Caring for Pets with Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lower respiratory tract (mainly the lungs) that can cause breathing difficulties. This leads to a lack of oxygen in the blood. Both dogs and cats are susceptible to pneumonia and there are many different causes. Pneumonia may also be referred to as “bronchopneumonia” and it can range from a mild amount of inflammation in the lungs or bronchi, to a life-threatening disease process. It can be a scary experience for dogs, cats, and their owners. Read on to learn more about pneumonia in dogs and cats.
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Causes of Pneumonia in Dogs and Cats
There are many different causes of pneumonia. Infectious pneumonia is probably the most common type. The infectious agent may be some type of bacteria, virus or fungus, or even a combination of them.
Aspiration pneumonia occurs when something such as food or liquids “go down the wrong pipe.” That is, instead of going down the esophagus into the stomach, they end up going down into the windpipe (trachea) into the lungs. Oftentimes, aspiration pneumonia is related to some sort of swallowing or anatomy problem such as a cleft palate or enlarged esophagus.
Other forms of pneumonia include parasitic, inhalant irritation, and trauma.
Clinical Signs of Pneumonia in Dogs and Cats
The signs and symptoms of pneumonia may vary greatly. However, they almost all stem from the inflammatory process occurring in the lungs. Some may include:
- Difficult breathing
- Coughing - may be very deep, congested and can be productive or non-productive
- Tires easily
- Discolored mucus either coughed up or also from the nose
- Breathing fast
- Lack of appetite
- Pale pink to even blue colored gums, especially after any activity or exercise
How is pneumonia diagnosed in dogs and cats?
Diagnosis of pneumonia usually involves a combination of a thorough history, physical exam (including detailed listening to the lungs and chest with a stethoscope), and various diagnostic tests. Blood work and a urinalysis may be part of the initial workup. Then, based on what is heard with the stethoscope, x-rays of the chest may be recommended. A trans-tracheal wash or analysis of the fluid used to “wash” the airways can be an invaluable tool for the diagnosis of bacterial pneumonia. Furthermore, a bacterial culture and drug sensitivity testing may help pinpoint the best course of antibiotic treatment.
Treatment at the Vet/Home Remedies for Pneumonia
Dogs and cats with pneumonia benefit from a warm environment. If the color of the gums is pale or bluish (indicating a poor oxygen level in the blood,) your vet may need to administer oxygen. This is usually done by placing the animal in an enclosed oxygen cage or “tent.”
Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories are usually given through an IV initially, although the treatment may be modified based on the results of laboratory testing such as a culture and sensitivity so that the most effective antibiotic or antifungal medication may be given.
The dog or cat will likely be sent home on a long course of oral medications. There really isn’t a good antiviral medication. However viral pneumonia oftentimes will result in a secondary bacterial infection so proper oral antibiotics may still be prescribed.
Additional treatments, such as bronchodilators and nebulization aka “breathing treatments” may be needed to help keep the airway open.
How to Prevent Pneumonia in Dogs and Cats
The most common causes of pneumonia in dogs and cats have vaccines available to help prevent them. It's very important to get your dog or cat vaccinated with the proper vaccines your vet prescribes for their lifestyle.
Running an air purifier, preferably one that uses a HEPA filter, simply allowing for good room air circulation or better yet, daily amounts of fresh air are all important in preventing pneumonia.
Proper nutrition, water intake, and daily exercise are all good preventative measures. Keeping your dog and cat at a proper weight for its body frame is also extremely important in the prevention of pneumonia.
When to Contact a Vet
If you’re noticing your dog or cat having any sort of change in breathing - effort, rate, cough, pale gums, etc. and suspect pneumonia, you should plan to call your vet as an exam is now a good idea. You can book a video call with us at FirstVet here to get an initial assessment and to help determine if any follow-up might be needed.
Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.