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3 Ways Dogs Can Get Pneumonia: How Do Dogs Get This Disease?

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German Shepherd wet in the rain outdoors

We don’t like to see our pups struggling for any reason, but when they are struggling to breathe with pneumonia, it can be truly scary. Respiratory issues, like pneumonia are fairly common in dogs and something we vets see on a regular basis. Fortunately, pneomonia is treatable, especially if caught early. Here’s what to look for so that you can keep your canine companion healthy.

How do dogs get pneumonia? Top causes:

Pneumonia can become a problem for dogs under a variety of circumstances. While exposure to these causes doesn’t guarantee your dog will contract pneumonia, the occurrence of respiratory signs after exposure are certainly concerning. Often, pneumonia develops after other respiratory signs such as nasal discharge with sneezing, coughing, gagging, or changes in breathing patterns.

Some of the most common causes of pneumonia are:

1. Infections: Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections can lead to pneumonia. These pathogens settle in the lungs causing inflammation, infection, and congestion. Most often, dogs are exposed to pathogenic (disease-causing) infectious microbes when in close quarters with other dogs. This means dog parks, boarding kennels, grooming salons, etc. Puppies and dogs with immunosuppression or concurrent diseases are at greatest risk.

2. Aspiration: While swallowing something can lead to a different kind of issue, inhaling something that doesn’t belong in the lungs can lead to pneumonia. Even food particles or liquids that are safe in the gut are not safe in the lungs. Aspiration pneumonia is most common in infant dogs and puppies, geriatric dogs, or dogs with swallowing issues.

3. Cold and damp conditions: While cold weather and being outside when it rains are not causes of pneumonia, constant exposure to conditions where temperature and moisture aren’t regulated can lead to excessive amounts of bacteria and fungal spores in the air, including mold spores. These conditions can also lead to a weakened immune system, leaving dogs prone to develop infections after being exposed to the airborne microbes.

Does the way dogs get pneumonia influence the type of pneumonia?

The cause of pneumonia determines its classification and treatment approach. Different types of pneumonia include viral, bacterial, and fungal. Each name points to the microbe responsible. Aspiration pneumonia is differentiated by the presence of foreign material in the lower respiratory tract, which is not the case in viral, bacterial, or fungal pneumonia.

While all of these are a little different, generally the treatment protocols align in some way. Supportive care for the patient is paramount, including fluids if indicated, rest, respiratory therapies, and then antibiotics if appropriate. Your dog’s veterinarian will be able to formulate the best treatment plan based on your dog’s medical history and the results of diagnostic tests.

How does the cause of pneumonia impact prognosis and recovery?

Not all cases of pneumonia can be treated in the same way, because not all treatments are effective for all causes.

  • Bacterial pneumonia: Treatment for bacterial pneumonia must involve antibiotics that are targeted against the specific type of microbe present.
  • Fungal pneumonia: Since fungal and mold spores are a totally different class of microbes, treatment with antibiotics will never be effective against them. In the same way that your car’s gasoline engine can’t run on peanut butter, a fungal infection cannot be treated with antibiotics. Instead, anti-fungal medications are needed.
  • Viral pneumonia: Viral pneumonia is usually treated with supportive care. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed with a viral infection to prevent a secondary bacterial infection rather than treat the viral issue. Some antiviral medications are available but their efficacy in canine pneumonia are questionable, so most often a viral infection has to run its course with some supportive help.
  • Aspiration pneumonia: This, like viral pneumonia, is often treated with antibiotics to prevent or manage secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics don’t battle the material that isn’t supposed to be in the lungs. In most cases, the dog just needs some time to cough up the foreign material. If the material can’t be broken down by the body or coughed up, in some cases a veterinarian may need to retrieve the foreign object by way of bronchoscopy. Sometimes aspiration pneumonia can happen as a result of another health condition, especially one that involves difficulty properly chewing or swallowing food, like megaesophagus.
  • While there is no “treatment plan” for a dog exposed to cold and damp conditions, certainly improving their living situation can support their health and reduce their risk. Pneumonia secondary to these conditions can be treated as appropriate, once determined to be bacterial, fungal, or viral in nature.

How to prevent pneumonia in dogs:

While prevention of pneumonia is difficult, maintaining your dog’s general health and closely monitoring them for changes is a great way to reduce risk, and detect a problem early, before it becomes a serious case of pneumonia:

  1. Vaccinations: Keep vaccinations up-to-date to prevent certain infections. Respiratory diseases that may lead to pneumonia include kennel cough, canine influenza, canine parainfluenza, and distemper virus. If your dog has any exposure to an infected dog, they are at risk and should be monitored and vaccinated for these relatively preventable diseases.
  2. Supervise play: Monitor your dog during playtime and yard time. A dog bouncing around enthusiastically in the yard with a stick in it’s mouth can easily end up with a splinter of microbe-laden stick down its throat and into its lungs.
  3. Proper nutrition: A balanced diet supports general health, which is important to reduce the risk of a multitude of diseases.
  4. Reasonable living conditions: Ensure your dog stays warm and dry, especially in inclement weather including rain, snow, fog, and cool weather.
  5. Be cautious of other animals: Because there are microbes that dogs can pass to each other, it’s important to be aware of the health of other animals around your dog. Even if your friend isn’t concerned that his dog was at the groomer last week, and has been coughing this week, you should be concerned and you and your dog should avoid that dog until the dog’s health has returned to normal.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What should I do if I suspect my dog has pneumonia?

If you suspect pneumonia, you should contact your dog’s veterinarian immediately. There are early warning signs that indicate conditions are right to leave your dog vulnerable to developing pneumonia. Dogs who have had exposure to other sick animals, who are coughing or sneezing, are having difficulty breathing, or dogs that seem quiet or lethargic, should be seen by a vet as soon as possible.

Are certain dog breeds more prone to pneumonia?

While no breeds are technically prone to develop pneumonia specifically, some are more susceptible to respiratory infections due to anatomical factors. Dogs with short noses, like French bulldogs, pugs, and boxers, may be at increased risk of respiratory infections because their noses are squished, their sinuses are poorly shaped, and their soft palate is too long for their throat. Dogs at increased risk of respiratory infections could be more likely to develop pneumonia.

Is pneumonia in dogs contagious to humans?

There are few, if any, respiratory viruses that are passed from dogs to humans.

The most common virus that can move from dogs to humans is rabies, which does not cause respiratory signs, but is concerning for other reasons.

In general, unless the dog’s owner, or someone close to the dog, has a disease that causes a severely weakened immune system, humans are not at risk for catching pneumonia from a dog.

Can dogs die from pneumonia?

Severe pneumonia can be fatal without prompt and proper treatment. Minor respiratory signs can quickly develop into mild pneumonia, and mild pneumonia can quickly advance to severe pneumonia without intervention from a veterinarian.

If you notice any unusual respiratory signs, or you know your dog has risk factors or has had exposure, getting early veterinary care can prevent pneumonia or significantly reduce its severity.

Can puppies get pneumonia?

Puppies are one of the more vulnerable dog populations when it comes to pneumonia.

Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.

This is especially true if bottle-fed. Puppies are at extremely high risk for aspiration pneumonia from inhaling milk or puppy formula, because they aren’t well practiced at drinking from a bottle.

Puppies also have weak immune systems and are more at risk for infections in general.


  • Dr Chyrle Bonk, Veterinarian

    Dr. Chyrle Bonk received her Master in Animal Science from the University of Idaho and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Oregon State University in 2010. She has over 10 years of experience in small animal veterinary practice, working for a veterinary clinic in Idaho.

  • Kate Howard, Vet Tech

    Kate Howard lives in Upstate New York, and received her degree in Veterinary Technology from Alfred State College of Technology in 2010. She has been a veterinary technician for 13+ years, and spent her career working primarily in general practice and veterinary emergency care. Kate has 3 dogs, a cat, and keeps a small flock of backyard poultry.

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