get pneumonia in multiple ways, with infectious pneumonia being the most prevalent cause. Just like it sounds, infectious pneumonia is caused by an infection in the respiratory tract. That infection can be from a virus, fungus, or bacteria. Viral pneumonia can involve more than one virus. Some common offenders are influenza, parainfluenza, and canine adenovirus type-2. Fungal pneumonia is caused by inhaling the spores of a fungus, usually from contaminated soil. Finally, bacterial pneumonia is often a secondary condition where there is already viral involvement. The most common types of bacteria that lead to dog pneumonia are Bordetella and Streptococcus. “Dogs with underlying immune disease or on immunosuppressive drugs are at an increased risk of bacterial pneumonia, as are dogs with severe underlying metabolic disorders,” Dr. Klein warns.

Dogs can also get pneumonia by breathing fluid or other foreign material into their lungs. Known as aspiration pneumonia in dogs, the inhaled material physically clogs the lungs and can lead to a secondary bacterial infection. According to Dr. Klein, common reasons for aspiration pneumonia are a dog vomiting or regurgitating and then breathing in some of that fluid/vomit or inhaling while being given liquid medicine. Although it’s not contagious, certain medical conditions that affect swallowing can predispose a dog to this condition.

What Are Dog Pneumonia Symptoms?

The most obvious indicator of dog pneumonia is a deep cough. This sort of cough is often what you might describe as wet-sounding. Other signs of pneumonia in dogs include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Labored breathing or wheezing
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Lowered tolerance for exercise
  • Blue gums (if the situation is severe)

How Do Veterinarians Diagnose Pneumonia in Dogs?

To diagnose pneumonia, your vet will look at your dog’s symptoms and medical history to uncover risk factors. They’ll also give your dog a thorough physical examination. This could include taking your dog’s temperature and listening to your dog’s chest with a stethoscope to listen for crackling, popping, or other abnormal sounds in the lungs.

Border Collie being x-rayed by a veterinary technician.

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Your vet may perform tests, like blood work and chest X-rays. Your vet may also conduct further tests, including nasal or throat swabs or, if needed, with the use of sedation, the collection of cells from the respiratory tract using bronchoscopy (passing a small fiber-optic camera through the airways) or tracheal lavage (flushing the respiratory tract with sterile fluid then immediately sucking it back up). Growing cultures of these samples can identify specific bacteria responsible for infection.

How is Dog Pneumonia Treated?

With bacterial pneumonia, your vet will likely treat the infection with a broad-spectrum antibiotic or a combination of antibiotics, particularly before culture results are available. However, if your vet identifies the bacteria responsible, they might change the medication to target that specific strain. With fungal pneumonia, your vet will prescribe antifungal medication, which your dog may need to take for up to several months.

With all types of pneumonia, your vet will want to help control your dog’s symptoms. That could include using non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) to help control the fever and pain. Another treatment option is medications to dilate the airways and help breathing or make it easier for your dog to cough up the fluid trapped in their lungs. If the pneumonia is severe, especially if your dog isn’t eating or drinking, your vet might suggest hospitalization, so your dog can get supportive care, such as oxygen, intravenous antibiotics, and fluid therapy to combat dehydration.

You might be wondering how to help a dog with pneumonia at home. Dr. Klein suggests talking to your vet for their recommendations specific to your dog’s situation, but some of their advice might include:

  • Ensuring your dog gets plenty of rest and restricting their activity.
  • Maintaining good hydration and nutrition.
  • Using steam nebulization (delivering a fine mist to the lungs) a few times a day. Sit with your dog for 15 minutes in the bathroom after running a hot shower to create steam. The steam and humidity can help thin out the mucus in your dog’s lungs, so your dog can more easily cough it out.
  • Using coupage to loosen congestion in the lungs. This technique involves cupping your hands and lightly tapping the sides of your dog’s chest after nebulization. Ask your veterinarian to teach you the correct procedure.

Dr. Klein also advises you never give your dog medications without first speaking to your veterinarian, as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, and other human medications can be dangerous for dogs.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel sleeping on the couch.

Rob Thorley/Shutterstock

What is the Dog Pneumonia Survival Rate?

The outlook for aspiration pneumonia is fairly good, with a study showing overall survival of 81.6%. “The prognosis for ‘simple’ pneumonia is usually good with proper medical management if there is no underlying medical issue in otherwise healthy dogs,” Dr. Klein says. “But it can become life-threatening in young, geriatric, or weakened patients.”

Is Pneumonia Contagious in Dogs?

Although you aren’t at risk of catching pneumonia from your dog, in the case of infectious pneumonia, other dogs are. Dr. Klein advises that if you have multiple dogs in your household, try to separate the healthy dogs from the sick one. To avoid spreading the disease, follow your vet’s instructions to thoroughly disinfect all bedding, bowls, and gear, such as leashes and collars. Also, it is recommended that wash your hands after handling the dog. You might consider wearing a protective garment over your clothing when you’re with the sick dog for further protection. Plus, he says, “Any coughing dog with a contagious illness should be quarantined from healthy dogs in environments such as dog parks, grooming shops, daycare facilities, and kennels.”

Can You Prevent Dog Pneumonia?

Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee your dog won’t get pneumonia. However, Dr. Klein says the best way to prevent illness in your dog is to keep them up to date on vaccines against diseases that can lead to pneumonia, such as the core vaccines for distemper, parainfluenza, and canine adenovirus type-2 and the “lifestyle” vaccines for influenza and Bordetella when deemed appropriate by your veterinarian. It’s also important to tend to your dog’s overall wellbeing. “Ensure that your dog is in their best health by [scheduling] regular vet check-ups and feeding [them] a nutritious diet, as well as keeping your dog at optimal weight by making sure they get plenty of appropriate exercise.”

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