By Saro Boghozian, Expert Family Dog Trainer
What is “canine cough”?
Infectious tracheobronchitis, more often and unfairly known as “Kennel Cough”, is a highly contagious, upper-respiratory disease, which is spread by an airborne virus. The incubation period of the disease is roughly 3 to 7 days. The main symptom is a gagging cough, sometimes accompanied by sneezing and nasal discharge, which can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
Although this coughing is very annoying, it does not usually develop into anything more serious. However, just as with the common cold, it can lower the dog’s resistance to other disease making him susceptible to secondary infections, and so he must be observed closely to avoid complications.
How is it cured?
Just as in the case of the common cold, tracheobronchitis is not “cured” but must run its course. Many times antibiotics will be prescribed to prevent secondary infection, and sometimes cough suppressants will be prescribed to reduce excessive coughing, but these medications do not attack the disease itself.
Does tracheobronchitis occur only in kennels or daycares?
No. Since these viruses can be present anywhere, and can travel for considerable distances through the air, they can affect any dog … even one, which never leaves its own back yard. But tracheobronchitis is more likely to occur when the concentration of dogs is greater such as at dog shows, kennels, veterinarian offices and hospitals as well as pet shops. Dogs can also be exposed while running loose or while being walked near other dogs.
But aren’t the chances of catching it greater when a dog is in a daycare?
Yes … because, in a kennel, a dog encounters two conditions which do not exist at home … proximity to a number of potentially contagious dogs, and the stress and excitement of a less familiar environment which can result in lowered resistance to disease (these same factors explain why children are more likely to catch the flu in school rather than at home). But the more frequently a dog boards at a kennel, the greater are the chances that he will acquire immunity to the disease. Even during a widespread outbreak, only a fairly small percentage of exposed dogs are affected.
Are these viruses a constant problem?
No. Tracheobronchitis, like the flu, is often seasonal. It also tends to be epidemic. When veterinarians begin to see cases, they normally come from every kennel in town, as well as from individual dog owners whose dogs were not kenneled at all. When the outbreak is over, they might not see another case for months.
Can my dog be vaccinated to protect him against tracheobronchitis?
Yes! Vaccines against parainfluenza and adenovirus type 2 (in combination with other vaccines) are routinely used as part of an adult dogs yearly check up. Puppies are usually vaccinated for these in combination with distemper, hepatitis, and parvovirus in a series of immunizations. It is important to note that the vaccines that are used to prevent this viral disease are made from one strain of over 100 different strains of the virus and therefore are not as effective against some strains as others. Intra-nasal vaccines are also available for Bordetella, bronchiseptica (another cause of canine cough). Although some veterinary practices do not use this intra-nasal vaccination routinely, it should be considered for pets that board or for those whose veterinarian recommends it. Your veterinarian is in the best position to recommend a program of preventive health care management depending on your pet’s needs.
Can’t the daycare prevent my dog from catching tracheobronchitis?
Unfortunately, no … no amount of supervision, sanitation, or personalized care can prevent a dog from “catching” an airborne virus. All that a good canine daycare can do is to recommend immunization against tracheobronchitis, refuse to board any obviously sick dog, listen and watch for any signs of sickness, and make sure that any dog requiring veterinary attention receives it as quickly as possible. (Strangely, the dog with Para influenza alone may not appear ill, yet is contagious.) You have a right to expect a daycare to provide the best possible care just as a kennel or a daycare has a right to expect you to accept financial responsibility for such care.