As the lazy days of summer come to an end, we all know what comes next: cold and flu season. Summer is about visiting family and gathering with friends—human and canine. Unfortunately, those highly-contagious germs love a good gathering too, and before you know it…your dog is coughing.
A coughing dog is usually diagnosed with ‘kennel cough’ (also known as canine cough) but that’s a general term for a highly-contagious respiratory infection that can be caused by one or multiple infections. Although the name mentions a kennel, a pet resort is not the only place a dog can come in contact with the offending bacteria or virus. Any place that dogs gather—a dog park, the pet store, walking through town, or the family picnic—could be possible sources, which is why even if your dog has not been boarded during the summer, canine cough can happen.
Bordetella bronchiseptica is the primary bacterium that causes coughing in dogs. The Bordetella vaccine is one of several vaccinations and boosters recommended by a veterinarian for dogs with an active social life. A pet care facility usually requires dogs to be vaccinated before arriving.
My dog received all the core vaccinations but is now coughing—so what gives?
Vaccines that help to protect against upper respiratory diseases should ideally be given at least two weeks prior to possible exposure. The incubation period for most organisms that cause a cough can range from 2 to 14 days – in other words, a dog can be exposed and contagious for up to two weeks without any clinical signs. Unfortunately, an infected asymptomatic dog can arrive at a pet care facility or play with other dogs, passing on the disease.
Like the human flu vaccine, some vaccinations may not fully prevent infection but may minimize symptoms and shedding of infectious material.
Coughing is a symptom (or result of a secondary infection) of any one or combination of these infections:
- Canine distemper virus – Protection as part of the DHPP (distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza and parvovirus) vaccine
- Canine adenovirus type 2 – DHPP vaccine
- Parainfluenza virus – DHPP vaccine
- Canine flu (canine influenza virus) – Yes, there’s a vaccine but it is not a core vaccination; however, it is recommended if the lifestyle of your dog includes participation in a dog park or daycare or is frequently around other dogs.
- Canine respiratory coronavirus
- Canine reovirus
- Bordetella bronchisepticum – Vaccine available
- Mycoplasma canis
Infection occurs when a dog comes in contact with the respiratory secretions from an infected dog. The secretions become airborne from coughing or sneezing, or from direct contact. Of course, the chances of coming in contact with the bacteria or virus are greater in a populated space such as a kennel or dog park, but these highly-contagious organisms can also survive on toys, food bowls, or objects such as your shoes or pants.
Pet resorts, animal hospitals, grooming shops, pet stores and other animal gathering places can follow cleaning and disinfecting procedures to the letter but since most of these viruses are airborne, even strict cleaning protocols will not prevent infection.
Generally, a cough is not a life-threatening situation for dogs and usually lasts one to three weeks. It is always recommended to consult with your veterinarian to discuss the symptoms, possibly run tests to determine the type of infection, get care instructions, and follow an appropriate prescribed treatment course as necessary. Talk with your veterinarian about ways you can protect your dog from illness while keeping your dog social and active with other dogs.