Is Prednisone Used For Bronchitis In Dogs?

What is Bronchitis in Dogs?

Bronchitis in dogs is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes which carry air to and from the lungs. It can be either acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Acute bronchitis usually develops due to a lung infection and may last for 2-3 weeks, while chronic bronchitis is a persistent condition that recurs frequently over months or years.

The most common symptoms of canine bronchitis include:

  • Coughing, especially first thing in the morning or at night
  • Wheezing or raspy breathing
  • Lethargy and exercise intolerance
  • Gagging or dry, nonproductive coughs

Chronic bronchitis can permanently damage the lining of the bronchial tubes. It is often triggered by inhaled irritants like cigarette smoke, dust, or air pollution. Bacterial or viral infections can also lead to acute bronchitis which may turn chronic if the underlying cause is not treated.

Since coughing is the most common symptom, bronchitis is sometimes mistaken for kennel cough or heart disease in dogs. Diagnostic tests like x-rays and bronchoscopy can help determine the cause and extent of the inflammation.

Causes of Canine Bronchitis

Bronchitis in dogs can develop due to several causes. Some of the most common include:

Infection with viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi – Infections from pathogens like bordetella bacteria, canine distemper virus, and lungworm parasites can lead to inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tubes. These types of infectious agents are frequently spread between dogs through direct contact, contaminated surfaces, or airborne transmission (source).

Inhalation of irritants – Irritating substances that a dog inhales can trigger bronchial inflammation. Things like cigarette smoke, dust, air pollution, chemical fumes, and allergens may provoke bronchitis (source).

Underlying respiratory disease – Sometimes bronchitis occurs secondary to other respiratory illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, or chronic bronchitis. The existing damage and inflammation make the airways more vulnerable to irritation (source).

Diagnosing Bronchitis

A vet will start diagnosing bronchitis in dogs by taking a thorough medical history and performing a complete physical exam. They will listen to the dog’s chest with a stethoscope to check for abnormal breathing sounds like wheezing or crackles. The vet will also assess the dog’s general health, energy levels, and look for signs of illness.

Imaging tests like x-rays or ultrasound of the chest may be recommended. These can help identify abnormalities in the lungs and airways that point to bronchitis. X-rays can reveal thickened bronchi walls, mucus accumulation, or areas of inflammation or infection. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the lung tissue and can detect fluid buildup or masses.

Laboratory tests on samples of the dog’s blood, urine, or sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs) can also assist diagnosis. These may show elevated white blood cells if infection is present, or identify any underlying diseases contributing to bronchitis. Analyzing sputum under a microscope can reveal bacteria, fungi, or abnormal cells.

Using these diagnostic methods, the vet will determine if the dog has acute or chronic bronchitis based on the duration and nature of symptoms. Precise diagnosis is key before starting treatment.

Treatment Options

The main treatments for bronchitis in dogs aim to reduce coughing, open up the airways, fight infection, and address any underlying conditions contributing to bronchitis. Some key treatment options include:

Cough suppressants: Drugs like butorphanol or hydrocodone may be prescribed to reduce coughing. These help provide comfort and prevent further irritation to the airways.

Bronchodilators: Medications like theophylline relax the bronchial airway muscles, opening up the airways and making breathing easier. Short-acting bronchodilators like albuterol may provide faster relief.

Antibiotics: If bronchitis is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. Antibiotics fight the infection and reduce associated inflammation. Some commonly used antibiotics include doxycycline and amoxicillin.

Addressing underlying conditions: Any underlying problems like heart disease, allergies, or irritants need to be managed. This helps minimize flare-ups and aids recovery. Removing any environmental triggers is also recommended.

In mild cases, rest and humidification of air may be all that’s needed. But most moderate to severe cases require medications to relieve symptoms and address infection or inflammation. A vet will tailor treatment based on the specific cause and severity.

Role of Prednisone

Prednisone is a corticosteroid that is commonly prescribed to treat bronchitis in dogs. It works by reducing inflammation in the airways, which helps open up the airways and improve breathing (1). Prednisone also has immune suppressing properties, which helps dampen down the chronic inflammatory response (2).

By reducing inflammation and suppressing the immune system, prednisone provides fast and effective relief of bronchitis symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and labored breathing. It helps reduce mucus production so the airways are less obstructed.

While prednisone is very effective, it does come with potential side effects if used long-term including increased thirst and urination, panting, lethargy, muscle weakness, and liver problems (3). Therefore, vets usually prescribe a short course of around 1-2 weeks to quickly manage an acute flare up of bronchitis. Longer term, inhaled steroids like Flovent are sometimes used to reduce inflammation without the systemic side effects of oral prednisone (4).

Prednisone Dosage

The typical starting dosage of prednisone for dogs with bronchitis is around .25-.5 mg per pound (1-2 mg/kg) given daily or every other day. Some vets recommend a higher starting dose of 1 mg per pound (2 mg/kg) for acute flare ups (1). Prednisone is usually tapered down and discontinued over the course of a few weeks once symptoms improve. Vets may recommend a more aggressive taper for high doses to avoid complications.

A common tapering schedule starts with the regular therapeutic dosage for the first week. The dose is then lowered by 25% each week until a low dose around .25 mg per pound (0.5 mg/kg) is reached. From there, the prednisone may be tapered by 10-25% each week for a few more weeks before being discontinued (1). Slower tapering is often needed for dogs who have been on prednisone for longer periods of time.

It’s important to follow the tapering schedule recommended by your veterinarian and not stop prednisone suddenly, as this can cause serious withdrawal effects. Frequent monitoring helps detect any recurrence of symptoms during the taper so adjustments can be made if needed. Your vet will determine the ideal prednisone dosage and schedule for your dog based on their condition, history, and body weight (2).



Monitoring While on Prednisone

Dogs taking prednisone require close monitoring to watch for potential side effects and ensure the medication is working properly. Some key areas vets focus on include:

Rechecking exams and tests – Your vet may recommend redoing certain diagnostic tests while your dog is on prednisone. This includes bloodwork, urinalysis, ACTH stimulation tests, and other exams originally performed to diagnose or monitor the condition being treated. These tests allow the vet to see how your dog is responding to therapy and watch for medication side effects like elevated liver enzymes or glucose. According to VCA Hospitals, dogs on long-term corticosteroids should have quarterly vet exams along with bloodwork and urine cultures every 6 months.

Watching for side effects – Prednisone has many possible side effects in dogs including increased thirst and urination, panting, appetite changes, vomiting, diarrhea, and behavioral changes like restlessness or lethargy. Your vet will want to know if any of these crop up. According to a 2023 study, over 70% of dog owners reported behavioral changes in pets on short-term prednisone.

Ensuring proper tapering – If your dog has been on prednisone for longer than a few weeks, your vet will create a tapering schedule to slowly decrease the dosage. This helps avoid complications from stopping medication too quickly. Follow your vet’s instructions closely when tapering your dog’s prednisone dose.

Lifestyle Changes

Making some adjustments to your dog’s lifestyle can help manage bronchitis symptoms and improve their comfort and quality of life. Some key lifestyle changes to consider include:

Avoiding Irritants and Allergens: Keep your dog away from possible allergens and airway irritants like smoke, dust, pollen, and strong fumes, which can trigger coughing fits. Using an air purifier and vacuuming frequently can help reduce irritants indoors (VCA Hospitals).

Weight Control: If your dog is overweight, a weight loss plan can take pressure off the respiratory system and make breathing easier. Consult your vet on an appropriate diet and exercise plan (Today’s Veterinary Practice).

Hydration: Keeping your dog well-hydrated thins mucus secretions to make coughing up phlegm easier. Make fresh water available at all times. You can also add water to your dog’s food or offer low-sodium broths.


The prognosis for canine bronchitis depends on the underlying cause and how well it can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes. Acute bronchitis often resolves on its own as the infection clears, while chronic bronchitis is more challenging to treat.

With proper management, dogs with chronic bronchitis can live a normal life expectancy and enjoy an excellent quality of life. However, relapses may occur if medications are stopped or if the dog is exposed to airborne irritants. Developing a long-term treatment plan with a veterinarian is important.

The prognosis tends to be worse if the dog has other comorbidities, such as heart disease. Severe chronic bronchitis cases may eventually lead to respiratory failure if the airways become too obstructed.

Overall, many dogs respond well to treatment with corticosteroids, bronchodilators, and antibiotics if needed. Avoiding known triggers, managing weight, exercising moderately, and using harness collars can also help.

When to See a Vet

If your dog is experiencing trouble breathing or has a cough that lasts for more than 10-14 days with no improvement, it’s time to see a vet. Persistent respiratory issues like coughing and labored breathing can indicate a serious health problem like bronchitis that requires medical attention.

Some specific signs that mean you should take your dog to the vet immediately include:

  • Labored or rapid breathing
  • Wheezing or raspy sounding breaths
  • Coughing that produces mucus
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever

Bringing your dog into the vet promptly when these signs are present gives the best chance at proper diagnosis and treatment of any underlying illness. The vet will likely listen to your dog’s chest with a stethoscope, take x-rays, and run other tests to determine if bronchitis or another respiratory condition is causing your dog’s symptoms.

While mild or acute bronchitis may clear up on its own, chronic bronchitis in dogs often requires medication like steroids such as prednisone to reduce airway inflammation. Don’t hesitate to get veterinary attention if your dog’s cough persists beyond 10-14 days or seems to be getting worse rather than improving with rest and home care.

Catching bronchitis early can help prevent long-term damage and complications. It’s much better to be safe and have your vet examine your dog if you notice any concerning respiratory signs lasting more than two weeks.

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