It’s that time of year again. Cold and flu season doesn’t just affect us, it affects our pets too. One common complaint that can hit your dog during the winter season is kennel cough.
Kennel cough is exactly what it’s called: it is a cough in your dog, much like a human cold. It is almost always self limiting and can last anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks. The virus is passed easily between dogs.
Is your dog coughing? Not sure how to treat kennel cough at home? Here are some natural remedies for dogs who show kennel cough symptoms, and some kennel cough prevention strategies for dogs at risk.
What is Kennel Cough?
Kennel cough (also known as infectious tracheobronchitis) symptoms appear extreme, with a dry, hacking cough accompanied by frequent, intense gagging. Despite its appearance, a typical case of kennel cough is not life-threatening, and it tends to run its course in a few days to a week or so. But it is a disease that is frustrating for pets and caretakers alike.
Kennel cough should be expected whenever your dog suddenly develops the characteristic cough 5 to 10 days after exposure to other dogs – especially to dogs from a kennel (particularly a shelter) environment. Usually the kennel cough symptoms diminish during the first five days, but the disease may persist for up to 10-20 days. Kennel cough is almost always more annoying (to dog and her caretaker) than it is a serious event. In other words, kennel cough is not fatal unless serious complications like pneumonia arise from it.
Anyone who’s heard it will recognize the dry, hacking, something’s-stuck-in-my-throat dog coughing that won’t quit. It’s the signature symptom of canine infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as Bordetellosis, Bordetella, and most commonly as kennel cough. Whatever you call it, tracheobronchitis is one of the world’s most widespread canine diseases.
Like the common cold in humans, tracheobronchitis is highly contagious, rarely fatal, and runs its course in a few days. Fortunately, kennel cough remedies are abundant; there are several ways to help make canine patients more comfortable, speed recovery, and prevent future infections.
Tracheobronchitis is called kennel cough because of its association with boarding kennels, animal shelters, veterinary waiting rooms, grooming salons, and other areas where dogs congregate in close quarters. The coughing can strike dogs of any age but is most common in puppies, whose immune systems are still developing, and adult dogs with conditions that impair immune function.
Although often referred to as Bordetella, tracheobronchitis isn’t caused by the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria alone. Several infectious agents contribute to the condition, primarily parainfluenza. Other viruses that may be involved include canine adenovirus, reovirus, and the canine herpes virus.
When Bordetella and parainfluenza combine to cause tracheobronchitis, kennel cough symptoms appear within a week of exposure (usually after three to four days) and continue for about 10 days. Even after symptoms disappear, the recovering patient remains contagious, shedding Bordetella bacteria for up to 14 weeks.
In mild cases, dogs with kennel cough remain active and alert, with good appetite. In more severe cases, symptoms may progress toward pneumonia and include lethargy, fever, and a loss of appetite.
Kennel Cough Symptoms in Dogs
The main symptom of tracheobronchitis—the cough—has been described as unproductive, throat-clearing, goose-honking, hacking, dry, harsh, gut-wrenching, gagging, wheezing, and croup-like, not to mention annoying to the dogs who can’t stop coughing and the humans they live with. Vigorous exercise triggers it, but even resting dogs may cough every few minutes throughout the day.
The dog’s cough is caused by irritation and damage to the lining of the trachea and upper bronchi. In the trachea, exposed nerve endings are aggravated by the passage of air over damaged tissue as the dog inhales and exhales.
Just as the virus that causes the common cold is carried by water vapor, dust, and air, the bacteria and viruses that cause tracheobronchitis spread in all directions. When inhaled by a susceptible dog, they attach to the lining of upper airway passages whose warm, moist conditions allow them to reproduce and eventually damage the cells they infect.
Kennel Cough Risk Factors for Dogs
Some people catch frequent colds and others never get sick. Some dogs are susceptible to tracheobronchitis and others never get it, even after repeated exposure.
According to Wendy C. Brooks, DVM, Educational Director of VeterinaryPartner.com, “The normal respiratory tract has substantial safeguards against invading infectious agents. The most important of these is probably what is called the mucocillary escalator.”
Cilia are tiny hairlike structures that protrude from the cells that line the respiratory tract. They are covered with a protective coat of mucus, and they beat in a coordinated fashion. As viruses, bacteria, and other debris become trapped in the sticky mucus, the cilia move everything up (hence the escalator analogy) toward the throat, where it can be coughed up or swallowed.
Conditions that damage the mucocillary escalator and cause dog coughing include shipping stress, crowding stress, heavy dust exposure, exposure to cigarette smoke, viruses, and poor ventilation. “Without this protective mechanism,” says Dr. Brooks, “invading bacteria, especially Bordetella bronchiseptica, may simply march down the airways unimpeded.”
Poorly ventilated, crowded conditions increase the odds of contracting tracheobronchitis, but dogs can catch the disease almost anywhere. All they need is exposure to a dog who has an active infection or is recovering from one—or to the viruses and bacteria an infected dog left behind.
Kennel Cough Treatment
Most veterinarians treat tracheobronchitis the way physicians treat the common cold. They let it run its course while keeping the patient comfortable. Some veterinarians routinely prescribe antibiotics, which are effective against bacteria, thus addressing part of the infection. But because they have no effect on viruses, antibiotics are not a kennel cough cure, and most vets save antibiotics for more serious conditions, such as the secondary infections that sometimes develop in dogs with tracheobronchitis.
For partial relief of symptoms and to help the dog feel more comfortable, some owners use cough medicine for dogs. Minor cases are often treated with nonprescription cough remedies such as Robitussin (dextromethorphan). Dog cough remedies like Robotussin are recommended for chronic, dry, unproductive coughing, and should not be used for moist or productive coughs.
Note: Products that contain acetaminophen or caffeine should not be given to dogs.
Prescription cough suppressants and most antibiotics for dogs should be reserved for cases in which a fever develops, symptoms last longer than a few days, or the cough becomes more severe.
Some veterinarians may recommend a dog cough medicine, but others contend that cough suppressants further weaken the immune system and should only be given to dogs under severe circumstances.
Kennel Cough Vaccinations
Most boarding facilities require proof of Bordetella vaccination for dogs who will be visiting. However, because there are many strains of Bordetella, and because no vaccine protects every patient, some immunized dogs contract tracheobronchitis despite being vaccinated. Veterinary recommendations range from vaccinating a dog every four months to not at all.
“There are two kinds of Bordetella vaccine,” says Stacey Hershman, DVM, a holistic veterinarian in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. “The intranasal vaccine is highly effective and very safe since it is not systemic but goes down the nose into the throat. I do not recommend the injectable vaccine since it can cause negative side effects like lethargy, fever, vomiting, or diarrhea.
“I never vaccinate animals more than once a year for kennel cough, and then only if they are going to a boarding kennel. Kennel cough is not fatal in adult dogs, who usually board, therefore it would be over-vaccinating in my opinion to do it more than once a year. Healthy, strong immune systems are resistant and do not catch it, which is another reason not to vaccinate unless the dog is going to a kennel that requires it.”
No matter what your dog’s vaccination status, a few natural kennel cough preventives can’t hurt, especially whenever your dog is exposed to dogs with active or recent infections.
Honey and Coconut Oil for Kennel Cough Treatment
The single treatment for canine tracheobronchitis that conventional veterinarians, holistic vets, and caregivers of every description agree on – the ultimate kennel cough remedy – is honey. Honey soothes the throat and provides antibacterial properties, making it the most effective kennel cough home remedy.
Honey and coconut oil are powerful health-boosters for you and your dog. They are also inexpensive and easy to find in your local health food store.
All honey has disinfecting properties. One of the most expensive honeys sold around the world is manuka honey from New Zealand, where bees harvest nectar from the manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium). Twenty years of research at the University of Waikato show that manuka honey has impressive antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties. While all honeys share these properties, they are especially pronounced in manuka honey.
Most dogs enjoy honey’s sweet taste, so it’s easy to feed from a spoon or, if the honey is thick, you can roll it into a treat-sized ball. Honey for kennel cough can be fed by itself, mixed with powdered herbs for additional benefit, or added to herbal teas that double as cough syrups.
There is no specific recommended dose, as both larger and smaller doses are safe and effective, but for most dogs ½ to 1 teaspoon of honey three or four times per day works well.
In recent years, coconut oil has become a popular supplement for people and pets. Because its medium-chain fatty acids kill harmful bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungi, and parasites, its advocates call it an all-purpose infection fighter. As coconut oil expert and book author Bruce Fife, ND, explains, “Taking coconut oil daily is like a daily inoculation. It will help prevent your dog from becoming infected.”
The recommended maintenance dose is 1 teaspoon coconut oil per 10 pounds of body weight per day in divided doses, always starting with smaller amounts and increasing gradually. When your dog has been exposed to tracheobronchitis or any other infection, the dose can be doubled. The only adverse effects of a too-high dose of coconut oil are loose, greasy stools and a temporary feeling of fatigue (thought to result from detoxification). Most dogs adjust easily to a coconut oil regimen, and because they’re usually fond of the taste, coconut oil can be fed from a spoon or added to your dog’s food.
Honey and coconut oil work well together. Combine these two infection fighters for both the treatment of kennel cough and prevention of tracheobronchitis and other contagious diseases.
Special Immune Support Supplements for Dogs
According to San Diego veterinarian Stephen R. Blake, DVM, the most important defense against any infection, whether fungal, viral, or bacterial, is the gastrointestinal system.
Dr. Blake’s favorite supplement for immune support is bovine colostrum from New Zealand, where all cattle are pasture-fed and organically raised. Colostrum is the “first milk” a cow produces after giving birth, and it contains all the immune support a calf needs to avoid infection. Cows produce colostrum in greater quantities than their calves can consume, so the excess is collected for supplement use.
“I recommend a dose of 500 mg colostrum per 25 pounds of body weight once or twice a day, depending on the dog’s risk factor,” says Dr. Blake.
Other supplements that support the gastrointestinal tract include probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and other “friendly” or “beneficial” bacteria, which help make up the body’s first line of defense against viruses and other pathogens.
Probiotics are especially important for dogs who have been treated with antibiotics, as antibiotics destroy these beneficial microbes. Several probiotic supplements have been developed for dogs and are sold in pet supply stores or veterinary clinics. And don’t neglect vitamin C. Consider giving your dog 500 mg vitamin C three times per day, or half that amount for small dogs, in addition to the animal’s usual supplements for as long as the infection lasts.
The Best Defense
Controlling your dog’s exposure to other animals is one way to help prevent tracheobronchitis, canine flu, and other contagious diseases. Another is to disinfect the air and surfaces around her.
These are common sense precautions. But your dog’s best defense against infection is a strong immune system, which you can boost with nutrition, exercise, and supplements like those mentioned here. And if your dog ever contracts a respiratory infection, you’ll know how to treat kennel cough at home using simple remedies.
The best treatment of kennel cough is preventative care. Strengthen your dog’s health from the ground up. That means the best quality food possible and clean water, avoiding exposure to toxins, and paying attention to early signals that your dog’s immune system is weakening.
Signs of a weakened immune system start off seeming negligible. “These are little things your vet won’t think are wrong,” Dr. Chambreau says. Goopy eye discharge, waxy ears, a little red line in the gums, minor behavioral problems, and a slight overall odor that necessitates baths every couple of weeks are some examples. Dr. Chambreau recommends keeping a daily journal so you can see patterns in your dog’s well-being emerge over time.
KENNEL COUGH REMEDIES: OVERVIEW
1. Watch for kennel cough symptoms in puppies, recently rescued dogs, and dogs under stress.
2. Soothe a coughing dog’s sore throat with honey, herbal teas or cough preparations.
3. Keep track of your dog’s coughing symptoms in case they worsen or last longer than 10 days.
4. Have natural remedies and immune boosters for kennel cough on hand to help prevent or treat the illness.
Extract from the WholeDog Journal by CJ Puotinen
C.J. Puotinen is a frequent Whole Dog Journal contributor and freelance writer living in New York. She is also author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care and many books on holistic health care and herbal remedies for humans.
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