Can Dogs Get Bronchitis? Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

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Like humans, dogs can get respiratory infections resulting in uncomfortable symptoms. They can experience various illnesses that cause symptoms like coughing, difficulty breathing, and wheezing. If your dog is coughing, you may wonder, "Can dogs get bronchitis?" Dogs can get chronic bronchitis, a relatively common health issue. 

If your dog is coughing, it could indicate bronchitis. This is a serious health issue because it can lead to long-term lung damage. While canine bronchitis can't be cured, it can be effectively treated to improve your dog's quality of life by reducing their symptoms. 

What Is Bronchitis In Dogs?

Bronchitis, also known as tracheobronchitis in dogs, is characterized by long-term trachea and bronchial airway inflammation.1 It's often brought on by another respiratory infection, such as kennel cough. However, there are several other causes of bronchitis in dogs, such as parasites, mouth and Pharyngeal disease, and coughing related to underlying health conditions like lung disease or smoke inhalation.1

Unfortunately, there's no cure for dog bronchitis, and it can be made worse by changes in the weather or stress. However, this condition typically affects small dogs but can affect dogs of all breeds and sizes. To be considered bronchitis, a dog must have a persistent cough for at least two months, not caused by any other underlying respiratory illness or disease.1 Canine bronchitis can be chronic, lasting for more than two months, or acute, caused by a respiratory infection. 

Causes of bronchitis in dogs

What Causes Bronchitis In Dogs?

There are several causes of bronchitis in dogs, but the most common is an existing upper respiratory infection, such as kennel cough. However, anything that irritates the airways and creates an inflammatory response by the body can cause bronchitis, including:

  • Tracheal collapse
  • Lung infections
  • Parasites like heartworms
  • Cancer
  • Heart failure
  • Foreign body inhalation
  • Smoke inhalation and exposure to chemical fumes1

In addition to causing dog bronchitis, they can also worsen its symptoms. The main cause is the body's natural inflammatory response, which affects the dog's bronchial and tracheal airways. 

Symptoms of Bronchitis in dogs

Dog Bronchitis Symptoms

A cough is the most common symptom of bronchitis. Unlike kennel cough, which is dry and honking, a bronchitis cough can be dry or wet.1 Your dog will cough to remove mucus from its respiratory tract, much like the need to cough when humans have bronchitis or another respiratory illness. Other symptoms of dog bronchitis include:

  • Gagging: Bronchitis coughs may start dry and become wetter as the illness progresses. Your dog may gag when they cough phlegm and mucus into their throat. However, the dry cough can also sound like gagging. 
  • Sneezing: Sneezing is common with respiratory infections like bronchitis since the sinuses and airways may be irritated as the dog's body fights the infection. 
  • Nasal discharge: Like sneezing, nasal discharge is common because the sinuses can easily become irritated.
  • Difficulty breathing: Dogs that are coughing may experience difficulty breathing. In addition, your dog may experience chest pain from coughing, which affects their ability to breathe. 
  • Fever: A fever signifies your dog's body is fighting an infection. If your dog's fever gets too high, it could be dangerous to their health, so you should continue checking in with your pet’s veterinarian as you watch for any changes in fever or other symptoms.
  • Lethargy: Fatigue and lethargy are common symptoms when your dog isn't feeling well because fighting off a virus takes a lot of energy. In addition, dogs will sleep when they don't feel well. 
  • Loss of appetite: When dogs get sick, they may lose their appetite because. What and how much your dog eats will change throughout the progression of their illness. However, since healthy nutrition can improve your dog's immune response, you should talk to your vet about encouraging your dog to eat while they're sick. In some cases, your vet may recommend an appetite stimulating medication to help with inappetance.

Symptoms may worsen with exercise, so if your dog has been diagnosed with bronchitis, your vet will suggest taking it easy and keeping your dog calm so their body can heal. In most cases, acute bronchitis should go away on its own in a few days. However, the cough may persist for several weeks, even after your dog is feeling better.1 

Your dog's cough should indicate that they're not feeling well and should be examined by a vet. The most obvious sign of dog bronchitis is the cough; they may not experience any of the other symptoms. During the beginning stages of bronchitis, the cough may sound dry, much like kennel cough. However, as dog bronchitis progresses, it can make breathing more difficult. Dogs may also not want to exercise or remain active because it worsens their symptoms. 

Diagnosing Bronchitis In Dogs

Diagnosing bronchitis in dogs requires a thorough examination by a vet. They'll use a combination of physical examination and clinical signs to rule out other potential causes of your dog's coughing.1 Your vet will want to rule out kennel cough, respiratory infections, and parasites like heartworm and lungworm. Depending on what your vet believes to be the cause of your dog's coughing, they can employ several diagnostic tests including:

  • X-rays: X-rays of the chest will help vets clearly see whether bronchitis is causing your dog's cough. 
  • Bronchoscopy: A bronchoscopy allows vets to see whether or not your dog has bronchitis by looking directly into your dog's airways. Unfortunately, this procedure is difficult to perform and requires general anesthesia, so it's not the best option for every pet. 
  • Bronchial washing: Bronchial washing is when your vet looks at mucus samples to help them diagnose bronchitis. However, this procedure also requires general anesthesia. 
  • Lab tests: Blood work will not provide your vet with a definitive diagnosis, but it can eliminate other potential causes of your dog's coughing to help your vet come up with the correct diagnosis and effectively treat bronchitis. 
  • Fecal tests: A fecal test may be recommended to rule out possible parasites.

Treating bronchitis in dogs

Treating Dogs With Bronchitis

Most dogs with bronchitis do not require hospitalization, so you should be able to take them home after their diagnosis. Mild cases of dog bronchitis or those with recent signs may only require supportive therapy. However, if there's an underlying cause, such as parasites, it will need to be treated to relieve the symptoms.1 There are several methods of treatment for coughing dogs, including the following: 

  • Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids can reduce inflammation in the airways to relieve the symptoms of bronchitis.1 Medications like Prednisone can be used short-term to reduce inflammation. However, common side effects include increased thirst and urination. Meanwhile, long-term use for treating chronic dog bronchitis includes vomiting, diarrhea, and behavioral changes. Therefore, your vet might prescribe corticosteroids to relieve your dog's coughing in the short term, especially if it's affecting their quality of life or ability to breathe. 
  • Inhalers: Inhalers or inhaled corticosteroids are one of the best treatments for chronic bronchitis in dogs because the lungs receive the medication directly. In addition, inhalation requires less of the drug, so it won't cause the same long-term side effects as oral medication. Dogs with chronic bronchitis can benefit from inhalers because they can use them only when they have symptoms, similar to a human with asthma using their inhaler only when they need it. 
  • Antibiotics: A vet may prescribe antibiotics if your dog has bronchitis from a bacterial infection, such as Bordetella or another bacteria that can cause upper respiratory illness. In most cases, upper respiratory illnesses will go away on their own as the dog's immune system fights it, but some dogs may need help, especially if they have a compromised immune system. 
  • Cough suppressants: If coughing affects your dog's quality of life, your vet may prescribe an oral cough suppressant1 This will effectively relieve your dog's symptoms and help them get the rest they need to fight infection. 
  • Steam: Depending on the severity of your dog's bronchitis, your vet may suggest steam inhalation to open your dog's airways and reduce their coughing in the short term. Letting your dog sit in the bathroom while you run a hot shower can provide some relief while helping to loosen mucus secretions.1

Unfortunately, there's no cure for chronic bronchitis, but there are several methods vets use to make your dog more comfortable. If your dog has been diagnosed with bronchitis, you should continue to monitor them until they're feeling better and call your vet if their symptoms worsen. 

Bronchitis can suddenly worsen, but treatment can reduce the symptoms, especially if the bronchitis is brought on by a primary illness. Still, chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition, so you must find ways to reduce your dog's symptoms at home. 

Preventing Bronchitis In Dogs

Unfortunately, you can't always prevent dog bronchitis, especially due to an upper respiratory infection. Still, there are many ways you can prevent your dog's symptoms from worsening. A few ways to prevent bronchitis in dogs include: 

  • Reducing their exposure to smoke, cleaners, and fumes: Cigarette smoke, cleaning chemicals, and fumes can irritate your dog's airways, contributing to bronchitis. In addition, if your dog has bronchitis, these things can worsen their symptoms. 
  • Use an air purifier: Allergens like dust and mold can worsen dog bronchitis symptoms, so you should try to keep your indoor air as clean as possible by using an air purifier, especially during high-risk times of the year like Spring and Summer. 
  • Vaccinate your dog: While you can't vaccinate your dog against bronchitis, you can protect them from getting respiratory illnesses that can lead to bronchitis. Bordetella is a bacteria that can lead to kennel cough infection in dogs. While it's just many potential causes of kennel cough, it's highly contagious, so your dog can get it anywhere, including daycare, dog parks, or even on walks. The Bordetella vaccine is the best way to prevent bronchitis because it reduces the chances of them getting a serious respiratory illness. 

Sick dog resting head on owner’s lap while owner waits for vet telehealth appointment

Final Notes

Canine bronchitis is a serious illness that can be long-term, leading to a reduced quality of life. If your dog has a cough, the best thing you can do for them is to consult a vet. Since bronchitis can lead to difficulty breathing and an inability to be active, it can affect every aspect of your dog's life, affecting their physical and mental health. 

Talk to a Dutch vet today if your dog is coughing or experiencing any other signs of illness. We can help diagnose and treat respiratory problems in dogs to help them get better faster. Try Dutch today

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References

  1. Kuehn, Ned F. “Tracheobronchitis (Bronchitis) in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 13 Dec. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/lung-and-airway-disorders-of-dogs/tracheobronchitis-bronchitis-in-dogs.

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