Respiratory Infections in Dogs

All owners love their dogs. They’re like children, or even work companions and best friends. So it’s no wonder dog owners get sad when their pup is sick.

Sometimes getting sick just means a pup is tired and sleepy for a few days. Other times, it may be serious enough to warrant a trip to the vet or animal hospital.

One reason a cold or flu may turn into a hospital visit is when the sickness spreads to a dog respiratory infection. If it does, you’ll want to take your dog in to see the vet immediately to avoid any further complications.

*Fun Fact: The bugs that affect dogs differ from those that affect humans, so generally, you can’t catch anything from your dog and they won’t catch anything from you. So next time one of you are sick, you have permission to cuddle together in bed all day. Doctors orders!

What is a Respiratory Infection in Dogs?

Though respiratory infections can have numerous causes and effects, the simple definition is a fungal, viral, or bacterial infection in dogs that affects the upper or lower respiratory tracts. Generally, a lower respiratory infection will be called dog pneumonia, but not always.

The areas affected in a respiratory infection may include:

  • The throat
  • The sinuses
  • The larynx
  • The trachea (also called the windpipe)
  • The bronchi
  • The lungs and surrounding airways

Almost all respiratory infections in dogs are caused by bacteria or viruses, but some dogs may be at a higher risk for fungal infections depending on where you live.

The truth is, most dogs aren’t at a high risk of respiratory infections even if they get sick with a cold or flu (dog influenza). The dogs at the highest risk for pneumonia, or another respiratory infection, are dogs who have chronic conditions (especially respiratory conditions) or have weakened immune systems due to being very old, very young, or other causes.

So what exactly causes respiratory infection in dogs? This article will further explain in the sections below.

What Causes Respiratory Infection in Dogs?

The truth is, there are a lot of different bacteria, fungi, and viruses that can cause or worsen a respiratory infection in dogs. But there are also some that are much more common and likely.

Below is a list so you can be informed in case you notice some symptoms of respiratory infection in your dog. Common causes include:

  • Canine distemper: Canine distemper is an extremely serious condition that can cause a lot more than just respiratory infections. It can also affect the gastrointestinal and neurological systems. But commonly, it will cause severe respiratory infections, such as pneumonia. One common symptom of distemper is a mucousy discharge of the nose and eyes. Most dogs aren’t at risk for canine distemper, but those who haven’t been vaccinated for the disease (such as puppies) or dogs with weakened immune systems may be at risk.
  • Canine influenza: Canine influenza is also called the dog flu. This is an extremely contagious viral infection that is a major contributor to respiratory disease in dogs. Because influenza is highly contagious, dogs that interact with lots of dogs regularly are at the highest risk for infection. If you think your dog may be sick, keep him at home for a few days. Secondary infections are common with influenza, so make sure to keep an eye on your dog if they show any signs or symptoms. If your dog is still healthy, it may be wise to get your dog the canine influenza vaccination.
  • Adenovirus type 2: This type of virus is much less contagious than influenza because it is transmitted by respiratory secretions. However, this virus can cause many issues such as canine respiratory complex. An interesting fact is that adenovirus type 2 is related to canine hepatitis.
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica: If you’re familiar with any of the infection types listed, it’s probably going to be bordetella. You may have heard it referred to as ‘kennel cough’.  This is an extremely common respiratory infection, especially for dogs who are regularly boarded at kennels (hence the name kennel cough). Most dogs receive the canine bordetella vaccine, but for dogs who are already infected, they will experience inflammation and discomfort in their windpipe and bronchi.

So these are just some of the types of bugs that will cause respiratory infection in your dog. Another form of respiratory infection, though far less common, is caused by inhaling foreign matter or particles.

This can cause infection due to the bacteria that is on those foreign particles, or it can weaken your dog’s immune system, opening the door for infections to take place. For example, if your dog is in a polluted environment and is habitually breathing in smoke, smog, or other irritants, they’re at a higher risk for respiratory infections.

Signs & Symptoms of Respiratory Infections in Dogs

While respiratory infections in dogs can be extremely dangerous and even fatal, there’s some good news.

The good news is that it’s often extremely easy to spot respiratory infections before they get too dangerous. This is because respiratory infections often cause symptoms that are easy to spot with the naked eye.

This includes nasal discharges, wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing or eating. Generally, if you see these signs for more than 24-48 hours, it’s an indication your dog may have a respiratory infection that needs to be treated by a vet.

Below we’ve listed the major signs and symptoms of respiratory infection in dogs, so you can easily spot them and get your pup the help he needs.

  • Nasal discharges: Though dogs can have minor discharges from the nose or eyes from time to time, common discharges or sticky and opaque discharges are a sign of infection somewhere in the respiratory tract. If your dog has nasal discharge, make sure to keep an eye on him to see if they’re becoming cloudy or discolored. If they are, call your vet immediately.
  • Incessant coughing: Usually when we think of coughing due to colds, we think of the ‘wet’ cough that humans usually have. For dogs with respiratory infections, however, their cough is likely to be a dry, hacking sound. There are many other causes of consistent coughing in dogs, so be sure to visit your vet if you’re concerned. One major sign your dog needs to see the vet is if he’s keeping you or himself up all night with his cough.
  • Breathing difficulties: This may come as a no-brainer, but if your dog is experiencing a respiratory infection, he will likely experience difficulty breathing. This could include panting, forced & labored breathing, wheezing, and more. Of course, many short-nosed breeds (such as Pugs) already have difficulty breathing due to the makeup of their faces, noses, and air passages. This means that short-nosed breeds will struggle more from inflamed or infected respiratory systems. Generally, sneezing in dogs isn’t a sign of respiratory infections but it may be a sign of problems in the sinuses, such as foreign bodies stuck in the nasal passageways. If your dog has breathing difficulties, go and see your vet.
  • Mild fever: Along with breathing difficulties, a canine fever is also common(or severe fever in more extreme cases). Generally, this is a good sign as it means your dog’s immune system is fighting off the infection in his chest. However, if your dog’s fever gets too high or their blood pressure and pulse increase, you may want to bring him to your vet.
  • Runny eyes: In addition to nasal discharges, your dog may experience runny eyes when battling a respiratory infection. This can be thought of similarly to runny eyes experienced with a cold or canine allergies.
  • General lethargy: Canine lethargy is very common when your pup is fighting off any infection. Again, this is just a sign your dog’s immune system is hard at work. If your dog has an infection, make sure to let him have adequate sleep and rest.

Of course, these aren’t all the symptoms your dog may experience, but they’re certainly the most common and most obvious to spot. Just one or two symptoms may not be enough for a diagnosis of respiratory infection, but if you do spot one or two, take your dog to your vet for testing and any necessary treatment.

Prevention, Diagnosis & Treatment for Respiratory Infection in Dogs

The truth about respiratory infections remains that the earlier you catch them, the easier they are to cure. This is true whether the infection is bacterial, fungal, or viral. The simple reason for this is that the longer the infection has to take root, the harder it is to get rid of it.

That’s why professionals recommend taking your dog to the vet at the first sign of a respiratory infection or other respiratory complications. After all, a minor complication could turn into a major infection if left untreated.


The best way to prevent respiratory infections in your dog is by keeping him healthy and taking him in for his regular checkups. Of course, getting him vaccinated for kennel cough and canine flu is a great idea as well. This is especially true if your dog is around other dogs regularly.

Another preventative measure is to keep your dog home when respiratory illnesses have broken out in your area. You may not always be able to know, but keep an eye on the news or talk with your vet regularly to see what types of illnesses they’re seeing a lot of.


If your vet suspects respiratory infection, they will likely perform a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. This type of test will help to determine if your dog is suffering from a respiratory infection, and if so, what is the root cause.

Sometimes, your vet may ask to send in the PCR test to a specialized lab, while others may be able to do it in-house. Talk with your vet to see what the best option for you and your dog are.


Luckily, treatment for respiratory infections in dogs is very effective. Unless your dog is very old, young, or has other health complications, they’ll likely recover very quickly with just a bit of antibiotics and a lot of love.

Depending on the test results, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic and possibly a cough suppressant. Often times cough suppressants are foregone, especially if pneumonia is considered a risk. This is because if your dog has pneumonia, they need to be able to cough out the ‘gunk’ that’s stuck in their system.

More severe cases of respiratory infection might require hospitalization and further treatment, such as IV’s. But in most cases, antibiotics, rest, and a few belly rubs will do the trick.

In Summary

Though respiratory infections aren’t fun, the chances of your dog being severely affected by one are extremely low. With a little planning and foresight, you can prevent or cure infections before they get severe.


  1. “Causes & Preventing Asthma in Cats.” Petwave, PetWave, 17 Aug. 2016, Accessed 8 Jan 2019.
  2. Clark, Mike. “Upper Respiratory Infection In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments.” Dogtime, 12 Jan. 2018, Accessed 8 Jan 2019.
  3. “Canine Respiratory Disease 101: Do Dogs Get Colds?” Pet Health Network, Accessed 8 Jan 2019.
  4. Becker, Marty. “How to Know If Your Dog Has a Respiratory Infection.” Dogster, 22 Feb. 2016, Accessed 8 Jan 2019.


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