First of all, there are many different diseases and conditions that cause dogs to cough. Some of the causes of coughing in dogs include congestive heart failure, heart worms, allergic bronchitis, infectious bronchitis and the well known “kennel cough.”
One of the biggest misconceptions in veterinary medicine is the knowledge pet owners have about kennel cough. Kennel cough is a term used to describe an infectious and contagious condition of the upper respiratory system of dogs. The reason it has been called kennel cough is because the infection spreads easily when dogs are housed together.
The misconception is that a dog has to have stayed in a kennel to contract the disease. It is considered to be an airborne disease, which means it basically floats through the air after a dog coughs it out. It is considered to be highly contagious. Therefore, dogs do not have to be in a kennel nor do they have to come in direct contact with an infected dog to contract the disease.
The more accurate medical term for this condition is tracheobronchitis, which describes the infection in the windpipe or trachea and bronchial tubes.
Tracheobronchitis is a multi-factorial disease that can be caused by several different viruses as well as bacteria. Any combination of these viruses, along with the bacteria, may be present in any given case. Adenovirus type-2 and parainfluenza are two common viruses responsible for tracheobronchitis as well as a bacterium called Bordetella bronchiseptica.
The primary symptom of tracheobronchitis is a deep, persistent, harsh cough. The loud cough is sometimes described as a “goose honk” type cough. Other common symptoms are runny eyes and nose, wheezing, lack of appetite and depression. Most of the time, a cough can be elicited very easily by rubbing their throat area.
Many dogs will gag and retch at the end of a coughing spell in an attempt to cough up some phlegm. Certainly, any pulling or tugging on a leash attached to their collar will initiate a coughing spell.
Fortunately, the majority of cases are not life threatening. It primarily causes your dog to be very uncomfortable from all the coughing, and commonly, they don’t rest or sleep well. Additionally, dog owners often can’t rest or sleep either because the cough is so loud. However, on occasion very young or very old dogs with low immune systems may develop pneumonia causing the disease to become life threatening.
Animal shelters have a particularly difficult time fighting off this disease because it is very hard to isolate sick individuals since it is air-borne. Also, it can take anywhere from two to 14 days for a dog to show symptoms after being exposed. A seemingly healthy dog may simply have the viruses or bacteria incubating in them and then suddenly begin coughing.
There are no specific treatments for the viral portion of tracheobronchitis; it just has to run its course. But, most cases have at least some bacterial involvement that responds very well to treatment with antibiotics.
Over the years, there has been some antibiotic resistance to develop, and sometimes a change of antibiotic is necessary to cure the patient. Most cases will resolve within 10 to 14 days, but some more difficult cases may require prolonged treatment lasting several weeks. Very rarely are there any long term effects after clearing the infection.
Tracheobronchitis prevention is also an ongoing battle. It is very difficult to protect dogs from all the different organisms involved in causing kennel cough.
Most dogs that receive regular vaccinations are vaccinated against adenovirus and parainfluenza. Also, a Bordetella vaccination is highly recommended for dogs that are boarded, groomed, or interacts with other dogs in areas such as dog parks. A newer Bordetella vaccine that is administered by applying drops in the nose is more effective than the older injection type of vaccine.
Dogs should receive booster vaccinations at least every year. Some boarding or grooming facilities require more frequent vaccinations.
If your dog is coughing or showing any other signs of kennel cough, see your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure your dog lives a long, healthy and happy life.