About 2-3 months ago, I can't tell you how many calls I received for dogs with a dry hacking cough, almost like they had something stuck in their throat that they couldn't get out. This went around the peninsula like wildfire, starting in Santa Teresa and Mal Pais, and then coming over to Cóbano and eventually to Cabuya and Tambor. I even had clients bringing puppies in from San José with this same dry hacking cough. I called some colleges in the central valley to see if they were seeing it too, with the unanimous response of yes. It looks like there was a wave of kennel cough passing Costa Rica.
Most all the calls I received resolved by themselves within 6-10 days with no treatment necessary, only about 1 in 10 complicating with fever and a mucus nasal discharge that needed antibiotics to be taken care of.
'Kennel Cough,' now more commonly referred to as 'infectious tracheobronchitis' is a widespread disease caused by several different viruses and bacteria. It is usually a self-limiting disease and most animals do not require treatment. There are many different agents that can be the cause of tracheobronchitis.
The most common are parainfluenza virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and mycoplasma. Canine adenovirus type 2, reovirus, and canine herpes virus are thought to possibly contribute to the disease, as well. Although any one of these organisms can cause symptoms of the disease, the majority of cases are the result of more than one organism.
The most common viral agent is parainfluenza virus, causing mild symptoms lasting less than 6 days unless there is involvement of other bacteria. Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common bacteria isolated from dogs with tracheobronchitis.
The symptom most seen is a dry hacking cough sometimes followed by retching. Many owners describe the cough as having a 'honking sound‘. A watery nasal discharge may also be present. With mild cases, dogs continue to eat and be alert and active. Many times, there is a recent history of coming in contact with other dogs or having come from a boarding or breeding kennel.
In more severe cases, the symptoms may progress and include lethargy, fever, inappetence, pneumonia, and in very severe cases, even death. The majority of severe cases occur in immunocompromised animals, or young unvaccinated puppies.
Clinical signs of infection occur 2-14 days after exposure, and if uncomplicated with other agents, symptoms will last around 10 days. However, after the infection has been resolved, the affected animal will continue to shed the virus for 6 to 14 weeks and can spread the disease to other susceptible animals during that time.
Parainfluenza (viral) and Bordetella (bacterial) commonly appear together in infectious tracheobronchitis, creating a disease that can last from 14-20 days. Diagnosis is usually based on the symptoms and a history of recent exposure to other dogs. Bacterial cultures, viral isolation, and blood work can be performed to verify individual agents of the disease, but due to the characteristic nature of the symptoms, these tests are not routinely performed.
There are two treatment options depending on the severity of the disease. In the most common mild (uncomplicated) form of the disease, antibiotics may or may not be used. However, treating the mild case does not shorten the length in which the animal will be a potential spreader of the disease. Additionally, bronchodilators or cough suppressants may also be used in treatment of mild cases.
In more severe (complicated) cases where the animal is not eating, running a fever, or showing signs of pneumonia or nasal discharge, antibiotics are necessary. Steroids or cough suppressants are not usually recommended because of the risk of immunosuppression and because of the need to continue to clear extra fluid or mucous in pneumonia patients. Bronchodilators and aerosol therapy may also be used. In moderate or severe cases, veterinary care should be instituted, as the resultant pneumonia could become life threatening if not treated properly and promptly.
The best prevention is to not expose your dog to other dogs, especially young puppies. If this cannot be avoided, then proper vaccination is the next best option. Chances are that if your dog is regularly vaccinated with a standard 5-way or 7-way vaccine, he or she is already being protected against several of the agents causing tracheobronchitis, mainly parainfluenza and adenovirus. However, these vaccines alone rarely provide protection against contracting the disease, although they will help reduce the severity of the disease if the animal becomes infected. Agents causing tracheo-bronchitis can be transmitted on hands and clothing as well as through the air, so infected animals should be isolated and one should practice proper hand washing after coming in contact with an infected dog to help prevent spread. This is probably not the last we will see of kennel cough, so hopefully this information can help dog owners to understand a little better and help prevent its rapid spread.
Dra Deanne Sharer, Medica Veterinaria 8837-8244 / 8704-5347
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