Does your dog have a new or recurring cough? Many illnesses can cause your dog to cough, such as kennel cough or canine influenza virus. But it’s also possible that they have dog bronchitis, which is when their lower airwaves are inflamed. It can be an acute condition (one with a sudden onset and short duration) or chronic (existing over a longer time). Learning how to recognize the signs of dog bronchitis can help you identify the cause and help your coughing dog feel better soon.
What Are the Symptoms of Dog Bronchitis?
When a dog breathes in, air flows through their mouth or nose to their trachea, also known as the windpipe. The trachea then carries the inhaled air to the bronchi (the tubes that connect the trachea to the lungs). When these bronchial airways become inflamed, it is called dog bronchitis. In some instances, the inflammation can even extend into the lungs. With acute bronchitis, the trachea is often inflamed too, so if you hear the term “tracheobronchitis,” that’s what it refers to.
According to Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the AKC, the main sign of chronic bronchitis is a persistent cough. However, for acute bronchitis, the signs can vary because there are many causes. For example, if there is an underlying infection, the dog might have a fever.
Still, coughing is the most prominent symptom. “Often the cough is dry and paroxysmal (coming in spasms), sounds like a goose honk, and is noted when the dog is excited or gets up after resting,” Dr. Klein says. “The cough can persist for one to three weeks. Severe bronchitis can lead to and be difficult to tell apart from pneumonia.”
What Is Acute Dog Bronchitis?
Dr. Klein notes there are many reasons your dog could get acute bronchitis. “Bronchitis and tracheobronchitis in dogs are often infectious—viral or bacterial—in nature. Parasites, oral or pharyngeal disease, pulmonary disease, smoke inhalation, or caustic chemical fumes can also cause bronchitis.”
Allergies could cause acute bronchitis in dogs. Dogs can have allergies just like people can. Dog allergies are pretty common in all breeds, and they’re the immune system’s hyper-reaction to an allergen like flea saliva or a particular food. When a dog inhales an something like pollen, it can cause an inflammatory response of the bronchi and lead to acute bronchitis.
What Is Chronic Bronchitis in Dogs?
On the other hand, chronic bronchitis in dogs is a long-term condition and is diagnosed when a dog has had a cough for at least two months, but it’s not contagious or infectious. It’s a diagnosis of exclusion, which means a veterinarian must rule out all other potential underlying medical diseases that could be causing the long-term cough before labeling it chronic bronchitis. Dr. Klein warns that chronic bronchitis in dogs is most often seen in smaller breeds, but larger breeds can get it too.
If there are no underlying illnesses that are the reason for the cough, then what causes chronic bronchitis? Dr. Klein says it’s caused by constant airway inflammation. Permanent damage to your dog’s airways can be a cause as well. “Changes in laryngeal or tracheal conformation, such as tracheal collapse, can also cause bronchitis,” he says. Obesity in dogs can also make the condition worse.
Chronic bronchitis in dogs can get worse after sudden changes in the weather or if there are other environmental stresses. For example, Dr. Klein explains that winter weather can lead to especially dry air, which may affect the movement of the cilia (tiny hair-like fingers that help move mucus and debris out of the lungs). If the movement of cilia changes in the airways, that can also lead to inflammation.
How Is Dog Bronchitis Diagnosed?
If your vet diagnoses your dog with bronchitis, either acute or chronic, it will be based on your dog’s history, a complete physical examination, and clinical signs of illness in your dog. Remember, with chronic bronchitis, your vet will attempt to eliminate all other possible causes of the cough.
Dr. Klein explains that diagnostic tools are often used to confirm a suspected cause of the coughing or to rule out other things that might be causing this in your dog. These tools can include radiographs (such as X-rays), endoscopy (when a tiny camera on the end of a scope is inserted into the airway), bronchial swabs (samples swabbed from the bronchi), biopsies, bronchial wash, or lavage (a saline solution that is flushed over the airways and then collected).
How Is Bronchitis in Dogs Treated?
Dr. Klein states that in cases of acute dog bronchitis, or new cases of acute tracheobronchitis, vets recommend supportive treatment. That means rest for your dog, good-quality nutrition, and hydration. It’s important to remember that dogs with acute bronchitis are usually infectious, so isolate your dog from other dogs if possible. However, if your dog has a fever or isn’t eating or drinking, the underlying disease must be treated.
Nebulization, or steam therapy, can also help loosen mucus and make it easier for your dog to cough it up. “This can easily be accomplished at home by making a bathroom a steam room,” says Dr. Klein. “Close the room, then run a hot shower for five minutes, then turn the shower off.” Then, allow your dog to breathe in the steam. Dr. Klein urges you not to actually put your dog in the shower and turn the water off to prevent scalding or burns.
What Is the Life Expectancy for Dogs With Chronic Bronchitis?
There is no cure for dog bronchitis when it’s chronic. Recent research on chronic bronchitis shows that changes in the microorganisms of the lungs may be involved, which could lead to new targeted treatments. But for now, corticosteroids are the standard treatment because they decrease inflammation in the airways and ease coughing. If your dog does have chronic bronchitis, this treatment will be lifelong.
Although damage to the airways is permanent and progresses slowly, the life expectancy in dogs with chronic bronchitis is usually normal when managed accordingly. Dogs can still have a happy life when their treatment is consistent, and they maintain a healthy weight, get a good diet, and are able to avoid airborne allergens and irritants, like smoke. It can also be helpful to walk your dog on a harness instead of a collar to relieve pressure on their trachea.
Can You Prevent Dog Bronchitis?
Any dog can suffer from acute or chronic bronchitis. But there are steps you can take to help prevent the condition, such as helping your dog maintain a healthy weight and avoiding inhaled irritants. You can also protect your dog from cough-causing illnesses.
“There are vaccines available to protect your dog against diseases such as distemper, parainfluenza, canine adenovirus 2, and Bordetella, some of the main organisms responsible for causing infectious tracheobronchitis—kennel cough—and other respiratory diseases,” Dr. Klein says. “Your veterinarian will discuss and recommend the types of vaccine and vaccine schedule most appropriate for your dog’s lifestyle.”