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What to do if my dog is coughing?

Updated on January 6, 2018

There you are, sitting at home with the dogs all around. All is peaceful until you hear that dreaded sound--a cough. One dog starts, and the next thing you know, the whole kennel is coughing. How could this happen? The dogs are vaccinated, the kennels kept clean, and you haven't brought a new dog into the house or kennel for months. Unfortunately, since dogs are exposed to kennel cough via secretions in the air, transmission is rapid, and little exposure is necessary for infection.

Causes of dog coughing

Kennel cough or infectious tracheobronchitis is caused by a number of viruses, bacteria, and mycoplasma. Canine parainfluenza (CPI) virus, canine adenovirus-2 (CAV-2), and Bordetella bronchiseptica are the most common agents causing kennel cough, and many dogs are vaccinated against these three agents. However, there are no vaccines available for the other viruses, bacteria and mycoplasma that also may be involved in kennel cough. Reoviruses, myxoviruses (influenza-causing viruses), Pseudomonas, Klebsiella, Escherichia coli, and ten different species of mycoplasma have all been isolated from dogs with kennel cough.

Symptoms of kennel cough

The characteristic sign of kennel cough is a dry, hacking, nonproductive cough. A coughing fit usually ends with the dog retching phlegm. A watery discharge from the eyes and nose may also be present. Affected dogs may also not feel like eating. Kennel cough can occur year round, though there is a higher incidence in the fall. Coughing usually starts about four days after aerosol exposure. Commonly, affected dogs have been boarded, groomed, or attended a dog show or other event where they have come into contact with an infected dog. In addition, since several human respiratory viruses may infect the dog, there may have been contact with an infected human.

Treatment of kennel cough

Kennel cough will usually run its course in one to three weeks, and prognosis is good for a complete recovery unless bacterial pneumonia occurs secondary to kennel cough. Treatment is mostly supportive, involving nursing care and elimination of any predisposing environmental factors such as dust or noxious fumes. Dogs should be kept in a warm, well-ventilated area, and fed a highly palatable diet. The use of a cold mist vaporizer may give some relief. Cough suppressants should only be used if the cough is exhausting. Treatment with antibiotics is not usually necessary, unless fever is present. Tetracycline is usually effective in such cases, and should be given for ten to 14 days. However, tetracycline should not be used in puppies since it may stain their teeth.

Control of infection is most difficult in the multiple dog household or kennel. It is best to separate infected dogs from noninfected dogs, but transmission may still occur via secretions in the air or on clothing or hands. Most commonly used veterinary disinfectants will kill causative viruses and bacteria, so cleaning of all kennels, food bowls and water bowls is essential. The use of antibiotics in the kennel as a preventative is not recommended. Once the kennel cough has subsided, make sure all dogs have been vaccinated within the year for CPI, CAV-2, and Bordetellabronchiseptica. Intranasal vaccines for Bordetella appear to be more effective than injectable vaccines in preventing Bordetella-caused kennel cough.

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