Kennel Cough - Can We Treat It?

Anyone, who has boarded a dog, got a dog from an animal shelter or has had his or her dog groomed in the presence of other dogs, very often has experienced kennel cough. Kennel cough is one of the most widespread diseases affecting the canine world, but it can be treated.

What is kennel cough? The medical name for kennel cough is tracheobronchitis, also known as Bordetellis or Bordetella, whatever you call it, it is irritating to the owner and to the dog. Like the common cold in humans, this disease is highly contagious and is rarely fatal to the dog.

It is called kennel cough mainly, because a dog usually will pick it up when boarded at a kennel or in any other place where dogs congregate in close quarters. It can strike a dog of any age, but is most frequently found in puppies, whose immune systems are still developing and in adult dogs with immune system problems. Much like the conditions that cause the common cold in humans, a dog’s immune system can be affected by stress and over crowded conditions, too. What are the symptoms? Kennel cough is really a disturbing honking, throat clearing, dry, harsh, wheezing, and croup like cough. Exercise makes it worse, but even resting dogs will cough and wheeze.

Just like the common cold, the virus and bacteria that cause kennel cough is carried by dust, air and even water vapor as a result, the bacteria and virus spread in all directions. Once a dog inhales these germs, they attach themselves to the lining of the upper airway passages. It is in these warm moist conditions of the airway passages, that the germs reproduce and in time, damage the infected cells.

Dogs are very much like people, when it comes to catching kennel cough. Some people get colds and some do not, it is the same with dogs, some are very susceptible to the germ and others, no matter how many times they are exposed, never get it.

How does it happen? Dogs can catch this disease almost anywhere. All it takes is one dog to have the germ or is recovering from it and the next thing you know your dog may catch it. In a perfect world, the normal respiratory system has many safeguards to protect itself against infection,

The most important of these safeguards is what is called the “mucocillary escalator.” The respiratory tract is lined with cilia (tiny hair like structures,) these tiny hairs are covered with a protective coat of mucus and they move in a sort of coordinated fashion. As germs and other things become trapped in the mucus, the cilia move everything up toward the throat where it can be coughed up or swallowed.

Now if this whole procedure is damaged in some way, the germs continue down the tract and thus the infection occurs. Things that can cause a disruption in the upward movement process are stress, extreme dust exposure, poor ventilation, other viruses and cigarette smoke. Poorly ventilated and crowded areas like boarding kennel or grooming area are among the chief culprits.

What is the treatment? Kennel cough usually clears up on its own, somewhat like our common cold. However, many vets do their best to keep the dog and its owner comfortable by prescribing antibiotics. The antibiotics do not fight the bacteria at all, so in many cases it is a futile fight.

Over-the-counter cold medicine such as Robitussin is recommended for the dry harsh coughs, it should not be used if the dog’s cough is loose or what is called moist. Do not use products that contain caffeine or accetaminophen. My advice is do not give your dog any medication without first consulting your vet. One phone call may save you a host of headaches.

You can actually soothe a dog’s cough with honey and herbal teas in addition to the prescribed OTC cough syrup your vet suggests. Honey can be given three to four times a day and there is no actual dosage, it is said that ½ to one teaspoon should be sufficient.

Coconut oil is another home remedy that is said to work. Many people take this oil on a daily basis as it fights infections. It is said to give dog’s one teaspoon for every ten pound of weight and it can be mixed with the daily honey dosage. Until your dog is used to the coconut oil you may notice loose somewhat greasy stools and a sign of fatigue (actual detoxification.)

Most health food stores and dog supply stores sell herbal products to help a coughing dog. Licorice root made into a tea and combined with honey is one treatment that is used. Take a tablespoon of dried licorice root and boil it with two cups of water, steep and cool. It can be kept in the fridge. Give your dog two tablespoons mixed with 2 teaspoons of honey before each meal.

There is also a herbal product called Kennel-Koff, it can be found on the Internet along with many other products that offer natural and herbal relief for kennel cough and other things,

Could it be something else? Kennel cough usually clears up without any complications, if it does not there may be something else amiss. Be mindful of other things such as does your dog pull on his/her leash when out walking? Sometimes a dog can create a throat irritation, which will cause coughing. If your dog is a leash puller and is coughing, may I suggest getting a body harness with a leash attachment?

Heart conditions can cause coughing, a dog with heartworms will cough, and congestive heart problems also can cause coughing.

Diseases of the larynx and esophagus can cause your dog to cough, especially after eating. Allergies to dust, pollution and smoke can cause a dog to cough. Short-nosed breeds are especially bothered by smoke.

A kennel cough is a dry, wheezing kind of cough; if you dog has a moist kind of croupy sounding cough it is worth looking into.

If you are in doubt as to why your dog is coughing, a quick trip to the vet is very worthwhile. One short visit may cost you an office visit, but in the long run, it can save you a bundle.

Drs. Foster and Smith Inc.