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Bronchitis in Dogs

Dog with bronchitis
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Severity: i Low - Medium
Life stage: All
  • Bronchitis occurs when the large airways in the lungs become inflamed.
  • It causes a dry hacking and sometimes honking cough.
  • Kennel cough is the most common cause of bronchitis in dogs.
  • Treatment is aimed at eliminating the underlying cause and reducing inflammation and coughing. 
  • Keeping dogs current on the bordetella vaccine and heartworm prevention is the best prevention method.

If you notice that your dog is coughing like a person with a persistent cold, then your dog might have bronchitis. 

Bronchitis in dogs is a condition where the airways become inflamed. If it is not treated promptly, bronchitis can put a dog’s entire cardiovascular and respiratory system at risk. 

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis occurs when the large airways in the lungs, known as bronchi, become inflamed. Bronchitis causes a dry hacking and sometimes honking cough.

Even though this disease is occasionally referred to as asthma, that is incorrect. Asthma refers to diseases that constrict the airways, while bronchitis refers to diseases that inflame the airways. 

Types of Bronchitis in Dogs

Dogs can have several different types of bronchitis. Bronchitis is caused by contagious factors, such as parasites, viruses, or bacteria, or non-contagious factors, such as second-hand smoke and allergies. Infectious bronchitis is usually seen in young dogs. 

Bronchitis in dogs can be further subdivided into acute (short in duration) or chronic forms of the disease. Canine chronic bronchitis is defined by veterinarians as a dog that is coughing most days for at least two months that have no other problems that could be causing the cough. Chronic bronchitis is usually seen in middle-aged and older dogs. 

Acute bronchitis in dogs is diagnosed if the dog has been coughing for less than two months and no other cause for the coughing has been determined. 

Symptoms of Bronchitis in Dogs

Dog coughing

Most dogs that have bronchitis are otherwise healthy with the exception of a daily cough. If your dog has ever had kennel cough, then you know what this cough sounds like: dry, hacking, sometimes sounds like a goose honking. 

This cough can be worse if the dog pulls on the leash or if the dog is excited. Bronchitis often causes coughing fits that end with retching that can mimic vomiting. Additional symptoms of bronchitis in dogs could include:

  • Coughing that is worse when a dog awakens, and then gets better throughout the day
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up sputum (a mixture of saliva and mucous) 

If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian to set up an appointment, and isolate your dog from other dogs in case he or she is infectious. 

What Causes Bronchitis in Dogs?

dog in animal shelter

Many things can cause bronchitis in dogs. The most common cause of acute bronchitis in dogs is kennel cough, or canine infectious tracheobronchitis. 

Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease passed from dog to dog, usually in group settings, such as daycare, boarding or grooming facilities, shelters and kennels, or dog parks.

Kennel cough is passed from dog to dog by inhaling virus and/or bacteria particles that are expelled by infected dogs who cough. Dogs can become infected by airborne droplets of virus or bacteria, touching noses, or coming into contact with contaminated articles such as food and water bowls.  

The most common causes of kennel cough are bacteria, such as Bordetella bronchiseptica or Mycoplasma species, however, underlying viruses, such as parainfluenza and distemper, can also lead to kennel cough and bronchitis in dogs. Kennel cough is not contagious to humans or cats.  

Additional causes of bronchitis in dogs include:

  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Allergies
  • Lung parasites, including heartworms and lungworms
  • Heart or lung disease
  • Dust and sprays (flea powder, carpet powder, hairspray, etc.)
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Unknown (the underlying cause cannot be determined)

In middle age and older dogs, chronic bronchitis may be exacerbated by sudden changes in the weather or environment

Diagnosing Bronchitis in Dogs

In order to diagnose bronchitis, your veterinarian will ask about your dog’s age, if your dog is up to date with the kennel cough vaccine, and if he or she has been exposed to other dogs recently. Your veterinarian will also ask about when your dog coughs, how long he has been coughing, and if he has any history of bronchitis.

Provide as much information as possible to your veterinarian, including any other diseases your dog may have, any medications your dog is on, any travel history, if your dog is currently on heartworm prevention and the current status of your dog’s vaccines. 

If your dog is being seen for a cough, then expect the veterinarian to conduct a full physical examination, including listening to the heart and lungs. and examining the trachea (windpipe).

In order to diagnose bronchitis, additional tests may be needed. Those tests could include bloodwork (heartworm test, complete blood count, blood chemistry), a fecal exam to check for parasites, and a chest X-ray.  

In rare cases, further testing may be recommended, including a transtracheal wash, bronchoscopy, additional imaging, or lung function tests. A transtracheal wash—which is performed while a dog is under anesthesia—is when a veterinarian squirts a small amount of saline down a dog’s windpipe, sucks it back up with a catheter, and submits the fluid for analysis. A bronchoscopy is when a vet uses a device to view a dog’s airways. Lung function tests evaluate how well a dog is breathing. 

Treatment for Bronchitis in Dogs

Dog standing on bed

Treatment for bronchitis in dogs depends on the cause and severity of the condition. Most cases of bronchitis in dogs require veterinarian intervention and treatment if the coughing doesn’t clear up in a day. Treatment is aimed at eliminating the underlying cause (if known) and reducing inflammation and coughing. Emergency treatment may be necessary if your pet is experiencing difficulty breathing, wheezing, or color changes in the gums (blue-ish color due to low oxygen levels).

Acute bronchitis can be cured with treatment. Kennel cough, a type of acute bronchitis, is treated with a combination of antibiotics and cough suppressants. Doxycycline or Clavamox are the antibiotics that are usually prescribed, and cough tabs that contain dextromethorphan and guaifenesin or other cough medicine is prescribed to suppress coughing and allow everyone to rest. 

It is very important to isolate your dog from any other dogs for as long as your veterinarian recommends and to wash all your dog’s bedding and bowls to avoid spread of the disease. 

Chronic bronchitis cannot be cured with treatment, only managed, because the inflammatory changes in the lungs are irreversible. 

Dogs that are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis are often treated with a combination of steroids (prednisone, prednisolone, or methylprednisolone) and bronchodilators (medications that dilate the airways so dogs can breathe better) such as theophylline. Both of these drugs are available in several forms, including oral, injectable, and inhalant forms. If a bacterial infection is present, then antibiotics will be prescribed as well. 

Home Remedies for Bronchitis in Dogs

If your dog has been diagnosed with bronchitis, adding home remedies to veterinarian prescribed treatments may help reduce symptoms. These remedies could include:

Steam therapy. Sit with your dog twice daily in a hot, steamy bathroom for 15 minutes to help loosen mucus. 

Reduce exposure to triggers. Minimize exposure to dust, sprays, powders, cleaning products, and secondhand smoke

Filter the air. Install a HEPA filter in the air conditioning system or furnace to reduce the amount of allergens in the air.

Use an allergen barrier on bedding. Cover bedding with an allergen barrier that reduces the number of allergens in a dog’s bedding.

General Cost of Treatment for Bronchitis in Dogs 

Treatment for bronchitis in dogs depends on the size of the dog, whether bronchitis is chronic or acute, and your geographical area. 

Kennel cough can often be treated for $100-$150 in most areas. Chronic bronchitis will require more testing and long-term medications and can range in cost from $300-$500 for the initial exam and testing. 

Medications for chronic bronchitis can cost as little as $15 a month for oral bronchodilators and steroids in small dogs or up to $50-$70 for brand name drugs or medications for large dogs. 

How to Prevent Bronchitis in Dogs

Bronchitis in dogs can be reduced by keeping your dog current on his or her bordetella vaccine and heartworm prevention. Minimizing exposure to secondhand smoke, powders, sprays, and harsh products can also help. 

Obese dogs are at higher risk for symptoms associated with bronchitis, so keeping your dog at a healthy weight is also a good way to help prevent bronchitis. 

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