WITH THE NEW coronavirus front and center in the news, it seems like a good time to talk about canine viruses that periodically make the rounds of the dog population.
It might be surprising that someone could be symptom-free for as long as two weeks, yet be incubating and spreading the coronavirus without knowing it. Someone who comes in contact with a seemingly healthy person might be in danger of getting the virus. Such is the case with canine viruses, too.
When Larry, our Chinook, was about 5 months old, he got a mild case of tracheobronchitis. This is commonly called “kennel cough,” but more appropriately should be termed “canine cough.” Larry caught the virus from one of his buddies, who started coughing the day after he and Larry had a play date. My friend emailed me the next day that her dog, Joshua, had started coughing, I thought for sure Larry would get sick in a few days, and I was really happy after a week when nothing had happened. My sigh of relief was a bit too soon, however. Eight days after they had played together, Larry started coughing. And therein lies the problem with viruses for both species: Joshua wasn’t showing symptoms when the dogs played together, but the virus was communicable.
Canine cough is the nightmare of every dog facility from vets to kennels to groomers to dog parks. The most noticeable symptom is a dry hacking cough, sometimes accompanied by white foamy mucous. The cough sounds as if the dog is trying to clear something stuck in its throat. In fact, owners often at first think the dog has swallowed something that is irritating the animal’s throat.
Much like human colds, most canine cough is self-limiting, and Larry was better six days after he first started coughing. The worst coughing lasts about five or six days, with a residual cough that might last a few weeks, usually when the dog is active or gets excited.
Most canine cough viruses are airborne, easily transmitted from dog to dog — or from air to dog. After being exposed to the virus, a susceptible dog will start coughing five to 10 days later. As Joshua and Larry’s experience demonstrates, this incubation period means dogs can be spreading the virus even before they show symptoms.
Imagine what a nightmare this is for dog facilities like All Dogs Gym and even a veterinary office. It means a dog might come into a play group or kennel, or be sitting in a vet’s waiting area, and be absolutely symptom-free. Then a few hours (or even a few days) later, the dog starts coughing. An incubating dog could board in a kennel for a few days and go home before it shows clinical signs without the kennel operators knowing a guest was spreading a communicable virus.
There often is no way to know for sure where a sick dog came in contact with a virus. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Did your child catch a bug at school? Did you fly on a plane? Pass someone coughing at the grocery store or sitting at the table next to you in a restaurant? It is the same with dogs. Germs and viruses are part of life, and we come in contact with them from time to time. So do our dogs. But the good news is that just as humans recover from colds and most viruses, most dogs recover quickly and fully.
Treatment involves keeping the dog as quiet and as stress-free as possible. Rest and time are the best cures. Our holistic vet recommends chicken soup (honest!), Sambucus (elderberry syrup) and weak tea with local honey. Larry lapped up the Sambucus and seemed to cough less afterward. A vet might prescribe a course of antibiotics, not to fight the cough — because antibiotics don’t kill a virus — but to prevent secondary infections.
There are inoculations against canine viruses, but much like our flu vaccines, they might not prevent the “current” virus. When Larry got sick, Kochi, our older dog, didn’t. My theory, based on years of observation (totally unscientific!) is that puppies and adolescents are most susceptible to canine cough, perhaps indicating that the “current” virus has made the rounds before, and adult dogs have developed immunity.
If you plan to get your dog vaccinated, do so at least 10 days before taking the dog to a kennel, group class, day care or dog park. It’s not uncommon for dogs to get a mild case of canine cough after getting the inoculation, and they can spread it.
If your dog is coughing, has a runny nose or seems out of sorts (calmer than normal), keep him home. And of course, talk to your vet. ’Tis the season.