Upper Respiratory Infection in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Upper respiratory infection in dogs is a condition that affects the throat, bronchial passageways, and nasal cavities. The infection presents symptoms quite similar to the common cold in humans.

The disease is common in dogs with compromised immune systems and is a result of viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection.

Although most infections are mild and the pets can recover without any complications, some cases such as canine distemper caused by viral infections can be fatal if left untreated.

If you suspect your feline friend is suffering from a respiratory infection then it’s advisable to consult your local veterinarian immediately.

Upper Respiratory Infection in Dogs

Causes of upper respiratory infection in dogs

Upper respiratory infections in dogs can be caused by bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections. Bordetella bronchiseptica is one of the most common bacteria that cause the infection and is related to Bordetella pertussis which causes whooping cough in humans.

Upper respiratory infections caused by bacteria can lead to secondary infections, strep, and staph if left untreated while puppies are more likely to develop bronchopneumonia.

Viruses that cause feline upper respiratory infections include adenovirus, influenza, parainfluenza, and distemper. Parainfluenza is the most common viral agent. Viral respiratory infections can cause severe damage to the dog’s respiratory system, including causing upper airway disease.

A few parasites can also cause upper respiratory infections in dogs. Pneumonyssoides caninum, commonly known as a canine nasal mite, can cause health complications that make dogs susceptible to secondary infections. Although rare and only transmitted by eating crayfish, lung fluke that lives in pulmonary cysts in the lungs is another parasite that causes the infection.

Symptoms of upper respiratory infection in dogs

Most upper respiratory tract infections in dogs share overlapping symptoms, which makes it hard to distinguish one from the other. Symptoms also vary depending on the cause of the infection (bacterial, viral, or parasitic). However, the most common symptoms of upper respiratory infection in dogs include:

  • Nasal discharge (transparent or yellowish)
  • Eye discharge
  • Itchy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Coughing (dry or productive)
  • Snorting
  • Wheezing
  • Gagging or retching
  • Drooling or foaming at the mouth
  • Oral and/or nasal ulcers
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss

Diagnosis of upper respiratory infection in dogs

As earlier mentioned, respiratory tract infection in dogs shares overlapping symptoms that make it hard to identify the cause without the help of a veterinarian. The veterinarian will ask you a few questions relating to possible exposure to other dogs such as in animal shelters.

The veterinarian will also carry out blood tests to determine the actual bacterial, viral, or parasitic agent responsible. Radiographs may also be used to assess a possible development of pneumonia.

Treatment for upper respiratory infection in dogs

Treatment options vary depending on the specific cause of the infection. Bacterial infections call for antibiotics while no direct treatment is currently available for viral infections. Veterinarians often recommend supportive care, which includes rest and increased fluid intake. Intravenous fluids and nutritional supplements will be necessary in severe cases.

Since no one can ever be absolutely sure their dog is safe, it’s wise to embrace preventive measures to keep them safe, such as having them vaccinated. Bordetella vaccination will protect them from the parainfluenza virus, distemper, adenovirus, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and influenza.

Recent threat: Canine influenza virus

Upper respiratory infection symptoms accompanied by a moist cough may signal a relatively recent and increasingly alarming canine influenza virus. The virus was first recorded in 2004 and studies revealed it mutated from equine influenza.

While the canine influenza virus cannot infect humans, it is very contagious among dogs. Severe cases of infection result in potentially fatal pneumonia. Luckily, a USDA-approved vaccine called Nobivac Canine Flu H3N8 helps protect your dog against the virus.

Frequently asked questions about these infections

Below we answer a few common questions about upper respiratory infections in dogs

How does upper respiratory infection in dogs spread?

Upper respiratory infections caused by bacteria spread through direct contact or contact with contaminated items, coughing, and clothing. Viruses that cause the infection are spread by aerosolized respiratory secretions from coughing or sneezing. Contact with contaminated surfaces or items such as toys, bowls, collars, leashes, or muzzles will also aid in the spread. Parasites such as canine nasal mites and lung flukes also spread the infection.

How long does an upper respiratory infection last in dogs?

Mild upper respiratory infections last about 7 to 21 days. However, severe cases can last more than a month while the dog undergoes treatment. Vaccinated dogs that become infected can recover within a few days because they only experience mild symptoms.

What antibiotics treat upper respiratory infections in dogs?

The most effective antibiotics for feline upper respiratory infections are Doxycycline, Azithromycin, and Zithromax. You should start with doxycycline, which is effective against Bordetella and Mycoplasma. In case Doxycycline does not work then you can proceed to use Azithromycin. Zithromax is ideal in severe cases.

How to tell if a dog has an upper respiratory infection

Although symptoms differ depending on whether the cause is bacteria, virus, or parasite, the most common symptoms of upper respiratory infection in dogs include nasal and oral discharge, itchy nose, sneezing, fever, coughing, snorting, wheezing, gagging or retching, drooling, oral and/or nasal ulcers, dehydration, lethargy, and weight loss.

Final thoughts

Although the infection is mild in most cases, upper respiratory infections caused by a virus can be fatal, especially when left untreated. Make sure your dog receives the two vaccines to keep them safe from bacteria and viral infections.