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Why is my dog coughing

Why is my dog coughing so much?

Wondering “why is my dog coughing so much?” Or concerned about that new respiratory illness in dogs? Well, dogs do get respiratory infections. Here’s what you need to know.

Coughing is natural—for us, and for our dogs. But lots of coughing, goopy eyes or general lethargy likely signals trouble. You may have been told by well-meaning friends to look out for “Kennel Cough.” Or heard scary stories about a new respiratory illness that’s spreading.

How concerned should you be? Are these really caused or made worse by kennel stays?

Not exactly… the truth is, some of these could just as easily be called “party cough” or “socializing cough” because they stem from dogs being around a bunch of other dogs—and one of them being sick. Others transmit a little like the common cold.

Dec 2023 Update:

In the case of the newer, as-yet-unnamed respiratory illness in dogs, many of the affected pups haven’t had any direct contact with other furry friends at all; some haven’t even left their homes!

The incidences of this illness turning serious are very small, and generally impacts dogs whose symptoms aren’t treated promptly.

The University of New Hampshire has been studying ithe “new” respiratory virus in dogs for several years. Here are the key messages we’ve learned from their notices: 

  • The possibility of pneumonia with this unusual strain makes addressing symptoms quickly very important. 
  • The symptoms have varied from a runny nose and goopy eyes to a hoarse cough. Many of the affected dogs have been vaccinated for Bordetella and some for Influenza.
  • Like any cold or flu strain – canine or human – these bugs mutate so vaccinations aren’t alway effective. 

And as we have been reminded by COVID-19, spreading of an airborne virus is impossible to prevent, even with the most stringent cleaning and protective measures. 

Meet the ICC: Infectious Canine Cough

So, what about other conditions? And why do people call that persistent, repetitive cough by the “kennel” name?

The name kennel cough originated in times past, when breeding kennels were the only place where you found groups of dogs mingling together. This was long before today’s dog parks, grooming salons, daycares, pet stores and the like came into existence.  Unfortunately, the outdated and discriminatory term “kennel cough” is still used by many…

It’s the same as how children are more prone to catching a cold at school or camp: our furry friends are more likely to catch a respiratory bug when they’re hanging out with a group of their friends and “classmates.”

The real name for this common condition is Infectious Canine Cough, and it’s important to know that it’s not just ONE type of infection. It’s not even a family of them. It’s a whole co-mingling assortment of bugs, all highly contagious, that may be either bacterial or viral (or include both types!). And, unfortunately…

Infectious Canine Cough spreads through very minimal passing contact

How minimal? Just touching noses to say hello, sharing a toy, or walking along a sidewalk or grassy area where an infected animal has been is sufficient to spread infections.

And, because ICC can be caused by many different organisms, addressing this bug is not a simple one-and-done fix. Following the trail of infection can reveal different bacteria and/or viruses are interacting—making it more difficult to predict an outbreak, let alone diagnose, treat and/or prevent one.

One offending organism you’ve probably heard of, because it’s among the most common, is bacterial “Bordatella Bronchiseptica.” What you may NOT have heard is that it often exists in co-infection with other pesky bugs, from Canine Influenza Virus to Coronavirus.

Another tricky aspect to this condition is something we’ve become more familiar with as humans fighting COVID-19: transmission of the illness before symptoms are visible.

For many of these diseases, there’s an incubation period during which you have no idea your pet’s been infected, yet they’re spreading (“shedding”) the organism.

So what’s a pet family to do?

How do we (and you) help keep respiratory infections at bay?

Much as with human infections, vaccination is our first line of defense—and it may be among our best. (That’s why we encourage shots be up-to-date for all pets visiting our campus.)

Vaccines exist for a handful of the common and/or most severe diseases:

  • Bordatella
  • Canine adenovirus type 2
  • Canine parainfluenza
  • Canine distemper
  • Canine influenza

While they’re generally very effective, they’re not magic fixes:

  • They won’t necessarily prevent infection completely, but they generally will minimize the symptoms.
  • They’re not immediately effective: some can take 2-4 weeks before their full protection develops.
  • If your pet is already infected, the vaccines won’t resolve their illness.

So, if your dog socializes regularly, it’s wise to consult with your vet about protective measures. And in the same manner as preventing human illness, frequent hand washing and/or hand sanitizer use helps too.

Other ways we help reduce the chances of respiratory infections at College for Pets include:

  • great ventilation (80% fresh-air exchange through our HVAC system)
  • UV lights in the HVAC system (which kill germs, molds, viruses, fungi, and bacteria at the DNA level as they pass through the air handler)
  • and keeping attendance numbers low in classes and/or boarding areas to avoid overcrowding.

We believe your pet is worth it! (Still wondering why is my dog coughing so much? Your veterinarian can run tests to help narrow down the cause and the treatment.

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