Infections of the upper respiratory tract (URT) are quite common in dogs and usually affect young pups, unvaccinated dogs and those with poor immune mechanisms. Unlike cats, dogs rarely develop asthma or allergic respiratory disease. In cases of respiratory tract infections, two signs are most commonly noticed – labored breathing (dyspnoea) and increased breathing rate (tachypnea).
Here are the six most commonly-diagnosed canine respiratory infections:
1. Canine Rhinovirus is a contagious respiratory disease and is usually occurs when the animal is under stress due to traveling, separation, and underlying illness. Signs are more or less similar to a human cold – sneezing, coughing, difficulty in breathing, fever, lethargy and inappetence.
2. Tonsillitis is found most commonly in small dogs especially those with short nasal passages (brachycephalic breeds) like Pugs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers and Pekingeses, among others. The infection can affect one or both of the tonsils simultaneously. Signs include chronic vomiting or regurgitation, retching (trying to vomit as if something is choking the passage), chronic coughing, restlessness, changes in barking sounds (hoarseness), increased drooling, difficulty in swallowing and dull appearance.
3. Kennel Cough – also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis – is caused by several bacterial or viral pathogens and is highly contagious. The infection is mostly noticed in young pups and elderly dogs with stress as the major triggering factor. Symptoms include dry cough followed by retching, yellowish nasal discharge (pus), fever and anorexia. If left undiagnosed, kennel cough can progress to bronchopneumonia. As a prevention, dogs should be immunized against the disease.
4. Lung parasites include lung flukes and nematodes which feed and live in the lungs. Signs of lung parasites include dry, deep and intermittent coughing, respiratory distress, chronic wasting and nasal discharge, depending on the extent of the infection. For diagnosis, your vet will perform a stool or sputum test and examine for the presence of parasite eggs; medications are prescribed accordingly.
5. Respiratory Tract Tumors in the nose and paranasal sinus account for 1-2% of all canine tumors. In dogs, nasal tumors are often malignant and chronic nasal discharge (mucoid, mucopurulent or serosanguineous) is the most consistent finding. Other signs include nose bleeding, periodic sneezing and inspiratory sounds (stertor).
6. Pneumonia can be an acute or chronic inflammation of the lungs and bronchi which can be bacterial, viral or parasitic in origin. It is the terminal stage of most respiratory tract infections, and, if left untreated, ultimately progresses to death. Clinical signs include progressive dyspnoea, nasal discharge, lethargy, lung sounds heard during respiration, chronic coughing and fever.
When to Consult a Veterinarian
If you notice breathing problems and/or any of the other signs linked with abnormal respiration, visit a vet as soon as possible. To arrive at a diagnosis, your vet will likely use blood tests, x-rays, ultrasound and faecal test then treat accordingly. Remember to bring in a fecal sample for your vet to analyze if your dog is coughing!
To restore normal breathing, steroidal or nonsteroidal drugs are prescribed along with antihistamines, cough suppressants, bronchodilators, and other medications. In case of bacterial diseases, antibiotics are recommended for 2-4 weeks depending on the condition of the animal and the extent of the damage caused. Supplemental oxygen and fluid therapy are advised in severe cases when respiration is hampered to a great extent and the condition of the animal is deteriorating.
Dogs with URT infections usually have a good to excellent prognosis, as long as the infection is diagnosed and treated promptly. The outlook becomes less favorable if the infection progresses to bronchopneumonia.