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Pneumonia in Dogs – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment (Vet Answer)

Dr. Lauren Demos (Vet)

By Dr. Lauren Demos (Vet)

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Written by

Dr. Lauren Demos

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Pneumonia in dogs can be caused by viral or bacterial infections from a variety of different pathogens. Dogs that have suppressed immune systems, either from medications they might be taking, or from underlying medical conditions, are at further risk of a simple infection turning into something that can be quite challenging to treat.

Depending on the underlying cause of the pneumonia, it may or may not be considered contagious to other dogs in the household. Though, most often, dogs contract the infection directly from other dogs’, or from their contaminated secretions. Early signs of pneumonia can include fever, loss of appetite, change in activity levels, coughing, difficulty breathing or fast breathing, and noisy breathing.

Some forms of pneumonia in dogs may be partly preventable through vaccination, and many forms are quite treatable, especially if discovered and addressed early. Generally, patients that survive pneumonia aren’t considered to have permanent changes that inhibit their overall quality of life, or make them predisposed to developing other issues. Read on to find out ways that pneumonia in dogs can be addressed.

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Where Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia in Dogs?

Symptoms of pneumonia, whether viral or bacterial, tend to initially present as lower airway signs, as this is where the original infection takes place. As time goes on, if the immune system is not able to ward off the infection, or if the dog isn’t treated, it can begin to encompass other organ systems as well.

Symptoms can include:
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Nasal discharge
  • Loud or noisy breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration

Because pneumonia can necessitate hospitalization, and even cause mortality in severe cases, if you notice any of the above and are concerned, it is best to get your dog to a vet as quickly as possible. It is also helpful to let them know that you’re bringing your dog in for possible pneumonia—as they may want to take additional precautions when your dog visits the clinic.  This might include avoiding common areas of the clinic, such as the waiting room, or using a special exam room used for infectious diseases.

sick dog laying in bed
Image Credit: Lindsay Helms, Shutterstock

What Causes Pneuomonia in Dogs?

Pneumonia in dogs can be caused by either a viral or bacterial agents. However fungal diseases, and aspiration of fluid can also lead to pneumonia, though these are less common causes.

One of the most common bacterial infections causing pneumonia in dogs is Bordetella. Other bacteria can include streptococcus and mycoplasma. Viruses can include canine influenza, or parainfluenza, distemper, adenovirus, or coronavirus, amongst others.

Risk factors that can expose a dog to the organisms that cause pneumonia include boarding in a kennel or dog daycare facility, visiting a shelter, rescue center, or pet store, participating in a dog event (e.g., a competition), or even simply being in a multi-pet home. Infections can be spread directly from dog to dog, from secretions in a cough or saliva, or even in rarer cases, through an inaminate object called a “fomite”. This could be a ball or toy a sick dog used, that contains viral or bacterial agents, that can then expose another dog to developing the disease. Rarely, humans can be a potential carrier of organisms that can cause pneumonia in dogs, as well.

Clinical disease tends to occur 7-14 days after initial exposure. As the bacteria or virus invades the respiratory system, and inflammation results from the body’s attempt to fight the infection, clinical signs are seen. If the body successfully fights off the infection, the dog should begin to feel better and the clinical signs should resolve. However, if the dog has a suppressed immune system, or the infection is too strong, they may continue to worsen and the clinical signs may become more severe. When this occurs, the need for treatment and medical support becomes paramount.

How Can You Care For a Dog with Pneumonia?

If you suspect your dog might have pneumonia, contact your veterinarian with your concerns, and follow their advice. Pneumonia is not a disease to be taken lightly, and in many cases, it will require treatment outside simple home care and monitoring. In some instances, dogs will require hospitalization for effective therapy.

Vet specialist examination sick dog
Image Credit: didesign021, Shutterstock

What Are the Treatment Options for Dogs with Pneumonia?

Treatment options for canine pneumonia can be supportive, or directly targeted at the infectious agent causing the underlying issue. For bacteria, this means antibiotics. For viruses, this can mean an anti-viral medication, if one exists for the virus in question.

Additionally, the clinical signs that a patient displays are treated, to keep the patient as healthy and comfortable as possible. At the same time, treatment is designed to prevent the occurrence of secondary infections.

In more severe cases, dogs with pneumonia will need to be hospitalized to receive appropriate care, often for multiple days. For example, an intravenous catheter may be placed to allow fluids and other medications to be easily administered. Nutrition may also be given via this catheter.

Treatments can also include:
  • Antibiotics
  • Antivirals
  • Electrolytes
  • Pain medications
  • Anti-nausea medications
  • Cough suppressants
  • Mucolytics

To monitor treatment, frequent checks of blood samples may be needed. This can include looking at red and white cell counts, cultures of blood, and checking kidney and liver values, depending on how a patient is doing. Often, chest x-rays are another tool used to measure a response to the above therapies.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What should I do if I suspect my dog might have pneumonia?

If you suspect your dog might have pneumonia, contact your vet as soon as possible. Videos of any behaviors, such as a cough, can be helpful to send to your vet as well.

Is canine pneumonia contagious?

Some forms are highly contagious. Contact your vet for recommendations if you think your dog has pneumonia, or has been exposed. Depending on your household, your vet may recommend you isolate the dog in question for a certain period of time.

sick dog in vet
Image By: Mirko Sajkov, Pixabay

What can look similar to pneumonia in dogs?

Anything that can cause lower or upper airway issues can present with similar signs to pneumonia. This can include: viral or bacterial infections of the upper airways, parasites of the lower airway, and even later stages of heart disease.

How can I prevent my dog from getting pneumonia?

Prevention of canine pneumonia involves routine vaccination of dogs for certain infectious agents that cause the disease. These vaccines are then updated on a regular schedule, that will be determined by your veterinarian. Additionally, don’t allow your dog to play with dogs that are sick, or are from households that have recently had sick dogs. And consider limiting your dog’s contact with strange dogs, in environments where these agents are easily transmissible (e.g., dog parks).


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Pneumonia in dogs can range from mild to severe illness; milder cases are often assisted by routine vaccinations that are commonly given to dogs today. Treatment is aimed at the underlying infectious agents, when appropriate, as well as supportive treatment. Sometimes, treatment can be accomplished at home, while other times, hospitalization is required. If you think your dog may have been exposed to pneumonia, even if they do not show signs of the disease, speak to your vet as soon as possible to determine the next steps.

Featured Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

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