Pneumonia can be a serious health problem that our canine friends can develop for a number of reasons. It is usually not a disease in itself — it is merely a symptom or complication of another medical condition, such as an infection.
In today’s article, we’re looking at the symptoms of pneumonia in dogs, its causes, but also how it can be treated and prevented.
What causes pneumonia in dogs?
The vast majority of pneumonia cases in pets are caused by bacterial infections. Naturally, the first cause of the disease can be either bacterial or viral, in which case pneumonia could be a secondary complication or infection.
For example, if your dog gets a cold, which is usually caused by a viral pathogen, if it is left untreated, the upper respiratory tract infection could complicate and could lead to a lower respiratory tract infection with the addition of bacterial growth.
Most of the microorganisms that can lead to pneumonia are the following:
- Bordetella bronchiseptica
- Pasteurella multocida
- Klebsiella pneumoniae
- Streptococcus zooepidemicus
- E. Coli
- Mycoplasma spp
You might have heard about ‘Bordetella’ before if you’ve done any research on kennel cough. It is among the most contagious diseases that dogs can develop, and it’s often found in places where lots of dogs live together. This is why it goes by the name of ‘kennel cough’.
Some of the other germs that we have mentioned live in your dog’s body and are potentially pathogenic.
For example, strains of E. coli can be found in many parts of your dog’s body, especially inside the digestive system. When your dog’s immune system doesn’t function properly, this bacterium can become pathogenic, leading to pneumonia or other complications.
Any dog that has an upper respiratory tract infection can develop pneumonia if he or she doesn’t get the right treatment at the right time.
Signs of pneumonia in dogs
Most pets that have developed pneumonia are going to exhibit serious respiratory symptoms, such as the inability to put up even with the lowest intensity type of exercise (walking can be difficult for a dog that has pneumonia), a repetitive cough, or lethargy.
These signs are also common:
As you might have noticed, none of these signs are exactly specific to pneumonia. They can be signs of pretty much any respiratory disease with the difference that the symptoms of pneumonia are usually more severe.
Your veterinarian has to make a differential diagnosis between pneumonia and heart disease that can lead to lung edemas, or lung cancer, as well as COPD, a condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
In some cases, pneumonia can be caused by the aspiration of a piece of food or medication.
This is called ‘ab ingestis pneumonia’ or aspiration pneumonia, and it is more common in dogs that have pharynx abnormalities, which make them incapable of swallowing properly. The condition is an emergency, so if you suspect that your dog choked on something, you should take your canine friend to the vet hospital as soon as possible.
Pneumonia in dogs – Diagnosis and treatment
There are several ways of diagnosing a case of pneumonia. Imaging examinations such as an x-ray can be particularly useful, with thoracic radiography being the most effective one.
The vet is also going to perform standard blood tests such as a complete blood count and a biochemistry profile. In some cases, especially if the cause of pneumonia is suspected to be cancer, two other tests that can be used are cytology and lung biopsy.
While general antibiotics are often very effective, especially if your dog hasn’t recently been ill and hasn’t been undergoing treatment with any other, the best way of treating pneumonia is by administering a specific antibiotic. This means that the vet has to collect either part of the nasal discharge or do a tracheal lavage so as to collect the secretion from as close to the lungs as possible.
Once an antibiogram has been performed using the collected samples, your dog can be treated with the right medication. Depending on how severe the pneumonia case is, your dog might have to take antibiotics for longer periods of time, such as two weeks or more.
If your pet’s condition is not good, the vet will initiate treatment with a broad-spectrum antibiotic such as amoxicillin or doxycycline until they get the antibiotic sensitivity results. It’s not uncommon for the tests to reveal that the germs are, in fact, sensitive to the antibiotics that the vet has already started using.
Other medications that the veterinarian can prescribe for canine pneumonia are expectorants and bronchodilators. These can help your pooch have a productive cough and eliminate all of the inflammatory and microbial secretions that they might have in their lungs.
If your pet is an otherwise healthy adult dog and pneumonia is probably the only medical issue they’re suffering from, you should know that the prognosis of this disease is optimistic.
However, besides the treatment recommended to you by the vet, you can help your dog to recover faster and easier by making sure they keep well-hydrated, by keeping exercise to a minimum, and by allowing your canine friend to rest for as much as possible.
You can give your dog warm baths where the steamy air accumulates in the bathroom — this will help your dog recover faster.
If you have several dogs, it definitely wouldn’t hurt if you were to keep your sick one away from the rest and also clean their living space as best as possible — including the food and water bowls.