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.
Other than a dry cough (a hallmark sign of COPD), other symptoms associated with the disease include:
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.
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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When is the right time to euthanize a dog with COPD?
Canine chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – or more commonly known as canine chronic bronchitis (CCB) – is an example of the kind of irreversible, progressive illness that may prompt these kinds of conversations.
The prognosis of dogs diagnosed with CCB is variable, but any damage the disease inflicts on your dog’s lungs is permanent, and the disease is ultimately classified as slowly progressive with no known cure.
The good news is that most dogs can actually lead a normal life with COPD, with no need to resort to euthanasia, but of course, not all cases will be the same.
There are a lot of nuances involved with canine COPD, so what I will aim to do in this article is break down the disease in more detail and discuss the symptoms, risk factors and impact it can have on your dog in more detail.
I hope that this information can make this impossible choice a little easier for you to make.
When to put down a dog with canine COPD?
This then leads us to the question: when should you put down a dog with canine COPD? The answer to this question is a complex one, as no two dogs with the condition are the same.
The main factor you need to consider when asking yourself this question is how advanced the disease is upon diagnosis. The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the better the prognosis, because it means you and your vet can work to slow any further lung damage in your dog.
Unfortunately, any lung damage present upon your dog’s diagnosis of COPD (and any subsequent lung damage) is irreversible.
Although symptoms of CCB can be managed with the right treatment, your dog may experience a ‘relapse’ or ‘recurrence’ of the condition (increased and more rapidly worsening symptoms) throughout their life if they live in an environment with increased irritants in the air such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, allergens, or due to inhalation of bacteria associated with dental disease or due to a secondary bacterial infection typically transmitted by another dog.
If your dog already has quite significant lung damage upon diagnosis, relapses can be extra problematic because they can lead to further complications. They may experience severe respiratory distress, which will lead to hospitalization, the administration of IV fluids and oxygen therapy.
Severe lung damage in your dog as a result of COPD might also lead to scarring in the lung’s tissue and irreversible changes in your dog’s airways known as bronchiectasis.
If your dog is diagnosed with bronchiectasis, this means that they are a lot more susceptible to repeated bouts of pneumonia. Dogs with this condition will require regular evaluation and chest radiographs to ensure that pneumonia is not present.
If your dog is in the early stages of COPD, the risk of such complications and the implications of relapses may not apply to you.
However, if the lung damage your dog has incurred by COPD is already quite severe, you might want to consider if the constant medical intervention, bouts of pneumonia and other life-limiting and unpleasant symptoms that come with advanced COPD translate into a good quality of life for your dog.
If they are constantly incurring more and more damage to their lungs and are at a real risk of a painful and traumatic death as a result of their condition, you might want to consider whether the kindest thing to do is to let them go peacefully and pain free.
However, in general dogs with CCB can have a good quality of life and have a normal life expectancy with appropriate medical management.
What are treatment options for COPD in dogs?
Hospitalization may be required if your dog is experiencing severe breathing problems. While in hospital, a combination of intravenous medications and oxygen therapy may be used to help stabilize your pup’s condition.
If your dog’s case is less severe, he may be treated on an outpatient basis with a combination of treatments and medications such as mucolytics, cough suppressants, corticosteroids, bronchodilators and antibiotics.
- In some cases, antioxidants, supplements and other supportive therapies may be recommended.
- Avoid exposing your dog to irritants such as cigarette smoke, which can exacerbate breathing problems. Limited exposure will reduce the chance of relapse and help your pet breathe more easily.
- Your veterinarian may recommend a change in diet or adding gentle exercise to help him lose extra weight.
- Switching from a collar to a harness may help to avoid applying extra pressure to your dog’s airway.
- Having your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned can help eliminate harmful bacteria from your pet’s mouth and may help to prevent a number of other serious oral health and medical conditions.
How long do dogs with lung disease live?
What are the signs of COPD in dogs?
- Fainting with exertion.
- Bluish tinge to gums.
- Exercise intolerance (tiring easily)
- Loud or noisy breathing.
Is COPD in dogs curable?
Is COPD an end stage terminal?