Q: My dog was at doggy day care last week and is now coughing. When I called them they said they were having an outbreak of kennel cough and for me to see my veterinarian if I think my dog needs treatment. I do remember having my dog vaccinated against kennel cough this year. He seems fine to me, playing, eating and drinking, but he is coughing a lot and woke me up last night. What should I do?
A: Welcome to summer! I love this time of year, the kids are out of school, Dascolis get to hit snooze in the mornings, pools are open and vacations are on.
But vacations mean boarding pets, and a few times during the summer we will get an outbreak of kennel cough, despite strict vaccinating and cleaning.
Kennel cough is a complex of contagious diseases in dogs’ upper respiratory tract that causes tracheobronchitis and a hacking cough that can last from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Some of the pathogens include bacteria (Bordetella bronchiseptica), viruses (parainfluenza, adenovirus, herpes) and fungal pathogen (mycoplasma). All these pathogens are spread through respiratory secretions and on water dishes, toys and contaminated water and food.
It takes 3 to 10 days after exposure to see clinical signs of the disease in your pet. So you are right on schedule to see or hear coughing in your dog.
The most common form of kennel cough is mild, with only one or two pathogens in the epithelium of the upper respiratory tract. Dogs cough and retch, and it’s more noticeable when they’re playing. Sometimes they will have a little discharge from their nose, but not often. They usually feel pretty good and continue to eat and drink normally.
The severe form of kennel cough is less common and is due to a larger number of pathogens working together to really debilitate dogs whose immune systems are compromised, like very old and sick pets and very young and unvaccinated puppies. It quickly spreads lower into bronchopneumonia in the lungs and is a very serious condition.
The guidelines for treatment really depend on the pet. The mild form runs 7 to 14 days, and sometimes these pets don’t need any treatment. But they are going to cough the entire time.
If there is evidence of fever or if the cough lasts more than 14 days, then dogs need treatment. Bordetella is susceptible to tetracycline and also to gentamycin nebulization. These work well. Some pets will also need bronchodilators and cough syrup. Some can even need IV fluids and more aggressive supportive care.
The vaccine for kennel cough is effective in preventing disease and infection most of the time, but not always. There are intranasal vaccines that have a fast-acting immune response and are labeled to be boostered yearly. There are injectable vaccines that take a little longer to protect the immune system but are equally as effective.
Now there is an oral vaccine that works immediately and needs no booster after the first dose. It is also labeled to be effective for one year. This is my new favorite vaccine. No needles are required, so owners can slow down to 20 mph, roll down their window, have their pet vaccinated and continue onto the boarding facility. Easy as pie.
So it seems your dog has the milder form of the disease complex, maybe only Bordetella or parainfluenza is present. But your dog is coughing quite a bit and did wake you up. If the boarding kennel is recommending you go to your veterinarian, then I would have him checked out. He may need antibiotics or cough syrup, or he may need nothing. It is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your pet. Good luck and don’t skimp on that sunblock. Ah, summer ...