Bronchitis in Dogs
A common cause of persistent coughing in dogs is chronic bronchitis, an inflammatory disease affecting the upper respiratory airways causing coughing for a prolonged period. Knowing how the disease happens will help dog owners be aware of how to manage the condition. We’ll discuss below what happens when a dog has chronic bronchitis, its causes, and how it is treated and prevented.
What is bronchitis?
Canine chronic bronchitis, or tracheobronchitis, is a disease characterized by persistent coughing for more than 2 months. Strictly speaking, any coughing signs that are attributed to an underlying cause such as viral and bacterial infections or systemic diseases in dogs cannot be categorized as chronic bronchitis. Ruling out other possible causes of persistent cough is required before arriving at a chronic bronchitis diagnosis in dogs.
Chronic bronchitis is an inflammatory disease resulting in changes in the lining of the upper and sometimes lower respiratory tract. These changes cause an excessive mucous build-up and production which, if left untreated, can progress to severe respiratory illness.
The severity of coughing observed in dogs with canine chronic bronchitis waxes and wanes during different times of the day or seasonally. There are times when coughing is so severe that respiratory distress in affected dogs is apparent, and times when the occasional cough is observed without any signs of systemic or severe illness.
The disease is often seen in middle-aged to older dogs. Young puppies that present with chronic coughing often have a specific underlying cause like a respiratory infection. However, there are diseases in older dogs that can manifest as chronic coughs, such as heart disease and metastatic cancers, that need to be ruled out first.
Symptoms of Bronchitis in Dogs
Persistent, forceful coughing is the most common sign associated with canine chronic bronchitis. Coughing is the body’s response to external pathogens and irritants that have infiltrated the respiratory tract. When a certain irritant or pathogen infiltrates the respiratory tract, the lining mounts an inflammatory response and produces mucous secretions to try and trap these pathogens and prevent them from affecting the lower airways and the lungs. Coughing is the body’s way to remove the mucous build-up from the respiratory lining.
In the case of chronic bronchitis, since the inflammatory changes along the lining are almost always permanent, the airways continuously produce mucous and the coughing in affected dogs become persistent. Coughing is often more severe when there’s a sudden change in the dog’s environment, after the animal has rested, or at the beginning of any physical exercise.
As the disease progresses, wheezing is often heard in affected canine patients. Breathing difficulties and exercise intolerance are also common signs of severe chronic bronchitis in dogs. Gagging and vomiting may also be seen as a complication of severe coughing fits in dogs. Loss of consciousness is occasionally observed in patients with strong, persistent, forceful coughs.
Causes of Bronchitis in Dogs
To date, the specific underlying cause of canine chronic bronchitis is still unknown. It is suspected that chronic exposure to environmental allergens and irritants can be a predisposing factor. Older dogs are more at risk of developing the disease and all breeds can be affected, but small breeds such as Cocker Spaniels and Toy Poodles are more prone to developing chronic bronchitis as they get older.
Common environmental irritants and stimulants that are thought to trigger or contribute to the development of chronic bronchitis include:
- Air pollution
- Cigarette or e-cigarette smoke and vapor
- Allergens such as pollen, dander, and grass
- Household aerosol sprays and cleaners
- Bacterial or viral infections
Chronic bronchitis in dogs is not contagious or zoonotic. Transmission between the affected canine patient and other dogs, species, or humans is not possible.
How will the vet test my dog for chronic bronchitis?
Diagnosing chronic bronchitis in dogs can be tricky and complicated. As mentioned, several health problems can cause persistent coughing in dogs. Chronic bronchitis is considered a clinical diagnosis, and can only be considered once other common causes have been ruled out.
Your vet will run several diagnostics tests which may include bloodwork, chest x-rays, and electrocardiogram to rule out other causes of coughing. Close observation of the coughing episodes at home, and even taking videos of it to show to your vet, can help in diagnosing dogs with a persistent cough.
Treatment Options for Dogs with Chronic Bronchitis
Since chronic bronchitis is a progressive disease, the treatment aims to control the clinical signs and delay the progression. This is an inflammatory disease and as such, anti-inflammatory medication is an important component in the treatment and management of the condition.
Corticosteroids are the most common treatment of choice for chronic bronchitis in dogs. Systemic corticosteroids like prednisone and prednisolone are highly effective in controlling inflammation and alleviating symptoms associated with the disease.
Steroids inhalants such as budesonide nebules are a great and safe alternative in managing and treating chronic bronchitis. These types of medications can be equally effective in controlling inflammatory responses of the airways with minimal side effects.
Symptomatic medications such as bronchodilators and mucolytics can be given in conjunctive with corticosteroids to control clinical symptoms of chronic bronchitis. Bronchodilators help expand the airways to alleviate breathing difficulties and mucolytics help dissolve mucous build-up to help the affected dog expel it more easily.
Controlling exposure to environmental irritants such as air pollution, smoke, and aerosol sprays can further help control the signs of chronic bronchitis in dogs. Keeping your dog in well-ventilated spaces and making use of air purifiers can help reduce the inflammatory response of the dog’s upper airways.
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