Dog: Bronchitis

General information

Other common/scientific names: chronic bronchitis, tracheobronchitis

The trachea or windpipe is the tube that carries air from the base of the larynx (voicebox) to the beginning of the airways in the lungs where it splits into the left and right bronchi. The bronchi spread out into the lung tissue and continue to divide into smaller channels called bronchioles.

Bronchioles eventually terminate into the tiny air sacs called alveoli from which respiratory gases are exchanged.

Bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchi and bronchioles. In dogs, it can commonly involve inflammation of the trachea and is referred to as tracheobronchitis. Inflammed airways trigger excessive mucus production, causing a narrowed airway and further inflammation. Chronic bronchitis is defined as coughing for two months or longer for which another cause has not been identified. Continued coughing causes more inflammation and mucus production leading to fibrosis and scar tissue.

Abb. GGUHG7KF: Schematic illustration of the respiratory system.


The most common cause of tracheobronchitis is a bacterial infection called kennel cough (infectious tracheobronchitis). Other causes include other bacterial and viral infections, endoparasites and heartworm disease. Non-infectious causes of bronchitis include allergies to dust, food, mold and pollen. Less commonly, irritants which damage the lining of the airways such as smoke or chemicals may be implicated. Overweight dogs and dogs with periodontal disease are more prone to developing chronic bronchitis.


Infectious tracheobronchitis is spread through respiratory secretions from infected, coughing dogs.

Cardinal symptom



Dogs with bronchitis have a harsh cough. Gagging and retching white phlegm (misinterpreted as vomiting) is common. Infectious cases may have a fever, lack of appetite and depression. Chronic bronchitis can result in shortness of breath and exercise intolerance. Severe cases become cyanotic (blue-tinged gums and tongue) with exertion and may faint.


Diagnosis of bronchitis is based on history, physical examination and clinical signs. Coughing can usually be elicited by feeling the trachea. Chest radiographs may reveal abnormalities especially in chronic cases. Bloodwork can help detect any secondary conditions. A transtracheal wash is a procedure where the trachea is flushed and cells are obtained for identification and culture and sensitivity. These results can help with both the diagnosis and treatment. Laryngoscopy and bronchoscopy utilize a flexible tube with a lighted scope to visualize the airways. The bronchoscope can also be used to obtain cells from deep in the lung and is typically used in specialty veterinary clinics.


Treatments for bronchitis include antibiotics, corticosteroids, bronchodilators and cough suppressants. Dogs with severe respiratory distress may need to be hospitalized and treated with oxygen.


Infectious tracheobronchitis or kennel cough has a good prognosis for recovery. However, chronic bronchitis in older, overweight dogs can be a progressive condition that responds poorly to medication.


A vaccine is available for infectious tracheobronchitis. Prevention of bronchitis is also geared toward eliminating the risk factors such as obesity, dental disease, bacterial infections and inhaled irritants. All dogs should be dewormed regularly and vaccinated for preventative diseases.

Click here for more information on canine vaccinations.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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