You finally find the perfect pound pup, but then the staff tells you she has kennel cough. No worries, you think – it’s no worse than a human cold. Antibiotics will take care of it and she’ll be better in no time.
In most cases, you’re right. But what if her kennel cough worsens and becomes pneumonia? With proper treatment, the prognosis for a full recovery is excellent. But if it is left untreated, pneumonia can be as fatal to dogs as it is to humans – your dog’s breathing will become more labored and painful, weakening her heart and other vital organs.
What are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?
According to vetinfo and WebMD, the most common symptom of dog pneumonia is coughing. The cough is usually moist and bubbling, a sign that there is fluid in the lungs.
Other signs of the disease include:
- Wheezing, loud gasping or excessive panting
- Coughing up mucus
- Nasal discharge of thick mucus
If your dog shows any of the following signs of a severe case, you should take her to a veterinarian immediately:
- Loss of appetite
- Bluish tint to the tongue, gums and lips – This is caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood (called cyanosis)
- Sitting with her head extended and elbows turned out – This posture allows for greater expansion of the chest and improved air flow
What Causes Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an inflammation or infection of the lungs that is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection. Dogs may inhale the bacteria or it can be contracted from other tissue in the body. According to the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center website, “No matter what started the pneumonia, bacteria have joined in adding their own special pus, fever, and potential for disaster; in most cases, management of the bacteria is vital.”
The bacteria cause inflammation of the lungs and bronchi, according to dog-health-guide.org. These are the tubes that carry air into the lungs. WebMD reports that other causes of pneumonia can be viruses, fungi or parasites. “Inhalation or aspiration pneumonia occurs with megaesophagus, gastroesophageal reflux, paralysis of the swallowing mechanism, and reflux of gastric contents into the lungs during general anesthesia or vomiting,” according to the website. “Chemical pneumonia is caused by inhaling smoke or ingesting hydrocarbons such as gasoline or kerosene.”
Pneumonia in dogs is often a secondary disease, meaning it results from some other problem, such as a kennel cough virus. It is most common in dogs less than a year old and senior dogs, or adult dogs with weakened immune systems due to chemotherapy, chronic illness or other reasons.
How is Pneumonia Diagnosed?
To diagnose pneumonia, your vet will likely do the following:
- Perform a physical exam and use a stethoscope to hear your dog breathing.
- Take X-rays of your dog’s lungs.
- Check for signs of another disease (such as a cold or dog flu) and respiratory parasites.
- The vet may culture your dog’s lungs using a tracheal wash, which retrieves sample fluid from deep in the lung. The culture will identify the organism so the vet can prescribe the correct antibiotic. Your dog must be stable enough for the mild sedation this procedure requires.
How is Pneumonia Treated?
If your dog is stable (able to eat and drink, and not listless), treatment of her pneumonia is relatively easy and can be done at home, although it will take several weeks to fully clear.
It is important that you do not give your dog a cough suppressant if she has been diagnosed with pneumonia. She needs “productive” coughs; otherwise the pus and mucus that are making her sick will dry up and stay in her lungs. Your vet will prescribe antibiotics, which you will need to give your dog for at least three weeks. He may administer them by injection to ensure they are fully absorbed.
The type of antibiotics will depend on the type of pneumonia. According to the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center website, a “four-quadrant” approach is often used that kills bacteria classified as gram negative, gram positive, aerobic and anaerobic. “This typically involves two antibiotics used in combination to synergize one another and covers almost every possible bacterial organism.” Even if your dog appears to be feeling better, do not stop giving her the antibiotics without your vet’s approval.
To help your dog breathe easier and facilitate productive coughs, you can do the following:
- Make sure she drinks lots of water. This will keep her hydrated and moisten her respiratory secretions so she can cough them up. If your dog refuses to drink, she may need to be hospitalized with an IV.
- Gently tap your dog’s chest to encourage coughing. This procedure is called coupage or percussion therapy. To do it properly, ask your vet to demonstrate or watch a video.
- Bring your dog into the bathroom with you when you take a shower so she can inhale the steam.
- Make sure your dog stays warm and dry. Keep her indoors if possible, where she won’t be exposed to wet weather or extreme cold.
- Your vet may advise you to rent or purchase a nebulizer, which is a device similar to a vaporizer. It dispenses antibiotics in the form of a mist that your dog inhales. Unlike droplets from a vaporizer, which mostly just penetrate the sinuses, nebulizer droplets are small enough to penetrate deep down into your dog’s lungs.
After your dog completes the course of antibiotics, the vet will take follow-up chest X-rays to see if the lungs are clear. In severe cases of pneumonia, your dog may need to be hospitalized, where she will be administered IV fluids for hydration and placed in a cage with 40-percent oxygen to help her breathe.
My Dog’s Better Now – How Do I Keep Her Healthy?
After your dog recovers from pneumonia, keep her healthy by feeding her a nutritious, well-balanced diet. You can boost her immune system with vitamins and supplements such as Green Tea, which contains polyphenols that enhance immunity and help to reduce the incidence of disease.