It is Tuesday night and you and your dog are relaxing in front of the TV watching American Idol. Your dog has been coughing and hacking a bit all evening but half way through one of Simon's lethal comments on an Idol's performance, your dog begins to cough in loud, rasping, almost barking tones. Your poor pet suddenly sounds like he has a three pack a day smoking problem and its not letting up! White foaming sputum comes up and he stops for a few minutes, only to start a short while later.
What is wrong with your pup? Tracheobronchitis, caused by the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria and better known as 'kennel cough', means a trip to the vet is in order.
What is Kennel Cough?
Kennel cough or infectious tracheobronchitis is a pathogenic virus and bacteria that causes the inflammation of the respiratory system. Highly contagious, the transmission of kennel cough is through inhalation of the virus and bacteria shed by a sick dog and are now in the air and environment.
Normally kennel cough is not considered a dangerous or lethal illness yet in the very young or very old dogs, it can become serious without treatment. Dehydration and pneumonia are unusual side effects but do happen.
Incubation for the virus is four to ten days meaning your pet is highly contagious for up to ten days before they begin to show symptoms of the infection.
What are the Symptoms of Kennel Cough?
The symptoms of kennel cough are a loud, persistent 'barking' cough - the three pack a day cough. Once you hear it, you will never forget the sound - it's a dead give away for the infection and veterinary diagnosis is often made on that sound alone.
The foamy white sputum is the other give away although not all dogs develop this symptom.
A simple test to gently press or rub the throat area - the irritation should illicit the coughing response.
What is the Treatment for Kennel Cough?
Because kennel cough is a much like the common cold, there are no effective drugs or medication and the only treatment is to let the infection to run its course. Antibiotics are prescribed to prevent tracheitis and pneumonia, a common secondary bacterial infection. Although antibiotics are not necessary and are thought to actually slow the healing process, care must be taken to monitor the patient to guarantee that the simple 'common cold' of the canine world does not turn into a much more dangerous case of pneumonia.
To help stop the coughing and bring relief to the patient, a veterinarian often prescribes cough syrups.
Natural remedies to ease the discomfort of kennel cough include honey (a teaspoon for small dogs to tablespoon for large breeds) three times a day to soothe their sore throat and maintain the humidity in the environment. Encourage the dog to drink water to help prevent dehydration.
Other natural supplements that help support the compromised immune system include Echinacea, golden seal and colloidal silver and homeopathic remedies include bryonia and drosera. Talk to your holistic veterinarian for more information.
Kennel Cough and the Human Health Risk
For years, it was thought that kennel cough was not transmissible to humans but research is now indicating that this may not be the case. Young children and adult with compromised immune systems are susceptible to the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria and a similar infection could develop. Keep babies, children and the elderly or anyone suffering from a comprised immune system away from infected dogs just to be safe.
How to Prevent Kennel Cough
Prevention of kennel cough has the same challenges as preventing the common cold - it is contagious before any symptoms develop so your dog could infect dozens of other canines before you are aware he is sick. If your dog begins to show signs of kennel cough, keep him away from other dogs. When you take him to your veterinarian, let the receptionist know your concerns and leave him in the car until the vet is ready to see him. During a kennel cough epidemic, often vets will examine the dog inside its own vehicle to make sure that the infection is not passed to healthy animals in for regular check ups or animals that are in the hospital due to illness or injury. Wash your hands before handling another animal or before you come in contact with small children.
The best form of prevention is keeping your dog in tiptop condition - a healthy dog is less likely to develop kennel cough. Make sure he maintains a healthy weight and always feed him the best quality food available. Stress plays a key role in the overall health of your pet so try to keep his environment as free of stressors as possible.
What is the Bordetella Vaccine?
The effectiveness of the bordetella vaccine is highly controversial. Like the common cold, there are many strains of the virus and it is believed that the vaccine is only effective in preventing half of them.
So why vaccinate ? Good question. Kennel cough is highly contagious and at times of stress, the body's immune system is not able to fight off the infection. This is the origin of the name - dogs often developed a cough after leaving the stressful environment of boarding at a kennel. Although there is a question regarding the effectiveness of the bordetella vaccine, even if it prevents infection from half the strain of kennel cough viruses, it is still a worthwhile vaccine.
Kennel cough is rarely a lethal condition, more of a nuisance then anything and your pet does suffer from the discomfort of the coughing similar to what we suffer when we have a cold. Keep his bordetella vaccines up to date and monitor his overall body condition and health. Avoid other sick pets and always wash your hands after petting another pet.
The good news is that as long as your dog does not develop a secondary infection, he will be back to normal within seven to fourteen days. Keep him quiet, feed him well, make sure he drinks ample water and give him the love he deserves, the same as you would if your child had a cold. After all, he is a member of your family, he just runs around on four legs instead of two.