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Canine Pulmonary Dysfunction: What Is Pneumonia And How Can You Protect Your Dog?

Updated on June 17, 2014
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Donna partners with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a retired veterinarian, to create informative pet health articles.

Proper nutrition and exercise will help protect your dog from pneumonia.
Proper nutrition and exercise will help protect your dog from pneumonia.

If your dog has a cough, is it a sign of kennel cough or the onset of pneumonia? How can you tell the difference? Dr. Cathy Alinovi of Healthy PAWsibilities answers some of the most commonly asked questions about pulmonary dysfunction and pneumonia in dogs.

Question 1: What is pulmonary dysfunction?

Dr. Cathy: Pulmonary means lungs and dysfunction means not working right. Therefore, any disease that interferes with the function of the lungs will cause pulmonary dysfunction.

Q3: How many types of pneumonia are there?

Dr. Cathy: There are bacterial, fungal, parasitic, allergic, and viral as well as combinations of these.

Q2: What is pneumonia?

Dr. Cathy: Pneumonia means infection or inflammation in the lungs. The cause of the pneumonia determines the name. For example, bacteria cause bacterial pneumonia.

Q 4: How did my dog get pneumonia?

Dr. Cathy: Most commonly, pneumonia starts as a virus, then the bacteria that normally live in the throat and lungs see a weakness and invade. Therefore, in cases of kennel cough, a young dog is exposed to the virus first, begins coughing, and then the bacteria cause a serious infection and the dog gets sick.

In older dogs, the progress of the pneumonia is very similar, and it usually happens when there is a big weather change: a virus weakens the immune system, then the bacteria invades, and the older dog becomes quite ill.

Fungal pneumonia happens because dogs are dogs with noses to the ground and tails in the air. In parts of the country with nasty fungi, a good sniff of leaves may result in a snoot full of fungus. These parts of the country include the Midwest and the desert southwest.

Parasitic pneumonia comes from having very high amounts of intestinal or lung worms (intestinal worms travel though the lungs as part of their development).

Allergic pneumonia is not infectious, but comes from crazy allergies that lead to terrible inflammation in the lungs.

Vet checks dog to see if his pneumonia is better
Vet checks dog to see if his pneumonia is better | Source

Q5: Are there ways to protect dogs against pneumonia?

Dr. Cathy: In all cases, a healthy immune system is your dog's best bet. The best way to build a strong immune system is through the things we do for our dogs' day in and day out: nutritious foods. Just as humans who eat many prepackaged, processed foods are at higher risk for ill health, so are dogs.

Balanced meals of real food whether cooked or raw, are the ticket to a great immune system. Doesn't fit in your lifestyle? The next best steps are premium-canned food, and then dry foods, with extras of shared healthy people food. Again, feed your dog the healthy parts of food; not the scraps we do not eat but rather the parts we do eat. One caveat: the no's-no's are grapes, raisins, raw onions, cooked chicken bones, and chocolate.

Q6: Is pneumonia more common in puppies and senior dogs or in healthy adults?

Dr. Cathy: The key word here is healthy. If a dog is as healthy on the inside as he shows his family on the outside, then he should avoid pneumonia. Dogs with weak immune systems tend to be older or young; therefore, they are more prone to pneumonia conditions.

Q7: Are there dog breeds that are more susceptible to pneumonia?

Dr. Cathy: It is more of a health status thing than it is genetics. One caveat: dogs prone to congestive heart failure can have back up of fluid into the lungs; this will predispose them to bacterial pneumonia. The toy breeds, Dobermans and boxers have slightly higher risk of pneumonia as a consequence of having heart failure.

Q8: What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

Dr. Cathy: Often there is a cough, but not always. Signs of serious illness include, but are not limited to, those listed in the table below.

Serious Pneumonia Symptoms

No energy
Difficulty laying down or sleeping
Panting when just lying

Q9: How do vets diagnose pneumonia?

Dr. Cathy: Firstly, we listen to the lungs; sometimes we can hear sounds of pneumonia, but not always as with fungal or parasitic pneumonia. Sometimes there will be a fever. X-rays give us the diagnosis in many cases, or at least serve as an alert that there is a problem in the lungs. Blood work will show it is bacterial and sometimes hint it is viral.

A tracheal wash is often the definitive diagnosis. In a tracheal wash, the dog is made sleepy. Next, a sterile tube is passed into the throat, and sterile water is rinsed into the lungs and then sucked back out and sent to the lab. The laboratory can identify bacteria, fungi, parasites and signs of allergies.

Q10: What are the treatments for pneumonia?

Dr. Cathy: Traditional treatments include antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia, antifungals for fungal, antiparasitics for parasitic, and antihistamines for allergic pneumonia.

Q11: What are the side effects to these treatments?

Dr. Cathy: The most common side effects include nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Some of the medications can cause liver and/or kidney damage. Some medications can cause permanent dry eye and some can suppress the bone marrow, which means the immune system. It depends on the medication your dog is prescribed for whatever type of pneumonia he or she has. Be sure to ask your veterinarian so you know what to expect.

Barney Has Kennel Cough

Q12: Are there alternative treatment methods?

Dr. Cathy: Viral, fungal, and allergic pneumonia are the types of pneumonia most responsive to alternative treatment. Conventional medicine offers little to treat viral pneumonia. On the other hand, there are some great herbal antivirals starting with echinacea and Yin chiao.

Allergic pneumonia is best treated through avoidance, immunotherapy that means allergy shots in many cases, and herbal antihistamines.

Fungal pneumonia is the one type of pneumonia that is exceedingly hard to treat, no matter what modality is used. Regardless of how fungal pneumonia is tested, it often takes six months, or more, to clear the infection. Fungus is sneaky, it has amazing abilities to hide; it can change forms, it can secrete a biofilm/ooze that protects it, it hides with other organisms.

The beauty of alternative medicines is their long-term use rarely leads to kidney or liver damage, while conventional antifungals have well documented harmful side effects.

Q13: What is the prognosis for dogs with pneumonia?

Dr. Cathy: If a dog is down and out from the pneumonia, her chances are poor. If the pneumonia is caught early, maybe when there is just a cough, and properly diagnosed, then chances are good for recovery.

Q14: Will I need to change my dog's diet?

Dr. Cathy: If you want your dog to have the best chances, then yes, that is my recommendation. You want your dog to have the best immune system to fight these things off, and that is best achieved through the best building block: nutrition.

Q15: What role does exercise play in treating pneumonia?

Dr. Cathy: Exercise is good because it gets blood flowing and helps strengthen the muscles for a good cough. Coughing helps bring the nasty things up and out of the lungs. Just as humans recovering from pneumonia are encouraged to take deep breaths and cough up phlegm, our dogs need to do the same thing. Exercise will help with that. Make sure it is easy, steady exercise, like a trot, and not excessively hard exercise that leads to collapse.

Make your dog as comfortable as possible when he's feeling under the weather.
Make your dog as comfortable as possible when he's feeling under the weather. | Source

Q16: How can I tell the difference between kennel cough and a cough caused by pneumonia?

Dr. Cathy: The goose honk at the end is diagnostic for kennel cough. Presentation will also really help you decide. For example, did your dog have exposure to a bunch of new dogs, likely at a kennel?

Q17: What do I need to know about caring for my dog's pneumonia?

Dr. Cathy: Some kinds of pneumonia can be very scary. Stick with treatment, do not stop when your dog starts to feel better, and finish all the medication. Resistant organisms can develop if medications are not finished and treatment ends too soon. Resistance equals really hard to treat organisms.

Q18: What else should pet parents know about pulmonary dysfunction and pneumonia?

Dr. Cathy: Signs of pneumonia can be ultra subtle. You know your dog, so if something seems off, it is. Get your dog checked out before it becomes serious.

All fungal pneumonia is hard to recognize and hard to treat. If the lungs are not nice and black on the X-ray, then something is there. Many vets are not familiar with fungal pneumonia. Whiteness to the lungs with a spongey appearance is often the only sign of fungus. Fungal pneumonia needs aggressive, long-term treatment.

© 2014 Donna Cosmato

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