COPD in Dogs

COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, also sometimes called chronic bronchitis.
While some breeds are particularly prone to the disorder — Westies and Cockers in particular — this disease can be found in any dog, especially as dogs age.

Jenny when she was healthier

Jenny, a Rough Collie who is between 8 – 10 years old developed COPD this fall. It is known that some dogs will develop the disease due to a genetic predisposition or because they live in a smoky environment, however others like Jenny have no clear reason for developing the disease.

x-ray showing bronchitis in the lung

Signs that a dog may be developing the disease include a hacking cough, sneezing, shortness of breath which might include bluing of the tongue and/or gums, and mucous discharge from the nose. COPD is basically a lung disease but may originally be mistaken for heart disease – both present with a similar hacking cough and either can result in sneezing. It may require a chest x-ray for a vet to see that it is the lungs, not the heart, that are the source of symptoms.

Caring for a dog with COPD is in some respects like caring for any aging and/or ill dog. Nutritious food without too much salt/sugar, constant access to clean water, exercise that is regular but not demanding, and lots of love and attention. It is recommend to walk a dog with COPD on a harness, not a collar, as no added pressure should be placed on the dog’s throat. I have found that Jenny seems to sleep best when her head is elevated slightly so that her nasal passages drain a bit more than if she were laying flat – she has pillows and folded blankets to assist her in finding a comfortable position.

It is important that dogs continue to get regular exercise that is not demanding – this helps keep the mucous from building up in the dogs lungs or bronchial tubes. Jenny and I take a daily walk at a casual pace – the idea is to keep her moving without adding to her need to breath harder. We also make sure she gets outside regularly as the fresh air helps her clear her nasal passages, which she needs to do throughout the day.

Humidifier – can help a congested dog in dry weather

There is no cure for COPD and management is necessary; a dog’s lifetime may or may not be affected by the disease depending on how sever their individual complications. Jenny’s lungs have been compromised by the disease, while some dogs have more limited impacts and may appear fairly ‘normal’ between flareups. Medication can be very helpful in managing the disease.

I wish I could say Jenny was responding well to medication. At this point we haven’t had much luck with finding a med that is helpful; neither have we given up looking. When a dog is chronically ill however, they still are able to enjoy many daily activities and most importantly, they enjoy spending time with their people ‘hanging out’ and receiving affection. Fortunately, I am able to still keep her comfortable and usually pretty happy. I savor the moments we have together and am building up a bank of memories that I will call on often in years to come.

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