How to Recognize and Treat Pneumonia in Dogs

Dr. Fleur Jones

Sep 28, 2023

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As pet owners, we understand that your dog is not just a pet but a beloved member of your family. Knowing the health threats they may face and how to counteract these threats is a vital part of responsible pet ownership. In this blog post, we’re going to delve into the topic of pneumonia in dogs: what it is, its symptoms, how it’s diagnosed, treatment options, and the role of Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG) in ensuring your pet’s health.

Understanding Canine Pneumonia

Canine pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs or lower respiratory tract typically due to infection. When your dog’s lungs become affected with pneumonia, the normally air-filled spaces, or alveoli, fill with pus and fluid, making it difficult for your dog to breathe. This condition can be quite serious, leading to a lack of oxygen and other health complications if not treated promptly.


Pneumonia in dogs can be caused by several factors. Bacterial infections are the most common cause, but it can also result from viruses, fungi, or parasites. Aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when a dog inhales foreign material or vomit “down the wrong pipe” into the lungs, is another common cause. Risk factors include a weakened immune system, chronic vomiting, and certain breeds’ genetic predispositions. I.E. brachycephalic or short nosed breeds like Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Frenchies, Pugs, etc.  


Below are the main symptoms to look out for: 

Lethargy: The Unseen Symptom

One of the earliest signs of pneumonia in dogs is lethargy. This is often overlooked as dogs can have lazy days, just like humans. However, if your dog is usually energetic and suddenly prefers to lie down more often than not, it might be more than just a lazy day. They might be feeling unwell, and pneumonia could be the underlying cause.

Respiratory Challenges: An Obvious Indicator

Dogs with pneumonia often struggle with breathing. They may appear to be working harder to breathe, exhibit shallow breathing, or have an increased respiratory rate. Cheek puffing is another common sign of having a hard time breathing. In severe cases, dogs may also pant incessantly, even at rest. You might notice a bluish tint to their gums or tongue, which is a sign of inadequate oxygen levels and warrants immediate veterinary attention (head straight to a veterinary emergency room)!

Persistent Coughing: The Tell-Tale Sign

A persistent cough, particularly a dry, hacking one that doesn’t seem to bring any relief to your dog, is a classic sign of pneumonia. The cough might become more severe after physical activity or when your dog is lying down.

Appetite Changes and Weight Loss: The Subtle Signs

A sudden decrease in appetite and subsequent weight loss is a common yet subtle sign of pneumonia. Dogs battling pneumonia often don’t have the energy or feel well enough to eat, leading to weight loss.

Fever: The Common Indicator

Like most infections, pneumonia can cause a rise in your dog’s body temperature. Dogs normally have a higher body temperature than humans, but anything above 103°F is generally considered a fever. Ask your veterinarian at your next vet visit how to monitor temperature at home if this is something you would like to learn more about! Otherwise, if you are ever concerned – air on the side of caution and have your pet’s temperature checked at a vet hospital. 

Diagnosing Pneumonia in Dogs: The Veterinary Process

Below are the steps taken to diagnose your dog with this condition: 

The Initial Physical Examination

When you bring your dog to the vet with potential pneumonia symptoms, the first step will be a thorough physical examination. This involves a vet listening to your dog’s chest for abnormal lung sounds and checking for other signs of illness like fever, nasal discharge, or increased heart rate.

The Power of X-Rays

If the veterinarian suspects pneumonia, they will likely recommend a chest X-ray. This radiographic examination can reveal inflammation in the lungs and help differentiate pneumonia from other respiratory diseases. Physical examination findings can make your vet suspicious of pneumonia, but x-rays are crucial to diagnosis.

Blood Tests: The Vital Tool

Blood tests are used to confirm the presence of an infection and can provide information about your dog’s overall health. Elevated white blood cell counts can indicate an infection, while other blood test findings can can give your vet a more thorough picture of your dog’s hydration status and much more.

Bronchoscopy and Tracheal Wash: The Advanced Diagnosis

In some cases, more advanced diagnostic tests may be necessary, which generally would mean referral to a specialty hospital. A bronchoscopy involves inserting a small camera into the airways to visualize the interior surfaces of the respiratory tract. A tracheal wash, on the other hand, collects fluid from the lower airways for analysis. Both can help identify the specific cause of pneumonia.


Read on to learn about treatment methods:

The Need for Hospitalization and Supportive Care

Dogs with severe pneumonia often need hospitalization, especially when they aren’t eating at home. This allows vets to closely monitor your pet and provide supportive care, like intravenous fluids to maintain hydration and nutrition, and regular physical therapy to promote coughing and clearance of the lungs.

Antibiotics: The Prime Weapon

Antibiotics are usually the first line of defense against bacterial pneumonia. Depending on the type of infection, antifungal or antiviral medication might also be prescribed. If your dog isn’t eating or the pneumonia is severe, your vet will be more likely to recommend hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics versus oral antibiotic tablets to go home with if your dog isn’t as sick.

The Lifesaver Oxygen Therapy

Dogs with significant breathing difficulties may need supplemental oxygen. This therapy can dramatically improve your pet’s comfort and ability to breathe while their body fights the infection.

The Road to Recovery: Post-Treatment Care

Once your dog is home, it’s crucial to continue all prescribed medications, restrict exercise, and monitor for any worsening of symptoms. Depending on the type of pneumonia, your vet may recommend keeping your dog away from other dogs for a period of time to prevent the spread of disease. Regular follow-up appointments are essential to ensure the pneumonia is resolving.

How Veterinary Emergency Group Steps In to Save Your Pet

At VEG, our experienced team is available around the clock to provide urgent care for your pets. If your dog shows signs of pneumonia, don’t hesitate to reach out to your nearest VEG location. Remember, while this guide is comprehensive, it’s no substitute for the professional advice of a vet. Ensure your furry friend always gets the best possible care.