Dogs Respiratory Disease: Definition, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment


Dogs’ respiratory diseases are not only experienced by humans- dogs can also experience a range of breathing problems and respiratory illnesses. These dogs, respiratory diseases can be troubling to dog owners so it is important to be knowledgeable and understand how to spot symptoms or respiratory illness, how to treat and manage it, and how to prevent it. For more research you can also visit the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Table of Contents

What is Respiratory Disease in Dogs?

The respiratory disease of a dog includes the large and small airways along with the lungs. When a dog inhales air through its nose or mouth, the air travels down the trachea, which then splits into two tubes known as the right and left bronchi. From there, the air moves into smaller airways called bronchioles within the lungs.

What is the Difference between Upper and Lower Respiratory Tract?

The main role of the respiratory system is to deliver oxygen into the bloodstream and throughout the body and remove carbon dioxide from the blood. The upper respiratory tract includes the nose, nasal passages, sinuses, pharynx, and larynx and acts as a passageway for air to reach the lungs. The lower respiratory tract includes the trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, and the alveoli in the lungs, which facilitate an exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. When this exchange fails or becomes inefficient due to a disease or respiratory infection, a dog can become seriously ill.

What are Common Respiratory Illnesses & Infections in Dogs?

There are a number of different dogs respiratory disease and conditions that can affect dogs, including:

  • Kennel cough
  • Tracheal collapse
  •  Rhinitis
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Eosinophilic Broncho pneumopathy
  • Lung diseases

What is the Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough, also referred to as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious upper respiratory illness caused by several strains of bacteria and viruses. Dogs can spread it to one another in a variety of ways including airborne droplets, direct contact, or through contaminated surfaces (including water/ food bowls). Even though it is highly contagious, it is also highly treatable in most dogs. However, it can be more severe in puppies younger than six months of age and immunocompromised dogs.

What are the Symptoms of Kennel Cough?

  • Strong, persistent cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low grade fever

What is the Diagnosis and Treatment of Kennel Cough?

It can be challenging to diagnose kennel cough because sometimes dogs do not show symptoms. Other conditions may present similar symptoms, such as a collapsing trachea, bronchitis, asthma, heart disease, and pneumonia. The latter can develop due to a weakened immune system which is why it’s vital to have a veterinarian assess your dog to identify the root of the symptoms. If the cases of a dry, hacking cough doesn’t appear to be a more serious condition, then in many cases the cough is harmless and will disappear in a couple of weeks. If kennel cough has been identified, rest and cough medication will be prescribed by your veterinarian. Inhaled antibiotics or bronchodilators may be prescribed to help control your dog’s cough and clear up the infection.

What is the Prevention of Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is often transmitted through bacteria. You can have your dog vaccinated for the Bordetella bacteria, which is the most common factor in causing it. If you know that your dog is going to be routinely exposed to large groups of other dogs such as in boarding facilities, day care, canine sports, and training classes it is vital to get your pup vaccinated.

What to Know about Canine Distemper Virus in Dogs?

It is a viral contagious and serious disease that affects a range of animal families. It is a virus that affects a dog’s upper and lower respiratory system as well as the nervous and gastrointestinal system. It can also cause the pads of dogs feet to thicken or harden hence the alternative names for the virus. Dogs at any age are at risk of contracting canine distemper virus, but puppies younger than four months old and dogs that have not been vaccinated are at the highest risk of the disease. It is best identified early, especially dogs that are kept in close proximity to one another as it can spread quickly through airborne exposure (through sneezing and coughing).

What are the Symptoms of Canine Distemper Virus in Dogs?

  • Watery to pus-like discharge from the eyes
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Reduced appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Circling behavior
  • Muscle twitches
  • Convulsions
  • Salivation
  • Seizures
  • Partial or complete paralysis

What is the Diagnosis and Treatment of Canine Distemper Virus in Dogs?

It is vital to diagnose and treat distemper as soon as possible because it is often fatal. Dogs that survive can suffer from permanent, irreparable nervous system damage. Unfortunately, treatment options are limited but vaccinations are available from your veterinarian. Treatment options include supportive care and prevention of secondary infections.

What is the Prevention of Canine Distemper Virus in Dogs?

The best line of defense for preventing distemper in your dog is to have a series of vaccinations given to your dogs while they are still a puppy. This will help build their immunity while their immune system is developing. Always make sure to keep up to date with all of your dog’s vaccinations and avoid gaps in their immunization schedule. Keep shared food, water bowls, and equipment clean and sterile as this disease can be transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces. Try to limit the interactions your dog has with wildlife populations; the virus also occurs in foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, mink and ferrets and can be transmitted through this type of interactions.

What to Know about Canine Chronic Bronchitis in Dogs?

It is a long term condition that causes inflammation in the respiratory system and over time permanent lung damage. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can occur in all breeds of dogs, but may be more common in small- breed and toy breed dogs. Unfortunately, bronchitis in dogs is irreversible, progresses slowly and can’t be cured. However, there are treatments that can help manage the disease and slow progression.

What are the Symptoms of Canine Chronic Bronchitis in Dogs?

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing or other abnormal lung sound
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting or retching
  • Gagging
  • Loss of consciousness

Dogs with mild or moderate bronchitis may not regularly show visible symptoms even though the disease may be progressing and causing worsening lung damage.

What is the Diagnosis and Treatment of Canine Chronic Bronchitis in Dogs?

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from chronic bronchitis, take them to the vet for a review of their medical history and a physical examination. The vet performs other diagnostic tests such as X-rays, bronchoscopy, and a tracheal wash to determine if your pet is suffering from chronic bronchitis. Treatments for dogs with chronic bronchitis are usually administered at home but if your pet is experiencing severe respiratory distress, hospitalization for oxygen therapy and intravenous medications may be necessary. So the helpful medications include corticosteroids to reduce underlying inflammations and keep symptoms at bay. It may be recommended to help open the airways while your dog is in distress but the evidence is not clear on their effectiveness in dogs. The AeroDawg aerosol chamber allows dogs to easily inhale corticosteroids and bronchodilators. With its specially designed chamber, the aerodawg chamber contains the medications, giving your dog time to breathe in the dose and directly targeting the lower airways.

What is the Prevention of Canine Chronic Bronchitis in Dogs?

Determining prevention methods for bronchitis can be challenging because no exact underlying cause has been determined. So it is advised to limit your dog’s exposure to inhaled irritants to help keep symptoms under control. These irritants include:

What to Know about Pneumonia in Dogs?

It is an infection of the lungs caused by inflammation of the alveoli in the lungs. These sacs fill with fluid or pus, making it hard to breathe. The causes stem from a range of triggers including allergens, lungworms, bacteria, viruses, aspirated food, fluids, or foreign bodies.

What are the Symptoms of Pneumonia in Dogs?

  • High fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Loud breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Dehydration

What is the Diagnosis and Treatment of Pneumonia in Dogs?

Your veterinarian will assess your dog’s symptoms and rule out other non-infectious dogs respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, heart disease causing pulmonary edema, and lung cancer. They will do a thorough physical examination and recommend a series of diagnostic tests before determining a diagnosis of pneumonia. To treat pneumonia your veterinarian will likely prescribe a round of antibiotics and, in some cases, fluid therapy, chest percussion, oxygen therapy and intravenous fluids. Some dogs, respiratory diseases that are healthy and stable enough are treated as outpatients are prescribed bronchodilators and expectorants. Depending on the severity of the condition and type of infection, your dog may be required to continue this treatment for a prolonged period of time.

What is the Prevention of Pneumonia in Dogs?

The first course of action in preventing your dog from contracting bacterial or viral pneumonia is to vaccinate them for the disease that can cause it. If a dog is presenting signs and symptoms of pneumonia they should be isolated and kept away from other dogs to help curb the spread.

What to Know about Eosinophilic Broncho-pneumopathy in Dogs?

It’s a respiratory issue that tends to be overlooked as it is relatively uncommon. It is characterized by a dog’s harsh unrelenting cough, similar to a smoker’s cough and dyspnea. It stands apart from chronic bronchitis as it occurs mostly in young dogs (4-6 years old, females affected more than males), present eosinophil’s specialized immune system white blood cells in airway samples and there may be traces of nasal discharge. EBP has been seen in Labrador Retrievers, Alaskan Malamutes, and German shepherds, fox and Jack Russell Terriers, Dachshunds, Belgian Shepherds, Brittany’s and Siberian Huskies. However, all breads can be affected with this condition.

What are the Symptoms of Eosinophilic Broncho-pneumopathy in Dogs?

There are some symptoms to be aware of if you suspect that your dog may be experiencing EPB:

  • Cough (present in 95% – 100% of cases), persistent and harsh which can be followed by gagging or retching
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Nasal discharge
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy and anorexia are less common but may be displayed if pneumonia is present.

What is the Diagnosis and Treatment of Eosinophilic Broncho-pneumopathy in Dogs?

  • A veterinarian may use one or more of the following diagnostic methods to determine if your dog has been EPB.
  • Physical examination and laboratory evaluation
  • Imaging (to rule out other conditions)
  • Cytology (sampling of airways cells)
  • Bronchial pinch biopsies (when cytology is uncertain)

What is the Prevention of Eosinophilic Broncho-pneumopathy in Dogs?

There is no sure cause of EPB but the condition is suspected to have allergic roots. So prevention methods surround keeping potential allergenic triggers to a minimum and ideally eliminated. Aerosolized deodorizers and perfumes, particulate matter in bedding (cedar, chips, straw, and sawdust), cigarette smoke and dusty environments should be avoided.

What to Know about Lung Tumors in Dogs?

Lung problems and disease in dogs, including lung tumors, can also impact respiratory health. Lung tumors can develop in dogs in two ways:

  • Primary lung tumors which originate in the lungs and tends to be less common
  • More commonly, metastatic lung tumors that originate in another part of the body and then spread to the lungs

What are Symptoms of Lung Tumors in Dogs?

Symptoms of primary lung disease depend on the location of the tumor, rate of tumor growth, and the presence of previous or current lung disease. The most common signs of a primary lung tumor in dogs include:

  • Coughing
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Labored breathing
  • Poor appetite
  • Reduce exercise tolerance
  • Rapid breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Vomiting or regurgitation
  • Fever
  • Lameness

What is the Diagnosis and Treatment of Lung Tumors in Dogs?

The diagnostic protocols are similar for both primary lung tumors and metastatic lung tumors. Dogs Respiratory Disease this can include chest X-rays, ultrasound-guided aspiration or biopsy, abdominal ultrasound, CT scans (to evaluate for secondary lung metastases and inspections for surgical removal and blood work to determine overall health. Often, primary lung tumors are discovered when X-rays are done for other reasons and their results show signs of an undetected tumor. To make a conclusive diagnosis of lung cancer, a biopsy is required. Because there are two main routes to take in treatment of a primary lung tumor and a metastatic lung tumor. The first is surgery but there must be no signs of metastatic lesion on other lung lobes otherwise there is potential for recurrence. Working in tandem with surgery chemotherapy could also be needed depending on the grade, size, and presence of the tumor. For high grade tumors, large tumors, or tumors that indicate lymphatic or vascular invasion, chemotherapy is recommended. It is important to note that chemotherapy prescribed on its own, without surgical removal of the mass, will not result in significant size reduction or improved survival time.

What is the Prevention of Lung Tumors in Dogs?

Similar to humans, there is no infallible cure in dogs, but we do know that there are certain factors that can be avoided to help stop the development of malignant tumors. Breathing in secondhand smoke is as dangerous for dogs as it is for humans and can increase the risk of both types of lung tumors. The best prevention method available is for dog owners to stop smoking or smoke outside.


What is the fastest way to get rid of a respiratory infection?

Things you can do yourself:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink lots of water to loosen any mucus and make it easier to cough up
  • Drink a hot lemon and honey drink to help soothe a cough (not suitable for babies under 1 year old)
  • Gargle with warm salty water of you have a sore throat (children should not try this)

How do you treat respiratory failure in dogs?

In more extreme cases, animals in respiratory distress may require emergency intubation FIO2 and provision of positive pressure ventilation in order to provide adequate respiratory stabilization.

Can dogs recover from respiratory infections?

Most canine upper respiratory infections can resolve themselves within several day’s and time but you shouldn’t take the risk of secondary infection. Any Plantsville veterinarian at our clinic. (DR. Freiman, Dr. Rothstein or DR.)

What are the 4 stages of pneumonia in dogs?

It has 4 distinct stages of infections: Congestion, red hepatization, gray hepatization, and resolution.

What position helps a dog’s breath better?

If your pet is unconscious and breathing the best position to help them maintain an open airway is to put them into the recovery position on their right hand side.

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