aspiration pneumonia in puppies

What You Should Know About Aspiration Pneumonia in Puppies 

In Dog Health Tips by IsaacLeave a Comment

Aspiration pneumonia in puppies is one of the common early healthy problems affecting pitbull dogs. In this blog, we explain what aspiration pneumonia is, the causes, why your puppy is at risk, and how to ensure your pitbull puppy is safe from this life-threatening condition.

What is Aspiration pneumonia in dogs?

Aspiration pneumonia can affect a pitbull puppy that inhales something foreign into its lungs. The foreign objects-which can be from liquids, solid material like food, or regurgitated stomach contents- come in contact with the soft tissue lining the lung’s airways. This not only irritates, but it leaves the lungs prone to infection. 

Aspiration pneumonia affects the lung’s ability to supply oxygen to the blood while pumping out carbon dioxide. The air sacs in the lungs fill up with fluid as inflammation sets on. Acute aspiration pneumonia in puppies can severely affect a puppy’s breathing leading to death.

What causes aspiration pneumonia in dogs?

Poor tube-feeding habits

Aspiration pneumonia commonly affects puppies that are inadequately tube-fed. The puppy feeds quicker than it would when suckling, which can result in some of the milk aspirating into the puppy’s lungs.  Inexperienced bottle feeding is one of the common causes of death in neonatal puppies. 

Vomiting in puppies 

Too much vomiting or regurgitating can cause aspiration pneumonia in puppies. As the stomach contents rise to the puppy’s neck region, some divert to the airways and can cause the puppy to choke to death.  Pitbull puppies with diseases that affect their esophageal motility, such as myasthenia gravis or megaesophagus, are more prone to vomiting which can lead to aspiration pneumonia. 

Deformed mouth 

A cleft palate is one of the precursors for aspiration pneumonia in puppies. When a puppy is born with a hole in the roof of its mouth or a cleft palate, milk can easily enter the nasal passage as the puppy feeds. When this happens, the pitbull puppy can develop aspiration while feeding. 

Anesthesia regurgitation 

Anesthesia weakens a puppy’s swallow reflex leaving its airways vulnerable. To prevent aspiration, pitbull puppies usually go on a fast before a medical procedure that involves anesthesia. This is important because, during surgery, the puppy is positioned at the stomach level with the esophagus which puts the puppy at risk of aspiration. 

How does canine aspiration pneumonia happen?

In a typical anatomical configuration, the puppy chews food, swallows it, and combines the food with saliva to form a bolus. The tongue then pushes the food bolus toward the throat or the pharynx). A thin tissue membrane known as the soft palate separates this area, the pharynx, from the nasal cavity’s tip (or the nasopharynx). 

The trachea’s entrance is the larynx. The epiglottis is a portion of cartilage that lies between the throat and larynx. The voice box is a group of structures that includes the epiglottis. 

The tongue is a sizable muscle that runs the length of the neck and connects to the cartilage and muscles that surround the epiglottis. Together, the tongue, soft palate, and epiglottis block the opening into the trachea (larynx), allowing food to pass through and enter the stomach and intestines after passing via the esophagus. Breathing temporarily stops while swallowing to guarantee that food enters the esophagus in the proper direction. 

Aspiration pneumonia in puppies causes a malfunction or overload of the laryngeal reflex. When this happens, food and liquid will enter the larynx, travel through the trachea and reach the lungs.

Stages of aspiration pneumonia in dogs

Inhaling foreign objects

Aspiration pneumonia starts with the puppy inhaling solid or liquid foreign objects which end up blocking the dog’s airways. When this happens, the airways become inflamed causing excess mucus production and cell inflammation. The airway muscles also tighten which clinically is referred to as bronchospasm.

Breathing difficulties 

Early symptoms of bronchospasms in puppies include wheezing and coughing. The puppy will start experiencing trouble breathing as the disease progresses. If the disease goes undiagnosed, it advances to a more serious phase.

Respiratory damage

When a puppy inhales gastric juices from the stomach, the pH level in the airways becomes acidic which causes damage to the respiratory lining. It also alters a special chemical known as lung surfactant that helps the puppy breathe. With these conditions, the puppy is likely to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome. 

Signs of aspiration pneumonia in puppies 

Identifying the symptoms of aspiration pneumonia early will help save your puppy’s life. The clinical signs will be similar to pneumonia and may manifest as follows;

  • Coughing 
  • Gums turning blue 
  •  Dog blue tongue
  • A blue tinge in the mucus membrane
  • Nose discharge
  • Fever and body weakness
  • Heavy breathing (often wet and noisy)
  • Panting
  • Fast breathing (different from panting)
  • Puppy not feeding
  • A stretched neck
  • Puppy collapsing
  • Avoiding exercise (and all activities in general)

How to treat aspiration pneumonia in newborn puppies

Early diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia in dogs is essential to save your puppy from this life-threatening disease. Be prepared to share details about your dog’s symptoms and recent behavior when you take him to the clinic.

A thorough medical history is required by the vet to accurately diagnose your dog’s illness. Inform the vet whether your dog has recently regurgitated or vomited, as many of the clinical symptoms of aspiration pneumonia are ambiguous. A chest radiograph may be required if you know that your dog may have inhaled anything foreign. 

During the initial appointment, the veterinarian may do several tests, including a physical examination and blood work. The vet will use a stethoscope to monitor the puppy’s lungs and internal body sounds. Other examinations to rule out aspiration pneumonia include:

  • Chest and abdominal x-rays (abdominal x rays help determine the cause of vomiting)
  • Bloodwork to rule out any damage to the liver, kidneys, and other organs
  • Pulse oximetry to measure oxygen levels in the lungs and blood.

In the absence of any respiratory distress symptoms in your dog, your vet may request bloodwork to check for infections. To check for a bronchoalveolar pattern in the lung lobes, your veterinarian may also order chest X-rays. 

When a dog is experiencing respiratory distress, a veterinarian will perform an oral exam to check the mouth and the back of the throat to make sure there is no obvious obstruction. A bronchoscopy can be done if a significant obstruction is thought to be present. 

The vet may also carry out an endotracheal lavage and transtracheal wash to determine if Aspiration pneumonia in puppies may also be caused by bacterial infection. 

Treating aspiration pneumonia in puppies

Diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia involves some steps, most of which are more about providing support than actually treating the illness. Any bacterial infection will be treated with antibiotics, and if culture could not be collected, broad spectrum antibiotics will be given. The veterinarian may advise a variety of antibiotic therapy treatments depending on the state of your dog, with possible elements including: 

Fluid therapy – Staying properly hydrated prevents dryness of the airways and promotes coughing, which aids in clearing mucus and pus from the respiratory system. 

Oxygen therapy may be required in more serious circumstances to make sure your dog is getting enough air. 

In some circumstances, your dog will require critical care before he is stable enough to move to home care. To avoid a recurrence of pneumonia, it is also necessary to treat any underlying conditions that may have contributed to aspiration pneumonia, such as a tumor or cleft palate. Aspiration pneumonia often has a decent prognosis, though this can change depending on what caused the vomiting.

How much does it cost to treat aspiration pneumonia in puppies?

Aspiration pneumonia can have a variety of causes, making each case unique. If the vomiting has any underlying reasons (such as a tumor, cleft palate, etc.), such conditions would also be treated. If an infection develops, the veterinarian recommends antibiotics to treat aspiration pneumonia. 

The price of antibiotics can range from $50 to $150. If your dog is extremely dehydrated from vomiting, fluid therapy may be given. The cost of oxygen assistance for your dog may be between $120 and $140. 

Your dog might need to be admitted to the hospital for observation so the vet can monitor his or her progress. The total cost of the aforementioned treatment options for hospitalized dogs might range from $500 to $2000. However, it is challenging to determine the full total cost without understanding the cause.

How to prevent aspiration pneumonia in dogs

As any doctor would say, prevention is better than cure. Prevention is easier than having your dog on expensive treatment for aspiration pneumonia. 

To prevent aspiration pneumonia in puppies;

  • If your puppy is a fast eater, slow them down using  a puzzle-feeder 
  • If your dog is at risk of megaesophagus (difficulty in food going down the throat), used a raised feeding bowl to encourage swallowing. 
  • Put your puppy on a fast before an anesthetic procedure


It is possible to save your pitbull dog from aspiration pneumonia in puppies if you catch the symptoms early. Always consult a trained vet to rule out other diseases that may exhibit the same symptoms. Remember, preventing aspiration pneumonia in puppies is way easier and inexpensive in the long-run.

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