Human lungs are constantly exposed to bacteria in the environment, yet the prevailing dogma is that healthy lungs are sterile. DNA sequencing-based studies of pulmonary bacterial diversity challenge this notion. However, DNA-based microbial analysis currently fails to distinguish between DNA from live bacteria and that from bacteria that have been killed by lung immune mechanisms, potentially causing overestimation of bacterial abundance and diversity. We investigated whether bacterial DNA recovered from lungs represents live or dead bacteria in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid and lung samples in young healthy pigs. Live bacterial DNA was DNase I resistant and became DNase I sensitive upon human antimicrobial-mediated killing in vitro. We determined live and total bacterial DNA loads in porcine BAL fluid and lung tissue by comparing DNase I-treated versus untreated samples. In contrast to the case for BAL fluid, we were unable to culture bacteria from most lung homogenates. Surprisingly, total bacterial DNA was abundant in both BAL fluid and lung homogenates. In BAL fluid, 63% was DNase I sensitive. In 6 out of 11 lung homogenates, all bacterial DNA was DNase I sensitive, suggesting a predominance of dead bacteria; in the remaining homogenates, 94% was DNase I sensitive, and bacterial diversity determined by 16S rRNA gene sequencing was similar in DNase I-treated and untreated samples. Healthy pig lungs are mostly sterile yet contain abundant DNase I-sensitive DNA from inhaled and aspirated bacteria killed by pulmonary host defense mechanisms. This approach and conceptual framework will improve analysis of the lung microbiome in disease.