Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Kennel cough - oh no!!

Poppy and Lilly have been coughing like crazy for the past few days.  At first I unsuccessfully tried to ignore it but now that is hasn’t gone away, I have had to diagnose them with kennel cough.  I thought this would be a timely opportunity to review what exactly the term “kennel cough” means.

“Kennel cough” is a collective term for a highly contagious group of viruses and bacteria.  These unpleasant microbes cause irritation in the upper respiratory tract leading to coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, nasal discharge, lethargy, decreased appetite and fever.  At this point my dogs only have a nasty cough.  They do not have a fever and are otherwise eating and acting normal. 

I have been giving them a cough suppressant at night to help them sleep.  This should allow them to rest hopefully preventing their immune systems from becoming stressed, which could lead to a secondary bacterial infection.  I have also been trapping them in the bathroom with the shower running, this creates a steam bath to help soothe their airways.

Poppy and Lilly’s cough should resolve without treatment, although it can last for 7-10 days.  I will watch them closely for lethargy, decreased appetite, a yellow/green discharge from the nose or a fever greater than 103 degrees.  These are signs of a secondary bacterial infection and indicate treatment with antibiotics.

Owners are often very confused as to how their dog could have become sick when he had been vaccinated against “kennel cough”. It is important to know the “kennel cough” vaccine only protects against the Bordetella bacteria, there are many other pathogens that can cause similar upper respiratory symptoms.  In addition even the Bordetella vaccine does not prevent disease.  It does however; boost the immune system to reduce the severity of clinical signs and hopefully prevented patients from getting too sick. 

I am also always asked about starting antibiotics immediately.  I explain to owners that many of the infectious agents causing kennel cough symptoms are viral and therefore do not respond to antibiotics. Giving antibiotics for a cough that is most likely caused by a virus and with no additional clinical signs that a secondary bacterial infection is present will not shorten the duration of the cough.  In addition, given the high frequency of antibiotic resistant bacteria lurking out there I try to use antibiotic therapy judiciously.

I am sure that Lilly and Poppy will bounce back quickly and be running around the park in no time, hopefully Sparkle doesn’t start coughing now…

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