Aspiration Pneumonia + Coupage Steams for French Bulldogs

small cream french bulldog in white bed

In the seven years of Fira’s life so far, she has aspirated six times. Basically, she has regurgitated and gotten foreign substances in her lungs like food, vomit or even just her saliva. 

This seems to be more common in French bulldogs, especially if they have or have had elongated soft palate issues. Fira is on the more petite side for a French bulldog (14 lbs) and I’ve had to keep a close eye on her breathing for most of her life, as her nose and soft palate is small, and she can easily become congested. 

So, what is aspiration pneumonia?

Aspiration pneumonia is a type of lung infection that happens when the lungs become inflamed due to inhalation, or aspiration, of a foreign substance. These foreign substances can be food, fluid, vomit, or saliva. 

Inflammation and infection in the lung tissue and airways can cause difficulty in breathing, coughing, fever, and other symptoms. Aspiration pneumonia can be life-threatening, especially if it is severe enough to restrict the flow of oxygen. Brachycephalic breeds, like French Bulldogs, Pugs, English Bulldogs, are more likely to develop aspiration pneumonia compared with non-brachycephalic breeds. 

In simple terms, pneumonia is inflammation of deep lung tissue and usually causes severe respiratory distress.

french bulldog under vet care

The first time Fira got aspiration pneumonia was in May 2018 when she was three years old. We were in London, of all places, and had to find an emergency vet at midnight. Earlier in the day, she appeared to be in good health, but in the evening, she suddenly became lethargic, vomited, and experienced difficulty breathing.

Other symptoms to look out for:

  • Panting
  • Noisy or wet breathing
  • Very congesting breathing
  • Not eating
  • Coughing
  • Blue-colored gums or tongue
  • Weakness
  • Collapse

Earlier that day, we had given her a type of marrow bone from the pet store, and I believe her excessive chewing caused some of the pieces, along with her saliva, to regurgitate back into her lungs. It was a distressing experience and being in another country made the experience so much scarier! Luckily, Fira was put on an IV drip and oxygen therapy right away.

Your vet will listen for abnormal lung sounds and take chest X-rays to identify any cloudiness in the affected lung areas.

Some of the bone marrow must have caused a bacterial infection in her lungs. Thankfully, her other cases of aspiration have never been as bad as this first one. The other times she’s aspirated, she never had to do a IV drip or oxygen therapy — just antibiotics and some coupage steams. 

Given its 25 percent fatality rate, aspiration pneumonia should be taken very seriously. Treatment can include hospitalization, IV fluids, antibiotics, oxygen therapy, nebulization, and coupage.

Are you worried your dog has pneumonia? Talk to a licensed vet right away with Vetster. Vetster offers affordable online veterinarian and virtual pet care services on-demand.

What is a coupage?

When done correctly, coupage can help in loosening and clearing the lungs of excess secretions. Coupage involves using steam to hydrate the lower airway and thin out secretions, then cupping your hands and gently patting your dog’s chest area with pressure but gently (also known as: thoracic percussion therapy), which helps loosen deep lung fluids.

First, run a steamy, hot shower with any windows and doors closed to trap all the excess steam inside. Let your dog sit in the shower or bathroom for 10 minutes like a mini sauna, then pat their chest after.

I’ve actually found more success with creating a mini steam box. 

I use a small basket that Fira fits comfortably inside (your dog should be able to stand and move around in it), put a lid on, and use a handheld steamer. 

Here’s the basket I use:

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I like this one because there’s already openings on both sides, so she can breathe easily without the steam becoming too overwhelming. It’s actually a collapsible pet bathtub, so it has multiple uses!

I’ve also seen people use a large clear storage box with some holes cut into it, or alternatively just place the lid on with a bit of an opening on top. 

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Use the steamer to create a nice steam box for your pup for about 10 minutes. Always check on your dog to make sure they aren’t overheating and never leave them unattended!

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After 10 minutes, it’s time for patting.


[ image credit + link to a helpful guide: Brewster Vet ]

When you pat your dog’s chest, you should cup your hands. Your palm should not be flat against their body. The idea is that your tapping should be firm enough to loosen fluid that may be trapped deep within the lungs, but not so hard as to cause pain or discomfort for your dog — almost like burping a baby. I usually tap 10x each on the left side of chest, then right side, then left side of ribcage area, then right side, then a few taps on her upper back.

I learned this from my vet years ago, as he also has French bulldogs. I’ve posted about this before on Instagram and surprisingly, a lot of frenchie owners don’t know about coupage!

What about nebulization for dogs?

Nebulizers work by converting liquid into a fine mist, which can easily be inhaled directly to the lungs, providing faster, effective relief. You fill the device with water, place the cup gently over their nose, and allow the fine aerosol mist to do its magic. 

(I found this dog-shaped nebulizer at a local pharmacy!)

I find a coupage steam is more effective (especially if there is congestion present in the lungs), but a nebulizer works in a pinch and does aid in lubricating nasal passages for your dog. 

I’ve realized that coupage steams and/or nebulization are a must for French bulldogs and brachycephalic breeds for regular maintenance. If your dog gets easily congested, try coupage steams and see if it makes a difference. 

If you think your dog has aspiration pneumonia, make sure you go to your vet for immediate action. More than likely, your pup will go on antibiotics for around 2 weeks. Limit activity and keep your dog in a calm, stress-free environment so they can recuperate and breathe easy. During this period, I usually do the coupage steams for my dog 2-3 times a day. I hope this post was helpful!

Watch my how-to video on Instagram:

french bulldog how to coupage

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