A common phone call: ‘My one-year-old dog has this honking cough, while she be ok?” In many respects dogs are like small children, they congregate, play, and readily spread germs between themselves.
Frequently dogs, especially puppies, will develop a hacking cough, runny eyes, lack of appetite, and even nasal discharge. The good news is that this is frequently infectious tracheobronchitis, also know as kennel cough, which usually resolves without any lasting sequelae.
When dogs play or sniff eat other, they spread micro droplets of saliva and mucus amongst themselves. Drinking out of communal water bowls and sharing toys can also contain saliva. Similar to the spread of viruses in humans, bacteria and viruses can be within these droplets, leading to an infectious cough.
The term kennel cough is really a misnomer, as an infectious cough can be spread with casual contact not the street, and is not limited to dog daycares or boarding facilities. There is not one single cause of the cough, and usually dogs have combination of bacterial and viral disease, leading to the observed clinical signs.
Traditionally the most severe causative agent has been Bordetella bronchiseptica, a bacterium. But it is certainly not alone. Canine adenovirus type-2 (not adenovirus type-1, which is indicated in liver disease), parainfluenza virus, and mycoplasma infections, frequently contribute to or are the solo cause of the cough.
We recommend vaccinating our canine companions against Bordetella, parainfluenza, and adenovirus. The vaccine is quite effective in preventing Bordetella and these viruses, but many strains of other viruses persist within the environment, which are not covered by the vaccination.
Although the vaccine does not cover every cause, it does lessen clinical signs in many infections. An analogue is the human influenza vaccine: it may not target a specific strain, but the body builds immunity to the virus overall. The immunity provided by the vaccination is generally fleeting, and requires at least annual boosters. Many boarding facilities and daycares have policies whereas dogs must be vaccinated every six months. The vaccination is safe to administer several times per year.
There are three methods of administering the vaccination including intranasal, oral, and via injection. Intranasal refers to the liquid vaccination being placed within the nose, and the oral vaccination is a liquid placed within the mouth, contacting the cheek pouches. These vaccines stimulate local immunity mucous membranes within the mouth, nose, throat, and trachea (windpipe). A vaccination given via injection stimulates systemic immunity, similar to most other vaccinations. The injectable vaccination should be used as a booster to the oral vaccine, wherever possible.
So, what do you do if your otherwise healthy dog is coughing? First is avoid contact with other dogs. Stay out of the dog park and remain home from daycare. These causative agents are very transmissible! Next steps depend upon the severity of clinical signs in your pup. For a very mild cough, we usually recommend simply monitoring and reducing stress. Don’t play too hard or run your dog around. Let them rest! Most of the time the cough will resolve on its own within a week or less. Once no longer coughing, it’s ok to play with friends again. Many uncomplicated viral infections resolve without need for medical intervention
In more affected cases, such as where there is protracted coughing, nasal moderate to severe nasal discharges, reddish eyes, lethargy, or fever, antibiotics and or anti-coughing medications may be needed. A veterinary visit for these clinical signs is warranted as there may be more going on than simple tracheobronchitis. Many other disease can resemble kennel cough and if there is concern for more serious disease, an examination may help identify an ameliorate the cause of the cough.
Dr. Dan Teich is the Medical Director at District Veterinary Hospital, www.districtveteasternmarket.com