Goals of Treating Pneumonia
Dogs with signs of severe respiratory distress need immediate veterinary attention. Treatment goals are to ensure proper oxygenation of circulating blood, resolve any primary and secondary infections, remove any lodged foreign bodies, restore the dog’s health and comfort, eliminate any predisposing conditions and prevent recurrence if at all possible.
The treatment protocol for a dog with pneumonia will depend on the cause of the infection. In cases of aspiration pneumonia, the treatment team can use suction to extract the aspirated material from the upper airways, if that is where they are lodged. Periodic oxygen supplementation using an oxygen mask or cage can help relieve severe respiratory distress. If the dog is dehydrated, intravenous fluids, either with or without added electrolytes, can be administered. Increasing the moisture content of the air in the treatment room can be done with a humidifier. Bed rest and good supportive care are always important to the dog’s successful recovery.
Bacterial pneumonias are treated with antibiotic medications selected based upon the results of blood culture and sensitivity testing to identify the exact microorganisms causing the infection. Even if the primary cause of pneumonia is not bacterial, many veterinarians recommend a full course of broad-spectrum antibiotics, because secondary bacterial lung infections are extremely common. The oral antibiotic regimen usually continues for 3 or 4 weeks, and at least 1 week after clinical signs and radiographic evidence of respiratory disease have normalized.
A number of different oral bronchodilators are available to ease the dog’s breathing. Affected dogs that are recumbent (lying down) should have their position physically changed every few hours, to prevent fluid from accumulating in particular lung lobes. In some cases, surgical removal of damaged lung tissue may be necessary, especially if the infection does not respond well to medical therapy. This procedure is called a lung lobectomy.
Dogs with pneumonia caused by viral, fungal or parasitic infection will be treated with medications specific to the cause of their disease. The attending veterinarian is in the best position to discuss the appropriate treatment protocol with the owners. Of course, any conditions that predispose a dog to pneumonia, such as gastroesophageal reflux disorders or laryngeal paralysis, should be addressed to reduce the risk of recurrence.
The prognosis for dogs with pneumonia depends upon the cause and severity of the dog’s disease. Dogs with uncomplicated pneumonia generally have a good prognosis. Most cases of bacterial pneumonia are successfully treatable. Acute-onset aspiration pneumonia accompanied by severe respiratory distress has the potential to be fatal. If the underlying cause of the pneumonia is not identified and corrected, recurrence of the disease is likely.