Summer walks and the problems of kennel cough

Coughing Dogs

As we’re now well in to what passes for a British summer it’s a good time to remember that kennel cough is one of the most preventable infectious diseases in dogs.  Annoyingly, it doesn’t have to be dog to dog contact before an infection is picked up, just passing where a dog has recently walked can be enough for your pet to become infected.

There are a multitude of bugs that can cause what typically gets referred to as kennel cough, but the main culprits are a virus and a bacterium.  Fortunately these are the bugs that dogs are vaccinated for in the once yearly nasal droplet vaccine.  This doesn’t cover all causes of kennel cough, but the parts missed are, usually, of minor significance for those dogs that are up to date with their routine vaccinations.

How would I know if my dog has kennel cough?

In the classic form of the disease there is a hacking cough, which is pretty unmistakable.  Sadly, the classic signs are not always what shows.  Mild signs are more often seen in the form of weeping eyes and sniffles, occasional retching or clearing of the throat and just generally being a bit on the low side.  That in itself doesn’t sound too much of an issue.  So why bother getting it treated?

So what happens if kennel cough that’s allowed to run its course?

The coughing comes about as a result of a dog trying to clear the build-up of mucus that builds up in the upper airways.  This mucus production is the body’s way of protecting itself from the onslaught of the infection.  The trouble is that the mucus production can quickly become an over-production, especially as an infection can take many weeks to resolve “naturally”.  In these instances a dog can be left with a chronic cough as a result of it permanently producing too much mucus.  This itself becomes a place for more bugs to settle and grow.  Effectively it’s a vicious circle.  If you suffer with bronchitis then all this may sound rather familiar.  And that’s because it is.  Think of kennel cough as being the dog equivalent of bronchitis, only in the throat area.

What about treatment?

The mainstay of treatment centers around antibiotics to deal with the bacterial infection.  This may, if a dog is fortunate, entail a single course of antibiotics typically over a couple of weeks although multi-weeks of more than one type of antibiotic are not uncommon.  The bugs themselves damage the edges of the delicate lining tissue of this upper part of the respiratory system.  Consequently they are reasonably inaccessible to attack by antibiotics.  This is the reason for the prolonged course (or courses) of treatment.  All the time there’s a race on to get the infection cleared before the dog’s defence systems kick in and over produce mucus.  It’s for that reason that it’s important to make sure that at the end of treatment the whole of the infection is cleared.  Vets will usually contact a client as a course of antibiotics is nearing completion to ensure that the coughing has stopped, completely.  If there’s still a bit of a cough, it hasn’t gone at all.  It can be a very frustrating, and costly, infection to deal with.  This is why the kennel cough vaccine is usually advised at annual health checks.