Pneumonia in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / June 4, 2018
Pneumonia in Dogs

As humans, most of us are familiar with the dangers of pneumonia. The life-threatening disease is so much more than a cough and shortness of breath. Therefore, it is incredibly scary when your precious pup begins developing symptoms of respiratory distress.

In this article, we hope to provide ample information about the disease and ways that pet owners can ensure they are staying on top of their dog’s health and well-being.

What is Pneumonia in Dogs

In the simplest terms, pneumonia is a condition which refers to the inflammation of the lungs. There are three common types of pneumonia in dogs including bacterial pneumonia, aspiration pneumonia, and fungal pneumonia. Moreover, the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prognosis of pneumonia in dogs are dependent on the type that your veterinarian diagnosis.

Pneumonia in Dogs

Pneumonia vs Bronchopneumonia

Two divided parts make up the respiratory system.

The nose, nasal sinuses, throat, and trachea (or windpipe) make up the upper part of the respiratory tract.

The lower part of the respiratory tract is comprised of ‘small airways’ (which include the bronchi and bronchioles) and the alveoli, the small air sacs under the lung tissue where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place.

Technically speaking, bronchopneumonia occurs when there is inflammation in both the lungs as well as the small airways. Pneumonia is simply the inflammation of the lower respiratory tract. However, pneumonia and bronchopneumonia are often used interchangeably.

Types of Pneumonia in Dogs

There are three types of pneumonia in dogs which will dictate the best way to treat the condition once diagnosed. For this reason, it is important for dog owners to be able to recognize the three types of pneumonia, the symptoms, and the causes in order to identify the condition before it gets worse.

Bacterial Pneumonia

Bacterial pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs due to disease-related bacteria. It is characterized by cells and fluid accumulating in the lungs, alveoli, and airways. Bacterial pneumonia is what most people are referring to when they speak about pneumonia in general terms. In dogs, most cases of pneumonia are caused by a bacterial infection.

Bacterial pneumonia in dogs (and people) can become extremely serious, very quickly and it is imperative for pet owners to seek medical help as soon as any clinical signs arise.

Pneumonia in Dogs

What Causes Pneumonia | Bacterial Pneumonia Causes

In the vast majority of cases, inflammation is a response to injury, infection, or irritation of the cells. The most common bacteria that cause bacterial pneumonia are the following:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Streptococcus zooepidemicus
  • Pasteurella multocida
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • E. coli
  • Mycoplasma species

Symptoms of Bacterial Pneumonia

Pneumonia in Dogs

Generally speaking, the clinical signs of pneumonia caused by bacteria are typically seen as:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Weight loss
  • Easily tired
  • Shallow rapid breathing
  • Panting

Is Pneumonia Contagious

Bordetella bronchiseptica is highly infectious and can spread quickly to other dogs. Bordetella bronchiseptica typically develops into kennel cough, which is an infection of the bronchi and trachea (windpipe).

However, most of the other bacterium that cause bacterial pneumonia are not nearly as contagious as that of Bordetella bronchiseptica.

How is Canine Pneumonia Spread

Bacterial pneumonia caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica is typically spread when an infected dog contaminates common objects in close quarters of other dogs. For example, water bowls at the dog kennel.

Pneumonia in Dogs

Causes of Aspiration Pneumonia

Additionally, another form of pneumonia that your veterinarian may diagnose in your pup is aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia is also referred to as inhalation pneumonia. It occurs when a dog inhales a liquid or solid foreign substance into the lungs. As a result, the inhalation causes an inflammatory condition thus causing a lung infection.

Studies show that dogs that develop aspiration pneumonia commonly have a medical history of the following:

  • Recent anesthesia or sedation
  • Vomiting
  • An underlying medical condition that biases the dog toward chronic aspiration
  • Neurologic issues

Furthermore, experts have found a direct correlation between the following medical conditions and dogs that develop aspiration pneumonia:

  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Megaesophagus
  • Persistent right aortic arch (seen in puppies)
  • Congenital esophagus problems
  • Gastrointestinal disease

Additionally, aspiration pneumonia can also directly result from a neuromuscular disorder which causes the dog to have difficulty swallowing.

Aspiration Pneumonia in Brachycephalic Dogs

Dogs with short noses, flat faces, and wide heads are known as brachycephalic breeds. Aspiration pneumonia is incredibly common in these breeds which include dogs such as Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers.

Aspiration Pneumonia Symptoms

The common clinical signs of aspiration pneumonia include:

  • Decreased appetite or not eating (anorexia)Pneumonia in Dogs
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Panting
  • Stretching of the neck out to breath
  • An increased respiratory rate
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Wet breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blue-colored gums
  • Weakness
  • Collapse

Causes of Fungal Pneumonia

Fungal pneumonia is caused by a deep fungal lung infection. You may hear your veterinarian refer to the fungal lung infection as a mycotic infection.

Symptoms of Fungal Pneumonia

Typical symptoms of fungal pneumonia include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Eye conditions

Pneumonia Diagnosis

If your veterinarian believes that your dog may have pneumonia they will run a series of tests in order to accurately diagnose pneumonia and determine the type and cause.

Complete Blood Count

A CBC (or complete blood count) is a blood test that allows your vet to recognize abnormalities in your dog’s blood. A complete blood count will also allow for the vet to rule out heartworm, lungworm, and other parasitic diseases.

Chest X-Rays (Thoracic radiography)

Chest x-rays will allow the veterinarian to identify changes in the lungs. The chest x-ray will help to diagnose pneumonia but is also helpful in detecting additional heart and lung diseases.


Additionally, it is possible that your veterinarian may recommend a bronchoscopy. In these situations, the dog will have to go under anesthesia in order for the vet to examine the inner surfaces of the airways.

Tracheal Wash

The only definite way to diagnose fungal pneumonia is a transtracheal wash. In these cases, the transtracheal wash is used to gather cells and fluids from the tracheal lining for examination.

Blood Gas Analysis

Additionally, it is possible that your vet may recommend a blood gas analysis. A blood gas analysis measures the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen concentrations in the dog’s blood.


Furthermore, your vet may suggest performign a flurosocopy. A fluoroscopy is an internal, fluorescent video X-ray. The fluoroscopy will be able to determine if the muscles of the esophagus are functioning properly and are able to move food from the mouth to the stomach.

Pneumonia Treatment

Treating canine pneumonia will depend on the type of pneumonia that your veterinarian diagnoses. Regardless of the type, dogs with pneumonia will need able amounts of rest and proper nutrition in order recover from the disease. Furthermore, with each type of pneumonia, a timely diagnosis is imperative.

Bronchial Pneumonia Treatment

Bronchial pneumonia will often be treated with antibiotics. Depending on the severity of bacterial pneumonia and how long it has been developing before a diagnosis is made, intravenous (IV) fluid therapy and/or oxygen therapy may also be necessary.

Additionally, if secondary conditions arise such as anorexia or severe weight loss, hospitalization may be necessary to stabilize the dog while receiving treatment.

Aspiration Pneumonia TreatmentPneumonia in Dogs

Treating aspiration pneumonia will often involve:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • Intravenous (IV) catheter access
  • IV fluids
  • IV antibiotics
  • Anti-vomiting medication (such as maropitant)
  • Nebulization
  • Lung expanders (such as bronchodilators)

Fungal Pneumonia Treatment

Sadly, many dogs and cats are unresponsive to treatment for fungal pneumonia. Likewise, treatment will vary depending on the type of fungus causing the pneumonia but will often consist of heavy antibiotics and fluids to help stabilize the dog while treating them for the disease.

Moreover, treatment for fungal pneumonia can be extremely expensive and be necessary for up to six months or longer.

Pneumonia in Dogs: The Bottom Line

By and large, hearing that your fur baby may have any type of pneumonia can be incredibly scary for dog owners. Luckily, pneumonia can be avoidable and when caught early, has a positive prognosis for most dogs.

With that said, when pneumonia (regardless of whether it is bacterial, aspiration, or fungal) is not caught early, it can be a life-threatening disease. Furthermore, even if your dog survives a progressed stage of pneumonia, permanent, irreversible damage may have already been caused to their internal organs. For these reasons, among others, a timely diagnosis is incredibly important for the well-being of your pup.

Again, by making sure you’re aware of the clinical signs of the disease you can ensure that your pup receives the necessary treatment as soon as possible.


About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for