Common Respiratory Illnesses In Dogs

Just like you and I, our dogs can catch colds.

There is a long list of respiratory illnesses our dogs can come across, ranging from mild sniffles to severe upper respiratory infections.

Many illnesses are quite common, and can hide out in common places that our dogs frequent.

To help you better understand some of the respiratory illnesses that our pups can experience, let’s get into the details.

What Is A Respiratory Illness In Dogs?

My Dog Has A Respiratory Illness

The term ‘respiratory illness’ refers to any disease that impacts the respiratory system in our canine friends.

This means any condition that invades portions of the respiratory system can be referred to as a respiratory illness or respiratory disease, ranging from infectious conditions to non-infectious conditions.

The respiratory system in dogs includes the mouth, the nose, the trachea, the lungs, and the smaller airways.

Each portion of the respiratory system has its own important roles, each of which can be impacted by respiratory disease of any kind.

Infectious Vs. Non Infectious Illnesses

When discussing respiratory illnesses in dogs, it’s important to understand the differences between an infectious and non-infectious disease.

Determining whether or not something is infectious can dictate how to properly manage the condition, as well as helping owners understand how this will impact their dog going forward.

First, an infectious respiratory illness in dogs refers to a disease that can be transmitted from dog to dog.

This means the illness can spread bacteria or viruses through direct or indirect contact, allowing the disease to spread among the canine population.

A non-infectious respiratory disease in dogs refers to a condition that cannot be transmitted from one dog to another.

These conditions often develop as a result of genetic factors, anatomical abnormalities, and even environmental triggers and lifestyle factors.

No matter how severe these conditions may be, they cannot be passed on to other canine friends.

Different Forms Of Respiratory Illnesses In Dogs

There are so many forms of respiratory illnesses that our canine friends can come in contact with.

Each illness can impact our pups in different ways, leading to a slew of respiratory symptoms to follow.

To help you better understand the many forms of respiratory illnesses our dogs can experience, let’s discuss a few of the common forms below.

Viral Respiratory Infections

Viral respiratory infections in dogs are any type of infection that develops as a result of an infectious virus.

These viruses can be transmitted through contact with saliva or nasal secretions on any surface, ranging from food dishes to shared bedding.

These viruses can also be spread through aerosolized particles that our pups come in contact with, often through sneezing or coughing.

Some of the most common viral respiratory infections in dogs include:

  • Canine distemper virus
  • Canine influenza virus
  • Canine adenovirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Canine respiratory coronavirus
  • Canine pneumovirus

Many of these viruses can be vaccinated against, and is typically recommended for dogs that frequent public settings or forms of doggy daycare.

These conditions are most commonly found in young dogs, but can occur in dogs of any age.

While all viral infections can cause serious symptoms in dogs, canine distemper is the most severe infection on the list.

Canine distemper is a deadly illness that will progress from respiratory symptoms to neurological symptoms, which is why vaccinating against this disease is always strongly suggested.

We suggest speaking with your vet about the likelihood of your dog being exposed to the above illnesses, and determining a vaccine protocol that best suits them.

Bacterial Respiratory Infections

Bacterial respiratory infections in dogs are any type of infection that develops as a result of exposure to an infectious bacteria.

These infectious illnesses are most common in settings that dogs frequent, ranging from shelters to doggy day care facilities.

Most bacterial respiratory infections are known to be highly contagious, often spreading like wildfire when introduced to an environment.

Some of the most common bacterial respiratory infections in dogs include:

These bacterial infections can range in severity, but always have the ability to progress into serious upper respiratory infections.

These conditions can even lead to a serious case of bacterial pneumonia, which is a result of bacteria invading the lungs.

Though not all of these conditions can be effectively vaccinated against, experts do believe that other respiratory vaccinations can help to prevent serious infections of other bacterial diseases.

This means that some helpful vaccines to protect against most bacteria on the list include the vaccine for kennel cough, influenza, and of course vaccines for viral respiratory illnesses as well.

Chronic Respiratory Conditions

Not all respiratory conditions are a result of infectious bacteria or viruses.

Some develop due to factors ranging from environmental triggers to genetic predispositions, but these often impact our furry friends for the majority of their lives.

Some conditions can be managed enough for a dog to live a normal life, while others can lead to severe struggles over time.

A few of the most common chronic respiratory conditions in dogs include:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Tracheal collapse
  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome
  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Pulmonary fibrosis

The conditions listed above can certainly lead to irritating respiratory symptoms for dogs, but most can be managed with the addition of medical management or corrective surgery.

The severity of these conditions will range from dog to dog, so it’s always best to maintain a close relationship with your vet if your pup has any of the above conditions.


Pneumonia in dogs often develops as a result of an initial exposure to another form of respiratory illness, injury to the lungs, or in response to inflammation within the airways.

Dogs with pneumonia will experience inflammation of the lungs and other portions of the lower airways.

The air sacs within the lungs can fill with fluid or pus, making it extremely challenging for a dog to breathe properly.

Dogs with pneumonia will require antibiotics to tackle the current infection within their lungs, and may even need hospitalization if they are experiencing severe respiratory difficulties.

Lung Tumors

Though lung tumors are relatively rare in dogs, they can still occur.

Cancerous tumors can either originate in the lungs in the dog affected, or develop as a result of metastasis of another cancer.

Most dogs with lung tumors can experience vague respiratory symptoms in the beginning, eventually progressing to severe respiratory symptoms that warrant an immediate vet visit.

These tumors can be diagnosed with radiographs of a dog’s chest, and once a lung tumor is diagnosed, management options will vary based on how progressed the disease is.

Symptoms Of Respiratory Illnesses In Dogs

As you can see, dogs can fall victim to respiratory conditions of all kinds. Though the phrase ‘respiratory illness’ can refer to many different diseases, many of them display a list of common symptoms.

Some of the most common respiratory symptoms that dogs experience with respiratory conditions include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Eye discharge
  • Eye inflammation
  • Coughing up phlegm or mucus
  • Labored breathing
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Wheezing
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Fever

These symptoms will range in severity from case to case, but they always warrant a trip to the vet when they occur.

When To See The Vet For Respiratory Problems

While we may not rush to the doctor each time we develop a cold, things are different for our canine friends.

Respiratory illnesses often require medical intervention for our pups, ranging from antibiotic therapy to hospitalization.

Though a sneeze here and there does not mean your dog will fall violently ill, it should be enough to warrant a phone call to your vet.

Your vet can examine your dog’s symptoms and any potential exposures, and develop the best plan of action going forward.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are many respiratory conditions that our dogs can experience throughout their lives.

Vaccinating your dog can help to prevent any dangerous infections they encounter, helping to minimize the chance of any potential complications down the line.

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