Aspiration Pneumonia in Dogs
Aspiration pneumonia happens when gastrointestinal contents have been inhaled into your dogs' lungs. This results in a secondary inflammation and infection of the lung. Due to this inflammation, excessive fluid and mucus accumulates within the lower airway, causing difficulty breathing. Aspiration pneumonia is typically a life-threatening emergency that warrants an immediate trip to your veterinarian or emergency veterinarian.
What could cause my dog to have aspiration pneumonia?
Dogs that develop aspiration pneumonia typically have a history of1,2:
- Recent anesthesia or sedation
- A diagnosis of an underlying medical condition that predisposes the dog toward aspiration
- Neurologic problems
Medical conditions that make a dog more likely to aspirate vomitus into their lungs include1,2:
- Laryngeal paralysis
- Persistent right aortic arch (seen in puppies)
- Congenital esophagus problems
- Gastrointestinal disease
Also, if your dog had recent sedation or anesthesia for surgery, has an underlying medical condition that predisposes him to aspiration or gets sick after vomiting, he may have aspiration pneumonia. Clinical signs of aspiration pneumonia include:
- Not eating
- An increased respiratory rate
- Exercise intolerance
- Open mouth breathing
- Noisy or wet breathing
- Blue-colored gums
- Stretching of the neck out to breath
Diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia
The diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia in dogs typically starts with a thorough physical examination by your veterinarian (including careful auscultation [listening to internal body sounds] with a stethoscope for abnormal lung sounds). Additional tests to diagnose aspiration pneumonia include:
- Chest x-rays
- Abdominal x-rays (to look for the cause of vomiting)
- Baseline blood work to make sure the kidneys, liver and other organs are working appropriately and to see if the white blood cell count is elevated
- Pulse oximetry or an arterial blood gas to measure the oxygen level within the lungs or blood.*
Sometimes, a transtracheal wash or endotracheal lavage is necessary to diagnose the underlying bacterial infection within the lung. This is a “fluid wash” where fluid is flushed into the lung and then taken back for culture testing. This is often important to help rule out other
causes of pneumonia, such as other bacterial causes (e.g., kennel cough pneumonia secondary to Bordatella bronchiseptica), fungal causes (e.g., Blastomycoses), or even cancer.
Treatment of aspiration pneumonia
If you notice any of the clinical signs of aspiration pneumonia, immediate treatment at your veterinarian is necessary. Treatment includes oxygen therapy, intravenous (IV) catheter access, IV fluids, and
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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.