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Key takeaways

Aspiration pneumonia in dogs is a lung infection resulting from the inhalation of a solid or liquid foreign material.

  • Bacterial infection after aspiration is common
  • Many factors can increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia; genetic (such as brachycephalic syndrome), sedation, anesthesia, or force-feeding
  • Health conditions can also contribute to an increased risk, such as megaesophagus and oral or laryngeal tumors
  • The clinical signs include fever, coughing, weakness, weight loss, lethargy, blue gums, nasal discharge, and exercise intolerance
  • The diagnostic process includes a physical examination, bloodwork, and diagnostic imaging
  • Treatment involves the prescription of antimicrobials alongside supportive care such as oxygen therapy, nebulization, coupage, and ventilatory support
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A closer look: Aspiration Pneumonia in Dogs

Aspiration pneumonia is uncommon in dogs. The severity of the conditions varies depending on several factors, such as the material inhaled, its distribution in the lungs, and whether a bacterial infection develops. Prognosis with treatment is generally good with about an 80% survival rate after hospital discharge.

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Risk factors

The severity of the symptoms varies according to the type of material inhaled. The aspiration of clean tap water is far less likely to lead to pneumonia than contaminated water or irritating chemicals.

The age and physical condition of the patient are also factors that affect the severity of the disease. Old and younger dogs are more likely to present severe clinical signs, as are very small breeds. It particularly affects dogs with predispositions such as brachycephalic airway syndrome or megaesophagus.

Dogs already suffering from chronic illnesses are also more likely to develop severe symptoms.

Possible causes

The main cause of aspiration pneumonia is the inhalation of a foreign material, usually a fluid or a fine or powdery solid. Typically, the fluid brings bacteria with it into the lungs, resulting in a bacterial infection.

Many factors, predispositions, or associated conditions might lead to aspiration pneumonia.

Vomiting is also a risk factor, especially when already in a weak state. During vomiting episodes, dogs may breathe in some of the vomit, resulting in aspiration pneumonia. Dogs that have difficulty swallowing are also at risk of developing aspiration pneumonia.

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

The diagnostic process focuses on identifying the underlying cause of the symptoms. Diagnostic tests include:

  • A complete history of the patient
  • A physical evaluation
  • Bloodwork
  • X-rays of the chest.
  • Specific testing to identify the bacteria causing the infection

Steps to Recovery

Treatment consists of:

  • Medications, such as antimicrobials
  • Supportive therapy

Therapy usually lasts until pneumonia is no longer identifiable on X-rays, but some veterinarians suggest continuing the therapy for up to a week after that to ensure the infection is completely resolved.

Supportive care consists of

  • Oxygen therapy
  • Ventilatory support
  • Coupage
  • Nebulization

In severe cases where breathing is significantly compromised, the patient might require hospitalization.

The prognosis varies depending on the severity of the infection. With aggressive therapy, the prognosis is good with about 80% of patients surviving. Cases with extensive damage to the lungs, with severe bacterial infections, or those that develop lung abscesses have a poorer prognosis.


Prevention includes management of conditions that predispose dogs to aspiration pneumonia by following veterinary recommendations.
Precautions are taken during high-risk medical procedures, such as anesthesia, to prevent dogs from inhaling fluids. Particular care is also important during the administration of liquid medications.

Aspiration pneumonia is not contagious.

Is Aspiration Pneumonia in Dogs common?

Aspiration pneumonia is uncommon in dogs.

Typical Treatment

  • Medications (antimicrobials)
  • Supportive care (oxygen therapy, ventilatory support, coupage, nebulization)

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