Kennel Cough: Questions and answers

All of us have witnessed the condition known as kennel cough. Often we see our newly adopted or fostered dogs start to cough within hours of arriving off transport. This cough is usually a very mild and self-limiting infection, but it is important to understand that all of the causes for kennel cough are highly contagious. Dr. Jonathan Smith, VMD, of Larkin Veterinary Center in West Lawn, PA states that although it’s uncommon, any cough has the potential to lead to a more serious infection.

What causes kennel cough? In recent years, it has been determined that kennel cough is usually not caused by a single agent, but is often a combination of viruses or bacteria which act together. The condition is referred to Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRD). Most of the causes for kennel cough are actually viral, similar to the common cold in people. We routinely vaccinate for a number of these viruses, including distemper virus, parainfluenza virus, and adenovirus. However, there are a number of recently discovered viruses which can also cause similar signs that we do not routinely vaccinate for. These include the canine influenza (dog flu), the canine respiratory corona virus, and others that have not yet been identified. Because most of these infections are usually mild and resolve on their own, identifying them does not usually ultimately affect treatment. This is why veterinarians usually do not perform diagnostics to determine what’s causing the cough.

Isn’t the canine flu (CIV) more serious than these other infections? Yes and no. Dogs exposed to canine influenza can have a wide range of signs, including nasal discharge, fever, cough, and lethargy. As with the other viral infections, most young healthy dogs get better with little or no treatment at all over a 2-3 week period. Older or immunocompromised dogs are more at risk for this normally mild infection to develop into pneumonia.

Well then what about bordetella? Bordetella Bronchiseptica is a highly contagious bacteria which can cause an infection of the trachea and upper airways. It can also remain in the airways of asymptomatic dogs for weeks to months, and, unfortunately, immunity (either from vaccines or previous exposure) can be short lived. As with most of the other infections, bordetella usually causes a mild short term cough without any severe signs. Puppies, most notably brachycephalic (short faced) breeds more likely to develop pneumonia from a routine bordetella infection than other dogs.

Why do these dogs always appear to develop a cough right after transport? Lots of factors make dogs either more or less susceptible to these infections. Exposure, stress, nutrition, intestinal parasitism, vaccination or exposure history, and overall health affect a dog’s immunity. It is safe to assume that most shelter dogs have been exposed to at least one of these viruses or to bordetella prior to transport. Even if they are not displaying any symptoms before they travel, the stressful trip to D.C. causes their immune system to succumb to the infection and a cough develops.

How contagious are these agents? Unfortunately, all of the causes for kennel cough are highly contagious. Most infections are spread through aerosol (moisture droplets) from sneezing or coughing, and also through fomites. A fomite is any object which can transport the virus including people, clothing, shoes, or anything which is moved from one area to another. Veterinarians recommend that any dog that is suspected of having kennel cough be isolated from other dogs for 14 days, however they are usually only contagious for the first 7-10 days of illness. Of course, isolating dogs is often not a possibility for a foster or for newly adopted dogs, but the next paragraph explains why we are willing to risk exposure.

Should I be worried about bringing a coughing dog home? As we just discussed, most of the agents are highly infectious to other dogs. Whether a dog develops a cough from these viruses is entirely dependent on their immunity, which is shaped by their previous exposure (doggie day care etc) or vaccinations. Most young, healthy, vaccinated dogs are not at risk of becoming very sick from exposure to a new house mate. Similar to sending your children to school, there is always the risk of a dog developing a cough despite being the healthiest dog on the block. The more important point is that these infections are almost always mild, short lived and should not cause any lasting harm.

If most of these infections are viral, why does my veterinarian often treat with antibiotics? As in people, most viral infections cannot be treated directly. The main concern with a primary viral infection is that a secondary bacterial infection can develop. By treating with antibiotics, we can decrease the chance that a cough will develop into pneumonia. In addition, because bordetella is a bacteria and not a virus, it is very susceptible to an antibiotic called doxycycline. Thus, a course of doxycycline not only treats the bacteria but also can also limit the period in which it is contagious to other dogs.

When and why should I vaccinate? Unfortunately, immunity to bordetella is short lived, and most veterinarians recommend that any dog at high risk (doggie day care, grooming facilities, boarding facilities etc) be vaccinated as often as every 6 months. The vaccination can be either intranasal or injectable. Both of these work well, however the intranasal is much quicker in providing an immune response. There is also a vaccination for CIV (canine flu) available, and although we do not know how common CIV is in our local dog population, veterinarians currently recommend the vaccine for any dogs who fall within that same high risk category. As with the flu vaccine in people, none of these are 100% protective. Most boarding facilities require these vaccinations not just for your dog’s well-being, but also to keep the prevalence of these infectious agents to a minimum in their facility.

When should I be concerned that this is more serious than kennel cough? It is important to understand that there are many causes for coughing in dogs. If a cough is from CIRD your dog would have a history of interaction with other dogs, and the cough would start within the first week or so after exposure. The main concern with CIRD is its potential to lead to pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs. If your dog’s cough persists for more than 3 weeks, if your dog becomes lethargic, stops eating, or is having difficulty breathing, he or she should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Heart disease, heartworm infection, lower airway disease (similar to asthma or COPD in people), parasitic or fungal infection, cancer and others are all possible causes for a cough. If a cough slowly progresses over weeks to months, and is unresponsive to antibiotics, it may not be a simple case of kennel cough. A physical exam by a veterinarian and chest x-rays are usually the next step to evaluate the lungs and airways.

If you ever have any questions or concerns about your dog’s cough, do not hesitate to contact or visit your local veterinarian.

Submitted by:
Jonathan Smith, VMD
Larkin Veterinary Center
2333 Penn Avenue
West Lawn, PA 19609
610-678-2525
www.larkinvet.net

How to brush your dog’s teeth

Dental disease is the single most widespread health problem in pets, and we know that good oral hygiene will add an average of 3 years of healthy life states Jamie Przybysz, CVT, at Bush Animal Hospital in Eugene, OR. Time to get out the toothbrush!

Ask your dog to sit or gently position into a seated position.dental 1  Carefully lift the lips to expose the teeth.  Praise the dog frequently during the procedure.  Simply examine the gum line for just a minute or two for the next few days.   The best time to brush is after the evening meal, when both you and your dog are relaxed.  My dog has been familiar with watching me brush my teeth, so I trained him to come and sit while I’m brushing my teeth, then he gets a treat reward before and after his brushing.  He learned this routine very quickly!  

When your dog is comfortable with sitting and hdental 2aving the lips handled, rub your finger over the teeth and gums for a minute or two.  This will get him used to having something in his mouth.  Next, put a small amount of specially formulated pet toothpaste onto your finger and allow the pet to taste it.

Next, you may want to graduate to a finger brush or gauze square. Gently rub the gauze over the teeth and along the gumline. You only need to concentrate on the outside of the teeth.  Make sure you are reaching the rear molars because this is where the majority of dental disease occurs. 

Now, you both may be ready to graduate to a regular bristled toothbrush.  Apply a small amount of paste onto the brush.  Place the brush bristles at a 45 degredental 4e angle to the gumline.  Move the brush gently in circular patterns over the teeth.  Start by only brushing a few teeth for a few seconds.  Don’t forget to praise your dog all along the way!  As the brushing sessions continue, include more teeth and build up to about 30 – 60 seconds on each side.  The teeth should also be brushed in a back and forth motion.  Brushing should be done every 24 – 48 hours. 

Submitted by:

Jamie Przybysz, CVT
Bush Animal Hospital
2415 Oakmont Way
Eugene, OR 97401
www.bushanimalhospital.com

So just what is inolved in a dental cleaning?

Every day, owners have questions about dental cleanings for their pets. What happens? Is it safe? Why does my pet have to have anesthesia to clean his teeth? We asked our doctors to help explain the procedure, and let you in on what goes on during a routine dental cleaning.

Why is anesthesia necessary? cat dental

Much like your experience at the dentist, a dental procedure involves using tools that vibrate at high frequencies, make loud sounds, and spray jets of water. The use of general anesthesia allows your veterinarian full access to the teeth, gums, and below the gum line.

What is involved in a dental procedure?

1. The beginning of the procedure involves cleaning off the tartar and calculus that is firmly adhered to the teeth; this requires both specialized dental tools with sharper edges, and machine assistance. Then a dental machine that utilizes ultrasonic vibrations to break-up mineralized tartar is used to remove remaining build-up on the surfaces of the teeth. A combination of the scaling machine and hand tools are used to remove tartar and calculus both above and below the gum line.

2. The teeth are polished with a mildly abrasive paste and polisher tool to smooth the enamel surfaces.

3. A protective substance, such as fluoride, is applied to the teeth to strengthen the enamel and kill bacteria responsible for dental disease. 

Your veterinarian and veterinary technicians function as a team, working and monitoring your pet carefully to provide the best care and ensure safety. Machines are used to keep a close eye on your dog or cat’s vital signs. Veterinarians are trained carefully to provide safe anesthesia, and to make your companion as comfortable as possible. Ask your veterinarian if you have any further questions and concerns about feline dentistry and anesthetic safety.