Chronic Inflammation of the Bronchi in Dogs

By PetMD Editorial on Apr. 16, 2010

Bronchitis, Chronic (COPD) in Dogs

Chronic bronchitis, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), occurs when the mucous membranes of the bronchi (the airways that transport oxygen from the trachea to the lungs) become inflamed. Typically, this leads to a chronic cough that lasts two months or longer -- a cough that is not attributable to other causes like heart failure, neoplasia, infections, or other respiratory diseases.

Despite extensive diagnostic efforts by your veterinarian, the specific cause of the inflammation is rarely identified. In addition, toy and small dog breeds, such as the West Highland white terrier and cocker spaniel, are found to be more susceptible to COPD, although it is sometimes observed in larger breeds of dog, too.

Symptoms and Types

Other than a dry cough (a hallmark sign of COPD), other symptoms associated with the disease include:

  • Gagging
  • Abnormal lung sounds (i.e., wheezing, crackles, etc.)
  • Inability to perform routine exercises
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes (cyanosis); a sign that oxygen in the blood is dangerously diminished
  • Spontaneous loss of consciousness (syncope)


Chronic airway inflammation is initiated by a variety of causes.


You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health to your veterinarian, including the onset and nature of the symptoms. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination as well as a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count -- the results of which are typically non-specific. In fact, COPD is rarely definitely diagnosed. In some dogs, however, polycythemia or eosinophila (allergic state in which an increased number of eosinophils concentrate in the blood) develops as a result of the disease.

Chest X-rays are helpful in determining the severity of the disease and to evaluate the extent of lung involvement. Dogs with COPD may have thickened brochi or, in severe cases, collapsed lungs. Bronchoscopy, another important diagnostic tool, is used to visualize the inside of the airways and identify abnormalities such as tumors, inflammation, and bleeding. This is done by inserting an instrument (bronchoscope) into the airways, usually through the nose or mouth. The technique can also be used to collect deep lung tissue samples, which are then sent to a laboratory for detailed examination.

Your veterinarian may also use echocardiography (ECHO) and electrocardiogram (ECG) to evaluate the heart and identify abnormalities such as heart enlargement or failure. This may even help the veterinarian rule out heartworm disease.


Unless life-threatening symptoms develop, most dogs do not require hospitalization. Otherwise, your veterinarian will typically recommend medication and oxygen therapy to be administered at home. Corticosteroids and bronchodilators, for example, are commonly employed to reduce airway inflammation and dilate the airway passage to facilitate breathing, respectively. Antibiotics, meanwhile, are usually prescribed to dogs in case of lung infections.

Living and Management

Unfortunately, there is no cure yet available for COPD, but, with proper management, some symptoms may be kept in check. For example, weight control, a balanced diet, and proper compliance with medication will control the severity and progression of the disease.

Exercise is particularly important, as it helps clear the secretion present in the airways, thereby making it easier for the dog to breath. However, exercise must only be implemented gradually, as it can also cause excessive coughing. Additionally, a balanced diet will help keep the dog fit, thus improving its breathing, attitude and exercise tolerance.

Watch for excessive coughing and call your veterinarian immediately if it persists, as it may lead to a spontaneous loss of consciousness (syncope).

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