Upper Respiratory Infection in Dogs

Regular boarding or shelter life increases the risk of upper respiratory infections.
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Upper respiratory infections target the throat, bronchial passageways and the nasal cavities. In dogs, the cause of upper respiratory infections can be viral, bacterial or parasitic. Respiratory infections are common in dogs; most recover without any complications. But some respiratory infections, such as canine distemper, that are viral in nature can be fatal if left untreated. If you suspect your dog has an upper respiratory infection, consult your veterinarian immediately.


Upper respiratory infections in dogs are due to bacterial, viral or parasitic infection. Common bacterial agents include Bordetella bronchiseptica, Klebsiella, Streptococcus and Pseudomonas. Viral causes include canine distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, corona virus, herpes virus and influenza virus. Parasitic causes include nasal mites or lung flukes. Many of these contribute to an upper respiratory condition known as canine infectious respiratory disease complex. This condition is more commonly known as kennel cough.


Symptoms of an upper respiratory infection include coughing, sneezing, runny eyes, nasal discharge and blood or mucus in the stool. Coughing in dogs is often mistaken for vomiting or gagging. A cough can be dry and hacking or productive and producing a foamy mucus. Symptoms typically last for seven to 14 days. In infections caused by distemper, additional symptoms include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and a high fever. As it progresses, the nervous system becomes involved, producing symptoms such as seizures and paralysis.


If you believe your dog is suffering from an upper respiratory infection, your veterinarian must rule out the cause of the infection. The veterinarian will ask about possible exposure to other dogs, such as boarding. Blood tests will help determine which bacterial or viral agents may be responsible. Radiographs look for the possible development of pneumonia.

Treatments and Prevention

Treatment options vary based on the specific cause of an upper respiratory infection. Your veterinarian may administer antibiotics for bacterial infections or pneumonia development. No direct treatment for viral causes exists. Treatment involves supportive care including increased fluid intake. Many causes of canine respiratory infections are preventable through vaccinations. Vaccinations prevent against parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, distemper, influenza and Bordetella bronchiseptica. Unvaccinated adults and puppies are at greater risk of respiratory infection development.