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What is Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia?

Primary ciliary dyskinesia is a rare congenital defect where the ciliary throughout the body do not function properly.  This can cause respiratory issues such as coughing, nasal congestion and exercise intolerance.  In older male dogs, it can lead to infertility.  This condition typically affects very young dogs but it can be diagnosed in older dogs as well.  Treatment involves pharmaceutical therapies such as antibiotics.  This, plus additional respiratory treatment, can help stabilize your dog’s condition.  The prognosis of recovery varies in each case.  The severity of his condition and how he responds to treatments will determine his prognosis.

If your dog is experiencing any type of respiratory distress or has a blue tinge to his mucous membranes, it is a medical emergency.  He needs veterinary medical attention immediately.

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Symptoms of Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia in Dogs

Symptoms may include but are not limited to:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Chronic sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Respiratory distress 
  • Cyanosis 
  • Infertility in males 


Primary ciliary dyskinesia typically affects young dogs of 8 weeks and younger.  However, it has been documented to affect dogs anywhere from 6 months old to 10 years old, just not as frequent.  Higher incidence has been reported in the Old English Sheepdog and the Bichon Frise but it has been seen in mixed breed dogs as well.

Causes of Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia in Dogs

The cause of this condition is thought to be a congenital disorder.  The ciliary dysfunction occurs in the respiratory tract, ventricles of the brain, auditory tubes, spinal canal, oviducts, and efferent ducts of the testes and sperm flagellum.  Dogs with this condition have dyskinetic or absent beating of the ciliary; healthy dogs’ ciliary beats in sync.

Diagnosis of Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia in Dogs

The very first thing your veterinarian will want to do when your dog arrives at your clinic is ensure his condition is stable.  If he is experiencing respiratory distress or cyanosis, she will need to stabilize him with oxygen therapy before she can safely start her full workup.  

The vet will perform a full physical on your dog to evaluate his symptoms.  She will collect a verbal history from you to determine when each of his symptoms started and how they have progressed.  She will also get a medical history from you such as when your dog received his last shots, if he is on heartworm prevention, if you have any other pets in the home, and whether they are experiencing similar symptoms or not.  This will help her come to her diagnosis. 

She will need to rule out other possible conditions that can cause similar symptoms.  For example, canine distemper can cause similar symptoms as can recurrent pneumonia.  In order to rule out these illnesses, she will need to perform lab work.  Blood work in the form of a chemistry panel and complete blood cell count (CBC) will be recommended.  With primary ciliary dyskinesia, the blood work will show mature neutrophilic leukocytosis.  

Your veterinarian may also want to take radiographs of your companion’s thorax to evaluate his heart and lungs.  She will want to rule out pneumonia and other respiratory related illnesses.  Radiographs may also be taken of other body regions.  She may want to evaluate the tympanic bullae for thickening or sclerosis.

Treatment of Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia in Dogs

Treatment involves encouraging exercise.  This encourages mucus clearance due to increased respiration and induction of coughing.  Oxygen supplementation is also helpful, especially in episodes of bronchopneumonia.  She may even recommend saline nebulization for the airway to clear the secretions.  

Medications are also recommended to treat infection.  A bacteria culture is recommended before starting antibiotic therapy to prevent usage of unnecessary medications.  Long term use of an antibiotic is also discouraged as it can lead to bacterial resistance.  If your dog is coughing, you may want medication to stop it.  However, this is not a good idea.  While the coughing may be annoying or worrisome to you, if you suppress his cough he will not be able to cough up the secretions.  If you allow your pet to cough it will encourage him to cough up the mucus.  

Additional medications and therapies will also be provided in response to your dog’s needs.  He may need to stay in the hospital if he is experiencing respiratory distress and/or cyanosis.  Ensuring he has proper oxygen supply is vital.  His symptoms should begin to subside as he recovers.

Recovery of Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia in Dogs

Prognosis of recovery varies in each individual case.  The longevity of your dog can vary depending on the severity of his condition and how he responds to treatment.  Some dogs that recover live out their lives and become subclinical as they age.  A combination of antibiotics and pulmonary physical therapy can give your dog a prolonged chance of survival.