Tracheobronchitis (Bronchitis) in Dogs

When the dog’s trachea and the bronchi are inflamed, the condition is referred to as tracheobronchitis. Inflammation of these airways usually occurs as a secondary complication of an existing respiratory disease of the lungs. Viral infections such as kennel cough can result in tracheobronchitis in dogs. Parasitic infestations, oral and pharyngeal disease conditions, inhalation of smoke or other toxic fumes also may cause this condition. Constant irritation from coughing associated with lung diseases and certain heart conditions can be the reason for tracheobronchitis.

Even though chronic tracheobronchitis is generally more prevalent in smaller breeds, larger dogs are also affected by it. Congenital abnormalities of the respiratory tract or the presence of foreign objects in the airways predispose dogs to chronic bronchitis. In older dogs, minor stresses like a change in the environment due to change of seasons can aggravate the condition.

The most typical symptom of tracheobronchitis is spasms of coughing. It is an effort to cough up the mucus accumulated in the respiratory tract. The bouts of coughing often occur at the start of exercise or soon after resting. Another trigger is a sudden change in the environment. Slight fever may be present. The first stage of the disease is the most acute and lasts for two to three days only, but the cough may continue for many weeks. The other symptoms are similar to those of pneumonia, which makes it difficult to have a definitive diagnosis of bronchitis from the symptoms alone. As a matter of fact, pneumonia often results as a natural progression of bronchitis too.

The symptoms and the medical history of the dog combined with physical examination of the dog may help the veterinarian to make a tentative diagnosis of bronchitis. Antibiotic therapy may be initiated immediately to prevent the infection from spreading downwards into the lungs and becoming pneumonia. For a more definitive diagnosis, an x-ray or endoscopy may be done. Endoscopic examination of the bronchi is known as bronchoscopy and it is often conducted under anesthesia. When the response to the preliminary treatment is poor, the veterinarian may conduct further tests such as a bronchial wash or biopsy to obtain samples of the fluid or tissue from the bronchi. They may reveal the presence of parasites or other causes of bronchitis.

When the bronchitis is mild and recently acquired, the veterinarian may give only supportive treatment to relieve the symptoms as there is a high probability that the condition may get resolved on its own. The dog needs a period of rest in a clean and warm environment. Cough suppressants may be prescribed for non productive cough if it persists. If the dog is unable to bring up phlegm by coughing, nebulization using steam may help loosen it, making it easy to cough up as accumulation of the mucus may lead to respiratory difficulties and secondary infections. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics.

Kennel Cough

It is a general term for infectious tracheobronchitis which is caused due to infectious agents such as bacteria or virus inflaming the upper respiratory tract. The disease is often mild and resolves itself without medical intervention. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that it may lead to bronchopneumonia which is a dangerous and often fatal condition in puppies and elderly dogs. Those with a weak immune system may develop chronic bronchitis. The disease can easily spread in kennels where dogs of all ages and physical conditions are housed together, hence the name kennel cough.

The infections that result in kennel cough may be caused by both viruses and bacteria. A dog may develop multiple infections too. Stressful conditions in the confined and often cramped atmosphere in kennels, lack of ventilation or the excess of it and high humidity and temperature increase the likelihood of acquiring these infections. They may aggravate the condition too.

Bouts of harsh, nonproductive coughing accompanied by gagging and retching are the usual symptom of kennel cough. The symptoms may be severe in the beginning, but may become less within five or six days. But the disease may continue for several more days or even weeks. Lack of appetite may be observed in some cases, but otherwise the dog may remain without any other symptoms such as fever or high WBC count. If symptoms such as fever, lethargy and thicker pus-filled discharge from the nose appear, it may indicate a secondary infection or the progression of the condition into bronchopneumonia. Environmental stress and lack of nutrition can result in relapses.

When dogs that have been exposed to other dogs with tracheobronchitis develop the characteristic harsh cough, the veterinarian may suspect kennel cough. Lab tests may not help in definitive diagnosis. Unless serious complications develop, the vet may recommend rest, a relaxed atmosphere at home, and good care for the dog.

Hospitalization of the dog is discouraged because of the highly contagious nature of the disease. The condition of the dog usually improves without any medications. Clean surrounding and good, nutritious food, along with certain changes in the environment may accelerate the recovery process. The dry cough may be controlled with cough suppressants. The vet may give corticosteroids to ease the symptoms. Antibiotics are rarely used, except when the bronchitis is severe.

Vaccinating the dogs against the most common causes of tracheobronchitis may afford them some protection from infectious diseases that result in tracheobronchitis. Vaccines for distemper, canine adenovirus type 2 and parainfluenza are available. Dogs can be protected against Bordetella bronchiseptica also. Vaccinations can be undertaken according to the schedule recommended by the veterinarian.

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