Bronchopneumonia in Small Mammals

Bronchopneumonia in Small Mammals

Bronchopneumonia is an inflammation of the bronchi, which are the larger air passages conveying air to and within the lungs, and the lungs. Bronchopneumonia is usually related to a bacterial infection and may be caused by many different kinds.

Bacterial pneumonia is an important cause of illness and death, especially in hospitalized animals. The route of infection is typically inhalation, and bacteria that is spread by blood is less common and can be very difficult to treat.

Prompt recognition and treatment of bronchopneumonia is important.

What to Watch For

  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Respiratory distress
  • Productive cough
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Mucopurulent nasal exudates (fluids)
  • Anorexia
  • Listlessness


    Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize bronchopneumonia and exclude other diseases. Your veterinarian should perform a complete medical history and physical examination, including careful auscultation of the heart and lungs. Lung sounds are often abnormal with a "crackle" upon auscultation when your pet takes a deep breath.

    Medical history may include questions regarding your pet's previous illness or illnesses, therapy and response to therapy, appetite, weight loss, activity or exercise intolerance, cough and environmental exposure to dusts, smoke and vapors. Other tests may include:

  • Chest X-rays
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Airway cytology
  • Culture (tracheal wash cytology and culture and sensitivity)

    Other tests may include:

  • Heartworm test
  • Bronchoscopy


    Pneumonia causes difficulty breathing and can be a severe and progressive condition. Severely ill pets may require hospitalization with oxygen, intravenous fluids, antibiotics and supportive care. Mildly affected pets that are well hydrated and eating properly may be treated as outpatients, but would require frequent follow-ups to monitor the progression of the infection. Treatments for bronchopneumonia may include one or more of the following:

  • Antibiotics for at least three weeks or longer pending clinical results and radiographs
  • Humidified oxygen for animals that have trouble breathing
  • Plenty of fluids and warmth
  • Airway humidification to assist in expectoration of secretions
  • Percussion of the thorax (coupage) to help loosen and remove secretions

    Some treatment may not be of help and are rarely used. These include:

  • Expectorants like guaifenesin
  • Bronchodilator therapy, although it may reverse irritative bronchoconstriction and strengthen respiratory muscle effort in dyspneic animals.
  • Cough suppressants

    Home Care and Prevention

    Keep your pet warm, dry and indoors, if possible, and encourage him to eat and drink. Avoid cough suppressants. Follow-up with your veterinarian for examinations, laboratory tests and radiographs. Administer any veterinary-prescribed antibiotics.

    Do not over-exercise your pet; allow only what your pet can tolerate. Do not allow your pet to get short of breath during exercise/activity.

    There aren't any specific recommendations for prevention of pneumonia other than eliminating the predisposing causes. If your pet is exposed to smoke, dusts, fumes, barns or crop dust, these should be eliminated. Provide routine vaccinations as recommended by your veterinarian.

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