Canine Chronic Bronchitis: What It Is, Symptoms To Look For, And How To Treat It
If you’ve noticed your dog coughing, wheezing, or having regular breathing problems, you may have wondered: “Can dogs get asthma?”
While dogs do not get asthma (they don't have reactive airways like cats, horses, and people), dogs can struggle with similar respiratory issues. In dogs, this is commonly known as allergic canine bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a long-term and irreversible condition that makes it difficult for your dog to breathe.
Respiratory conditions like chronic bronchitis in dogs are relatively common, with regular coughing being a typical symptom. Chronic bronchitis can damage the lungs and, while it cannot be cured, with proper management it is possible to limit symptoms to help keep your dog happy.
What Is Canine Chronic Bronchitis?
Chronic bronchitis is a long-term and irreversible condition that affects the lower airways in a dog’s lung and can lead to permanent lung damage.
The airways (bronchi) carry inhaled breath filled with oxygen to the alveoli where gas exchange happens. Bronchitis causes the walls of the bronchi to become inflamed, swelling the walls and releasing mucus into the airways. This causes the airways to become narrowed and congested and air can no longer reach the alveoli effectively.2
As a result, coughing is triggered as a reflex to help clear the airways. This creates a vicious cough-irritation cycle; an inherent characteristic of bronchitis.3
Canine bronchitis can be acute or chronic.4Acute bronchitis describes the temporary inflammation of the airways and is caused by reasons such as bacterial or viral infections. When symptoms last for longer than two months it is considered chronic.
What Is The Prognosis & Life Expectancy Of Dogs With Chronic Bronchitis?
Unfortunately, lung damage caused by chronic bronchitis is permanent and irreversible. Clinical signs such as coughing and excessive mucus production are secondary attributes to airway inflammation.
Prolonged inflammation from chronic bronchitis can lead to non-reversible changes in the airways structure. The key to disease management is to control airway inflammation with medications and environmental modifications to prevent the airways from being further irritated and damaged.5
Disease diagnosis at early stages of canine chronic bronchitis can lead to a better prognosis. It is important to recognize the early signs and consult your vet for a diagnosis. What appears to be an intermittent cough could be a sign of inflammation and progressing lung damage.
With proper disease management, clinical symptoms can be controlled, and lung damage can be slowed. As a result, the life expectancy for dogs with chronic bronchitis is not typically majorly impacted. With treatment, most dogs with COPD enjoy a normal life expectancy and an excellent quality of life.
However, disease progression varies case by case; severe lung tissue damage can lead to bronchiectasis – a condition that makes dogs highly receptive to recurrent pneumonia; a potentially life-threatening condition.6
Dog Bronchitis Symptoms: How To Tell If Your Dog Has Chronic Bronchitis
Canine chronic bronchitis is characterized by daily coughing that lasts longer than one month. A cough may be mistaken for the sound of vomiting and is often followed by retching and wheezing.1
Dogs may also display lethargic behavior as a result of excessive mucus build-up causing airway obstruction. In severe cases of oxygen deprivation, gums may turn blue.7 If you observe such symptoms, please take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
In the beginning with mild or early stage bronchitis, the cough may be "dry" or sound harsh. Increased coughing can occur when the dog is engaging in physical activity, is under stress, or when pressure is applied to the windpipe from a collar. Gagging is common after coughing at this stage.
As the condition worsens, dogs will have greater difficulty breathing, lower tolerance for exercise, and may even faint when overexerted. At this stage, the dog may wheeze when exhaling, a symptom of restricted airways. With greater disease severity, oxygen deprivation may cause the gums to develop a bluish tinge.8
Common canine bronchitis symptoms include:
- Wheezing or other abnormal lung sounds
- Difficulty breathing
- Vomiting or retching
- Loss of consciousness
These symptoms are not exclusive to chronic bronchitis and may indicate other conditions such as heart disease and lung cancer2. Other conditions must be ruled out through other diagnostic methods.
Causes of Chronic Bronchitis: How Does A Dog Get Bronchitis?
Canine chronic bronchitis usually affects dogs 6 years and older and can occur in all dog breeds with toy and small dogs, such as toy poodles and cocker spaniels being more prone to the condition.1
The underlying cause of canine chronic bronchitis is unknown, there is no single identifiable cause for the condition.5 However, long term exposure to environmental irritants is suspected to play a role.8
Dogs with chronic bronchitis have sensitive airways. The following are common stimulants known to cause lung irritation and inflammatory response. Exposure to these stimulants should be limited.5
Common stimulants include:
- Cigarette smoke
- Air pollutants
- Allergens such as grass, and pollen
- Dust and mold
- Household chemicals
- Repeated respiratory related bacterial or viral infections
Dogs cannot get bronchitis from humans, nor can it be passed from dogs to humans. It is also not infectious or contagious to other dogs; dogs with chronic bronchitis will not pass it on to other dogs.9
How Is Canine Chronic Bronchitis Diagnosed?
If your dog is exhibiting excessive coughing or you suspect your dog may have chronic bronchitis, take your dog to the vet for a proper diagnosis.
Your vet will perform a physical examination and review your dog’s medical history to rule out other potential conditions. Some conditions that may have similar symptoms include:
- Kennel Cough
- Respiratory Infections
- Foreign Bodies
The vet may perform other diagnostic tests such as X-rays, bronchoscopy, and a tracheal wash to determine if your pet is suffering from chronic bronchitis. Taking a video of your dog coughing can help your vet determine if canine chronic bronchitis is the cause.
Treating Chronic Bronchitis in Dogs
There are different methods of canine bronchitis treatment. These include medications and environmental modification, and are often used in combination.5 Always consult your vet before medicating your pet.
Since chronic bronchitis does not present itself as a life-threatening “attack”, dogs may be less commonly prescribed inhalers to manage the disease. However, chronic bronchitis is a progressive disease that can steadily get worse over time. An intermittent cough is not just annoying; it can cause life-altering changes in the airways limiting your dogs quality of life, ability to play, and potentially lifespan.
Inhaled steroid medications are an important part of treatment, and with regular use provide the opportunity to keep inflammation under control and dramatically slow the progression of the disease.
Treatment options your vet may prescribe include:
Corticosteroids, also known as glucocorticoids, are the primary medication used to treat canine chronic bronchitis. It is the preferred medication because it targets the inflammatory process and the cough-irritation cycle.1
Oral steroids such as Prednisone/prednisolone (brand name: Prednis-Tab®, Deltasone®, Rayos®, Pediapred®) are not recommended for long term use. Common side effects include increased drinking, increased urination, and increased appetite. At higher doses and during long-term use, side effects may also include vomiting, diarrhea, behavioral changes, and panting.
Serious side effects can include10:
- weight gain / obesity
- aggressive behavior
- excessive thirst and urination
- low energy or too tired to play
- gastrointestinal ulceration characterized by a lack of appetite
- black or bloody stools
- bloody vomit
- high fever
- haircoat change
- muscle wasting
- diabetes characterized by weight loss in the face of good appetite
Dogs have been shown to be particularly prone to these side effects from oral steroids, particularly increased urination and behaviour changes.
Inhaled corticosteroids are the preferred treatment for chronic bronchitis in dogs because they deliver the medication directly to the lung tissues. Inhaled medication use smaller amounts of the drug and does not cause the same systemic side effects as oral or injectable steroids, such as reduced ability to maintain bladder control throughout the day and changes in behavior.5 With more effective medication targeting and fewer side effects, inhaled corticosteroids can help provide better quality of life for your dog and the family relationship.
The AeroDawg* aerosol chamber allows dogs to easily use the same metered dose inhalers (MDI) that are used to treat bronchitis in humans. This specially designed chamber for dogs captures and holds the medication from the inhaler giving the dog time to breathe in the dose, directly into the lower airways of their lungs.
Bronchodilators expand airways where smooth muscles have become constricted. While these medications may be used in emergency situations, they do not address the underlying airway inflammation. Bronchodilators may be used to help provide temporary relief during a sudden coughing attack caused by an airway stimulant. It should be noted there is limited evidence for the use of bronchodilators in dogs.
Similar to corticosteroids, bronchodilators are available in inhaled forms that, when used with the AeroDawg* chamber, target the airways directly for rapid relief.
Environmental Modifications and Other Treatments
In addition to medication, there are natural remedies to manage and treat chronic bronchitis in dogs at home.
It is important to reduce the number of environmental stimuli that could irritate the inflamed airways. Airborne pollutants such as cigarette smoke, household aerosols or powders, mould, and dust can trigger coughing and airway irritation5. There are a number of things you can do to prevent the worsening your pet’s condition:
Prevent bronchitis coughing in dogs by avoiding environmental triggers and allergens.
- Avoid smoking around your dog
- Avoid spraying perfumes, scented products, or aerosols
- Ensure your dog has a well-ventilated environment when possible
- Humidifiers, air purifiers, or diffusers might help
- Use unscented and low dust cat litter if you also own a cat
It is important that dogs maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can worsen symptoms and exacerbate breathing problems. Talk with your vet about a plan to slowly reduce weight to a healthy level. While exercise is important in helping to mobilize secretion and clear airways, be careful not to over-exert your dog, which could trigger a coughing attack.
When To Take Your Dog To A Vet
If you suspect your dog has chronic bronchitis, take your dog to the vet right away before the condition worsens. Chronic bronchitis causes permanent lung damage, it should be treated immediately to prevent further permanent damage.
In the event of a sudden onset of a coughing attack:
- Remain calm. Your dog may become more stressed if they sense panic
- Administer bronchodilator medication (if prescribed)
- Move your dog to a cool, well-ventilated area
- Take your dog to the vet
Being aware of the signs and symptoms is the first step in ensuring your dog’s safety. Learn more about the AeroDawg* chamber and how it can help administer your dog’s medication safely and effectively.
Does Your Dog Suffer From Canine Bronchitis?
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- Carey, Stephan A. “Current Therapy for Canine Chronic Bronchitis.” n.d. Michigan State University. 21 August 2019.