Can Bronchitis Turn Into Pneumonia In Dogs?

Bronchitis is a common respiratory disease in dogs that causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which are the airways that allow air to flow into and out of the lungs. It can be acute and last a short time or become a chronic, long-lasting condition. Bronchitis often causes coughing, difficulty breathing, and wheezing. If left untreated, bronchitis can progress into pneumonia, a more serious infection and inflammation of the lungs themselves. Pneumonia develops when infection spreads beyond the airways into the lung tissue, which fills with fluid and pus. It is important to treat bronchitis to avoid complications like pneumonia that can become life-threatening.

Causes of Bronchitis

Bronchitis in dogs can be caused by various irritants or infectious agents that attack the bronchial tubes and airways. Some of the most common causes include:

Infection with bacteria, viruses, fungi – Infectious agents like bordetella bacteria, canine adenovirus type 2, canine parainfluenza virus, and canine herpes virus are frequent causes of infectious bronchitis in dogs. These microbes attack the respiratory tract and cause inflammation of the bronchial tubes.1

Irritants like smoke, dust – Exposure to irritants like cigarette smoke, air pollution, mold, dust, and household chemicals can trigger bronchial irritation and inflammation. These irritants damage the lining of the airways.2


Some of the most common symptoms of bronchitis in dogs include coughing, wheezing, and breathing difficulties (Trudell Animal Health). Coughing is often one of the first signs of bronchitis. The cough may start out dry and harsh but progress to being moist and productive. Dogs with bronchitis tend to have coughing fits that can occur randomly or be triggered by activity or excitement (American Kennel Club). These coughing episodes can last several minutes at a time. Along with coughing, affected dogs may exhibit labored breathing with wheezing or raspy breathing sounds. Their breathing rate may be faster than normal and they may have difficulty catching their breath. Severely affected dogs may start breathing with their elbows sticking out from their body in an effort to expand their chest and get more air in. They may also sleep sitting up or with their head elevated to aid their breathing. If bronchitis is left untreated, dogs may ultimately have cyanotic (blue tinged) mucous membranes from lack of oxygen.


To diagnose bronchitis in dogs, the veterinarian will start by taking a detailed medical history and performing a thorough physical exam. They will ask about the dog’s symptoms, when they started, and any potential exposure to irritants that could have caused bronchitis. The physical exam allows the vet to check for other signs of respiratory disease and listen to the dog’s breathing and lung sounds.

Imaging tests like X-rays or ultrasound allow the vet to look for abnormalities and inflammation in the lungs and airways. X-rays can show areas of increased density in the lungs indicating fluid or inflammation. Ultrasound provides a detailed view of the lung tissue and bronchi.

Lab tests are also useful in diagnosis. A complete blood count checks for elevated white blood cells due to infection or inflammation. Chemistry panels assess organ function and electrolyte levels. A heartworm test rules out heartworm disease which can mimic bronchitis. Cultures can identify bacterial infections in the lungs and airways.

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Together, the medical history, exam findings, imaging results and lab work help the vet confirm a diagnosis of acute or chronic bronchitis in dogs.


Treatment for bronchitis in dogs often includes antibiotics, cough medicine, rest, and hydration.[1] Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat or prevent secondary bacterial infections that can occur with bronchitis. Common antibiotics used include doxycycline, amoxicillin, or azithromycin.[2]

Cough suppressants containing hydrocodone or butorphanol can help control coughing. Cough suppressants containing guaifenesin or bromhexine may help loosen mucus secretions.[1]

Ensuring proper rest is critical, as activity can worsen inflammation and coughing. Resting in a calm, comfortable environment can help dogs conserve energy for healing.[1]

Staying well-hydrated thins out mucus secretions and facilitates coughing them up. Water, broths, electrolyte drinks can help hydrate a dog with bronchitis.[1]


Bronchitis can lead to several serious complications if left untreated. One of the most common and dangerous complications is pneumonia (Merck Veterinary Manual). Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that is often caused by the same viruses, bacteria or irritants that lead to bronchitis. It occurs when the infection spreads deeper into the respiratory tract. Pneumonia can be life-threatening, leading to breathing difficulties, lack of oxygen and lung damage.

Chronic bronchitis can also lead to permanent lung damage over time (Trudell Animal Health). The inflammation damages the lining of the airways, causing remodeling. This leads to narrowing of the airways and reduced lung capacity and function. Dogs with severe chronic bronchitis often develop secondary pulmonary fibrosis, making breathing increasingly difficult.


Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs and airways that causes breathing difficulties and deficiency of oxygen in the blood (Source). There are several potential causes of pneumonia in dogs:

  • Bacterial infections such as Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Viral infections such as canine influenza
  • Aspiration of foreign material into the lungs
  • Fungal infections
  • Parasites

Some of the most common symptoms of pneumonia in dogs include:

  • Coughing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

Treatment for pneumonia typically involves antibiotics, cough suppressants, bronchodilators, and other medications tailored to the specific cause. Severe cases may require hospitalization and oxygen therapy. With prompt veterinary treatment, most dogs can make a full recovery from pneumonia.


There are several steps dog owners can take to help prevent bronchitis in their pets, including vaccination, avoiding irritants, and proper nutrition.

Vaccinating dogs against common pathogens like bordetella and parainfluenza can help prevent infection and reduce the risk of bronchitis. The bordetella vaccine is recommended yearly and the parainfluenza vaccine is often included in combination shots like the DHPP vaccine for dogs. Keeping up with routine vaccinations can strengthen the immune system and make dogs less prone to respiratory illnesses.

It’s also important to avoid exposing dogs to irritants that can trigger bronchial inflammation. This means keeping dogs away from cigarette smoke, dust, air pollution, and strong fumes from chemicals or diffused oils. Making sure your home has good ventilation and keeping dogs indoors on high air pollution days can help minimize irritant exposure.

Finally, proper nutrition supports good respiratory health. Feeding your dog a high-quality diet with omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation. Antioxidants from fruits and vegetables also support the immune system. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight takes pressure off the respiratory tract and makes breathing easier. Discuss diet options with your veterinarian.

When to See a Vet

If your dog is exhibiting signs of respiratory distress, it’s crucial to get them to a vet right away. Some key indicators that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • Difficulty breathing – Labored or rapid breathing, gasping for air, breathing with an open mouth, or blue gums are all emergency signs of respiratory distress.
  • Persistent cough – A cough that lasts more than 10-14 days or produces pink, frothy sputum could indicate a serious infection like pneumonia.
  • Lethargy – Extreme tiredness or lack of energy in a dog with respiratory issues is a red flag for potentially life-threatening complications.

According to AKC, bronchitis can quickly advance to pneumonia if left untreated, so don’t delay seeking veterinary attention. Immediate treatment with oxygen therapy, bronchodilators, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory medications can help stabilize serious respiratory issues in dogs.


Bronchitis in dogs can ultimately develop into pneumonia if left untreated and unmanaged. Bronchitis causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes and airways, which can fill with mucus and become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. As the infection spreads deeper into the lungs, pneumonia can take hold.

The key to avoiding complications like pneumonia is to properly diagnose bronchitis early and follow veterinary advice for care and treatment. With medications, rest, hydration and proper nutrition, most dogs can fully recover from bronchitis. However, ignoring the signs of respiratory illness can allow it to progress into something more serious. Being vigilant about your dog’s health and acting quickly when you suspect bronchitis is essential to stopping it from turning into pneumonia.

While bronchitis can develop into pneumonia if untreated, dogs who receive prompt veterinary attention and follow their prescribed treatment plan usually go on to make a full recovery. With attentive care and caution, dog owners can help prevent their pet’s bronchitis from taking a turn for the worse.

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