Pet Connection

Canine Pneumonia

What to know if your dog is coughing and has the sniffles

By Christie Keith

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Dogs, like people, get respiratory infections, and most of the time recover without incident. Sometimes, however, those infections turn into pneumonia, which can be fatal. How can dog owners know if their pet’s runny nose and cough might put his life at risk?

How sick your dog will get from his version of a cold or flu depends on many factors. Puppies and senior dogs are at increased risk of developing pneumonia. So are the so-called brachycephalic breeds, those with flat faces like pugs or bulldogs. Other dogs may have underlying health conditions that put them at additional risk.

Because contagious respiratory diseases are airborne, dogs who mingle with other dogs at dog parks and similar locations are also at increased risk of respiratory disease.

Another important risk factor is the cause of the pneumonia, which can include everything from a bacterial or viral infection, to a structural defect in the respiratory tract, to near-drowning or electrical shock.

Dr. Cynda Crawford of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine is the researcher who discovered the first known canine influenza virus (CIV). “There’s an increased risk for progression to pneumonia with CIV compared to other infectious causes,” she says.

Vaccinations can reduce the severity of the symptoms and make dogs less contagious to other dogs, but it doesn't completely prevent illness. What’s more, Crawford says, “The vast majority of pathogens that can cause respiratory infections in dogs are still unknown. Of the small number we’ve identified, only about half of those have a vaccine available.”

So is a canine biohazard suit the only way to protect a dog from a respiratory infection that could lead to pneumonia? Not at all.

“First, be aware that despite your best efforts, your dog may pick up a respiratory infection,” Crawford says. “Fortunately, for the vast majority of cases, these infections will be mild and short-lived, so there's no need to panic by putting your dog in a bubble. But do protect your dog with vaccinations and avoid places where they may encounter sick dogs.”

What should you do if your dog shows signs of a mild respiratory infection, such as coughing and sniffling? If your dog is unhealthy, hasn’t had all his vaccines, is very young or old, or has other risk factors, it’s best to seek veterinary care immediately.

If your dog is otherwise healthy, is not a puppy or senior and has no additional risk factors, Crawford advises you to check with your veterinarian to see if there are canine influenza viruses circulating in your community. If so, you’ll probably want to seek medical care, as these infections are more likely than others to develop into pneumonia.

If there is no CIV circulating and your dog is in good health, your veterinarian will probably advise you keep him home until the danger of transmitting the disease to other dogs has passed. However, Crawford says, “If the coughing, sneezing and nasal discharge persist for more than a couple of days, or if the dog stops eating or develops rapid breathing, contact your veterinarian right away.”

If you do head for the vet, be sure to ask about what you can do to protect other dogs in the hospital waiting area from being infected by your pet. Many veterinary clinics will ask clients whose dogs have respiratory symptoms to wait in the car or enter through a separate door. Be sure to ask how long your dog needs to be kept away from other dogs, as well as what signs to watch out for that can alert you to developing pneumonia.


See vet about

litter box problem

Q: My cat stopped using her litter box. We’ve done everything we’ve read about: added an extra box, made sure the boxes are in quiet spots, not used scented litter, scooped daily and washed the box every week. It hasn’t helped, and we’re running out of ideas. What are we missing?

A: You’ve mentioned everything you should be trying, except the most important one: a visit to the veterinarian.

When a cat who previously had no litter box problems suddenly starts eliminating inappropriately, the first stop needs to be the veterinarian. That’s because medical conditions such as bladder infections or urinary tract obstruction are often behind the problem. Another likely culprit: arthritis or an injury that makes getting in and out of the litter box difficult.

If you’ve ever had a bladder infection or back injury yourself, you know both conditions are painful. Your cat may associate that pain with the litter box or may not be able to hold it. Either way, you need to work with your vet to rule out physical causes for litter box avoidance.

After your cat’s condition is treated, will she go back to using the box? Possibly, but it may not be that simple. The association of pain with the box might mean some re-training is in order. If the problem is arthritis, it may be necessary to get a box with only three sides, so the cat can get in and out without discomfort.

If there’s no underlying physical cause, or the problem persists after treatment, it’s time to talk to yet another veterinarian. A veterinary behaviorist can work wonders with management strategies, behavior modification, supplements and medications. Behaviorists often work via telemedicine consultations with your own veterinarian. You can locate one at, the website of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Microchips underutilized

to save pets, shelter animals

-- If your pet goes missing, what are the chances he’ll come back to you? In the United States, that number is low -- between 10 and 19 percent. Now, an international study blames limited adoption of microchipping for that dismal statistic. Published in the latest issue of the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, the study compared how often animal shelters in Florida, Italy and Israel successfully reunited lost dogs with their owners. Thanks to a mandatory national microchip database, Israel keeps nearly 70 percent of stray dogs out of shelters and gets them back to their families. Success like that is possible in the U.S., too, if pets are microchipped. An earlier study found that 74 percent of chipped dogs and 63 percent of chipped cats are reclaimed by their families.

-- Tooth brushing for pets? Yes. Using human toothpaste? Absolutely not. Britain’s RSPCA is warning pet owners not to brush pets’ teeth with toothpaste made for humans. Dental products made for humans can contain a tooth-friendly sweetener known as xylitol, which can cause death in dogs and cats when even small amounts are consumed. Dogs and cats are also not fans of the foaming quality of human toothpaste. While dental disease is common and preventable, pet owners should stick with products made just for animals.

-- For animals as well as humans, medical treatments for some conditions can be unavailable, ineffective or difficult to tolerate. There may be newer or better therapies still in clinical trials, but how can pet owners and their veterinarians locate them? To answer that need, the AVMA has created a searchable database for veterinary health care providers to search for trials, read about eligibility and obtain further information. It’s online at -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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