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Canine Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs and can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites. It is characterized by a moist, bubbling cough and fever. Read on and learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of pneumonia in dogs, including canine aspiration pneumonia.


Just like pneumonia in people, pneumonia in dogs is a serious health condition and can be life-threatening.

Canine pneumonia seldom occurs to healthy dogs. Those who are at high risk are usually older dogs, young puppies, and dogs whose immune systems are weakened either by pre-existing health problems, or by chemotherapy or corticosteroid therapy.

Causes of Canine Pneumonia

Pneumonia can be caused by any of the following:

  • Bacteria: Bacterial pneumonia in young puppies is commonly caused by kennel cough. Also, dogs with chronic bronchitis, collapsing trachea, or foreign bodies in the lower airway often develop bacterial pneumonia.
  • Fungi: Fungal pneumonia is usually caused by fungal infections such as valley fever (Coccidioidomycosis), blastomycosis, or Cryptococcosis. Dogs are infected by inhalation of the spores. About 50% of infected dogs will show respiratory signs such as coughing. Pneumonia can occur secondary to the infections.
  • Virus: Viral pneumonia in dogs is usually the result of canine distemper, parvovirus, or upper respiratory infection (URI).
  • Parasite: Parasitic pneumonia is caused by such internal parasites as lungworms and heartworms.
  • Allergies: Allergic pneumonia is triggered by an allergen (or irritant). This causes excessive inflammatory cells to infiltrate the lungs resulting in pneumonia.
  • Chemicals: Chemical pneumonia is caused by inhaling smoke or ingesting hydrocarbons such as gasoline or kerosene.
  • Aspiration of Liquid: Canine aspiration pneumonia is caused by aspiration of liquid into the lung and occurs rather frequently in dogs with cleft palates or megaesophagus. Reflux of gastric contents into the lungs during general anesthesia or vomiting can also lead to aspiration pneumonia.

Symptoms of Canine Pneumonia

One classic symptom of canine pneumonia is a moist, bubbling cough, indicating fluid in the lungs. In addition, dogs with pneumonia show the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid pulse
  • Listlessness
  • Appetite loss
  • Nasal discharge that is thick with mucus

Dogs with severe pneumonia are unable to get enough oxygen into their lungs; therefore they often sit with their head extended and elbows turned out to allow for greater expansion of the chest.

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Treatment of Canine Pneumonia

Treatment of canine pneumonia depends on the seriousness of the disease.

Dogs with pneumonia but whose symptoms are light can be treated at home with medications such as antibiotics for bacterial infection. The antibiotics should be continued for at least three weeks, and weekly chest x-rays should be done to ascertain progress.

Do not use cough suppressants even though the dog may have a nasty cough because coughing is therapeutic - it can clear the airway by bringing up the mucus and pus and facilitate breathing.

For dogs with fever and signs of respiratory infection, they need hospitalization and urgent veterinary care which may include antibiotic and intravenous fluid therapies.

Home Care for Canine Pneumonia

Besides administering the medications prescribed by your vet, you can do several things at home to make your dog more comfortable if he has pneumonia. For example, you may consider using some of the following home remedies:
  • Cough Expectorants: Unlike cough suppressants, cough expectorants do not suppress the cough reflex, but they help to liquefy mucus secretions so that they can be coughed up more easily. Cough medicine that contains an expectorant called guaifenesin is available over the counter (e.g. Children's Robitussin). It is safe for use on dogs for all coughs. Recommended dosage is one teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight every 4 hours.
  • Vitamin C / Echinacea: Vitamin C boosts your dog's immune system so he can recover faster from diseases such as infections. Try giving your dog a daily dose of vitamin C. Dosage is 500 mg for bigger dogs and 250 mg for smaller dogs. An herbal tincture of echinacea can also be used to boost immunity.
  • Vaporizer: Use a vaporizer for 10 to 15 minute intervals several times daily to soothe and moisten the dog's airway. If you have essential oils, adding a few drops to the vaporizer can help ease the cough as well. Essential oils of lavender, eucalytus, and tea tree are antibacterial and antiviral. Chamomile essential oil has a calming effect.
  • Percussion Therapy: Percussion therapy is a technique that you can use to help break up and mobilize secretions deep in the dog's lungs. To do this, cup your hands and gently but rapidly tap your dog's chest wall repeatedly. This loosens the secretions deep in the lungs and helps them move into the airways. The secretions can then be eliminated through coughing. This can be done about 4 times a day.
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