Winter usually brings on a case of the sniffles for most of us – but can your dog be affected in the same way? Petplan vet Brian Faulkner has the answers.
Q: Is it possible for dogs to catch a cold?
A: No; while there’s a lot of confusing information on the internet, dogs don’t actually suffer from the same common cold that we often catch. However, your dog can have symptoms that seem pretty similar, such as a dripping nose, sneezing and watery eyes. The difference is that your dog will most likely also have a persistent cough. It can sound frightening (like a honking goose) and each bout usually ends with a gagging or retching sound. These are the classic symptoms of kennel cough, an infection of the upper airways.
Q: How do dogs catch kennel cough?
A: A mixture of both viruses and bacteria cause kennel cough; it’s highly contagious and is spread from dog to dog through minute droplets of saliva. It can be picked up at any time of year, anywhere that your dog is in contact with other dogs – such as the park – and symptoms will usually appear about 10 days after exposure to the infection.
Q: Can the infection be prevented?
A: Yes, there’s one simple way to protect your pet from most strains of kennel cough: a yearly vaccination, which dogs can have from six weeks old. Your vet will give your dog the vaccine in the form of nasal drops and it will help protect him from 90% of the strains of the infection. (Just keep in mind that you’ll need to budget for this yearly cost, as vaccines aren’t covered under Petplan policies.)
You can also help to keep his immune system strong and equipped to fend off infections by feeding him a good diet and ensuring he gets plenty of exercise.
Q: Can kennel cough be a risk to a dog’s long-term health?
A: Kennel cough is common and many dogs will suffer from a bout in their lives, but in the vast majority of cases it won’t cause any further problems. The honking cough will last about two weeks, and most dogs will get better without any treatment. If your dog is older or has a pre-existing heart or lung disease, you’ll need to watch him carefully and you might need to speak to your vet about possible treatments.
Q: When else should a vet be consulted?
A: In most cases, kennel cough will clear up on its own, but you’ll need to ask your vet for advice if your dog coughs persistently for more than three days and isn’t showing signs of improvement, or if he isn’t eating or if the cough causes him to vomit. Your vet may recommend a cough suppressant or anti-inflammatory drugs to help ease the cough and help your dog to sleep or eat. Antibiotics won’t usually be prescribed unless your vet believes your dog has developed a secondary infection in his lungs.
Q: How should kennel cough be treated at home?
A: You can ease your dog’s symptoms by encouraging him to drink lots of water. You should also consider keeping him in a quiet spot, such as a bedroom, to keep his surroundings as calm as possible and ensure that he has no cause to bark – which can bring on a bout of coughing. If you do need to take your dog outside, it’s a good idea to swap his collar for a harness, as any pulling on his neck can make the coughing worse. A well-ventilated, smoke-free home will also help reduce his urge to cough. To prevent the infection from spreading, keep your dog away from other dogs while he’s ill and for at least a week after the coughing has cleared up. If you have other dogs, there’s obviously not much you can do, and it’ll be up to their immune systems to fight off the infection (just like when someone in your home has the sniffles!).