Canine Cough Information

CANINE COUGH (aka Kennel Cough)

Why is my dog coughing?

There are many possible causes of persistent coughing in dogs, including fluid collection around the heart and lungs, poor teeth hygiene, mechanical damage to the throat or something stuck in the windpipe. Another reason for a sudden spate of on-going coughing might be Canine Cough, also known as Kennel Cough.

At the moment in Auckland the number of cases of Canine Cough the number is quite high.

The technical name for this is Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis. What that means that it affects dogs, is easily passed on from dog to dog and is an inflammation (often associated with swelling and itching) of the upper respiratory system. Due to the itchiness, the dogs usually cough or retch to try to remove the sensation, which is often greater after exercise or excitement when they are breathing faster. It can look or sound like the dog has got something (stick, bone etc) caught in the back of their throat. The retching can sometimes be so strong as to produce a yellowish frothy liquid on the floor. Occasionally the inflammation includes the sinuses or nostrils, so vigorous sneezing may also occur.

The dog might also appear more tired and listless, have a slightly elevated temperature, have a runny nose or eyes and not be as interested in food.

Most often, there is not just one cause of the disease called Canine Cough. It is usually a mixture of bacteria and viruses that work together to infect the lining of the respiratory tract. The most common bacterial species identified is Bordetella bronchiseptica and most common virus is Parainfluenza, and these are often found together.

Is it called Kennel Cough or Canine Cough?

The infection is spread when dogs meet other dogs carrying the infectious agents. This can happen anywhere that other dogs are present - at the beach, at the dog-park, at the vet, walking down the road, visiting a friend or in a boarding facility. It has been found that the organisms can be spread in the air up to 30 metres away. Since kennels or boarding facilities (by their very nature) look after several dogs at once, the term Kennel Cough has become a common name for this disease. But it is more correct to use the generic name Canine Cough to describe the symptoms, because it is transferred within any environment.

How serious is Canine Cough to my dog?

Most often, the dog will only show symptoms of persistent coughing, occasional retching, may have an elevated temperature, may be listless and not as interested in eating for a few days. The symptoms are usually more distressing to the owners than they are to the dogs. In most cases, the dog will fight off the infection by itself in a few days and be back to normal. A bit similar to humans feeling 'a bit under the weather' when we get a cold…

In rare instances, the symptoms may persist and get a lot worse as a broncho-pneumonia. These symptoms may include wheezing breath, cloudy discharge from the nostrils or eyes, no eating etc and then veterinary attention is essential.

What can be done about this pesky disease?

Unfortunately, this disease is highly contagious and is therefore very common. Fortunately, most often the disease is relatively mild and resolves by itself in a few days without too many effects. So it is usually more of a nuisance than a danger. Again - very similar to us humans getting a cold. Vaccination is the most effective way to control (but not always eliminate) the disease and its symptoms.

What should I do about this pesky disease?

The first thing is to know that if you have a dog (even if it never leaves your property) then there is a chance that it might contract Canine Cough at some stage.

The next thing is to consider regular vaccination. Vaccination has been proven to be very effective at stopping the disease and/or greatly reducing the symptoms. However, immunity is not permanent and it is necessary to re-stimulate the dog's immune system to maintain antibody levels.

If your dog has become infected, treatment is readily available. It is possible to treat the symptoms as well as the cause. If the symptoms are not serious, you may consider treating the symptoms yourself at home while allowing the dog to fight off the infection. This will usually take 5 or 6 days. Home treatment of the symptoms could include a spoonful of honey twice a day to soothe the throat. Make sure there is plenty of water available to drink and that feed intake continues.

Vet treatment is also possible and will often include a 5-day course of antibiotics to reduce the bacteria (although this doesn't treat the viruses) and may include anti-inflammatories to reduce the coughing symptoms and allow the throat to settle down.

Recent research has shown that vaccinated dogs still spread the bacteria up to 9 days after exposure to it, while non-vaccinated dogs continue to spread the bacteria more than 20 days after infection. Other research has shown that unvaccinated dogs can still transmit the bacteria up to 3 months after infection! Therefore it is important to realise that even a vaccinated dog might be infectious and can spread the organisms to other dogs. Owners should be aware of the potential to infect, or be infected by, other dogs long after there are no visible symptoms.

My dog has been vaccinated, why is it still coughing?

As mentioned earlier, there can be many causes of persistent coughing and/or sneezing in dogs, and Canine Cough is just one possibility. If the cause is Canine Cough then most often the coughing will disappear by itself after a few days. If not, or the symptoms are severe, then a visit to the vet is essential.

Just like with human 'flu vaccination, it is possible that dogs get exposed to other strains of the bacteria/virus mix, which may not be covered by the vaccine. If there is no cross-immunity or if the immunity is not complete, then it is possible for the dog to become infected by that different strain. Some 17 strains are known to exist…

Every dog is an individual and the immune systems of a very small number of dogs may not respond fully or as expected to the normal vaccination process. These dogs might then become infected like a non-vaccinated dog. And could then become transmitters…

So why bother vaccinating if it doesn't always stop the disease?

It has been shown that even if a vaccinated dog is exposed to and becomes infected by Canine Cough, then the severity of symptoms is greatly reduced - by more than 60% in one study and over 80% in another study - but were not necessarily totally eliminated. It is highly probable that most dogs vaccinated with the commercial "lab strains" become infected by more local strains of the disease some time after vaccination but the symptoms are so reduced that the owners don't see any signs while the dog develops additional immunity.



What does PAWss do about this disease?

We at PAWss take hygiene, cleanliness and disease control very seriously. ALL dogs that come to stay need to have been vaccinated within the preceding 12 months. We check the certificate provided by the vet, and enter the dates into our recording system.

Antibody levels have been shown to be sufficiently elevated 12 months after vaccination, and decline thereafter. Therefore we require that re-vaccination is done every 12 months. We do not believe that immunity levels and protection is any greater from more frequent vaccinations so do not insist on re-vaccination at less than 12-monthly intervals.

If we notice a dog coughing, we move that dog into our isolation unit to care for them there. These dogs will then be assessed daily and if we feel necessary may be given a vet visit.

Our facilities are hosed out thoroughly twice a day every day with a spray of animal safe disinfectant Sterigene and Quell, which gets rid of all the nasties – used by many boarding and vet establishments. Any soiled areas are scrubbed with this solution also. When a room is vacated at check-out, that unit and bed is completely scrubbed with the detergent/disinfectant solution and then sprayed with our solution. All our stainless steel feeding equipment is washed immediately after use in hot soapy water and soaked in a disinfectant solution.

We do all of this as part of our standard operating procedures, even though the most common Canine Cough organisms do not survive very long in the environment anyway. The organisms live in the dogs and die very quickly once out of the dogs. This is a dog disease, not a facility disease.

We believe strongly that dogs are social creatures and interaction with other dogs is very important. Therefore most of our guests go out and play/socialise with other dogs. We acknowledge that such interaction is an opportunity for organisms to be transmitted between dogs. But we also believe that the small risk of Canine Cough spreading (between vaccinated dogs) is much less than the value the dogs get from being able to interact with and be stimulated by other dogs. All the people who work here love dogs. They like playing with the dogs and giving them cuddles and getting slobbery licks in the face. Of course this also provides opportunities for organisms to be spread, but who can resist a slobbery kiss from a happy dog?

If your dog has been a guest at PAWss, and is coughing soon after going back home, then there is a chance another dog has come to stay at the same time whilst being infectious - even if there were no symptoms.

If it is likely or possible that your dog has become infected while staying at PAWss then we are really, really sorry. We get really frustrated by this disease because of the efforts we undertake to keep it out but we are also trying to be realistic that it can still happen occasionally.

Please note that if you choose to take your dog to a vet then we do not recompense vet fees or charges and we do not refund boarding charges.