If you live in Steamboat and own a dog you’ve probably heard about “Kennel Cough” or Bordatella infection. A better name for the infections we are seeing is “Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease” or simply Canine Cough, because there is a long list of pathogens that can cause it. We see outbreaks of this pretty much every year in Steamboat but this year seems to be particularly bad and we are currently in the middle of another outbreak. In general, we see cases trickle in throughout the year, year after year with occasional periods of flareups. Vaccines cover many, but not all, of the pathogens that can cause a cough. Bordatella is the most well known bacteria that can cause coughing and one of the things we do have a vaccine for. Unfortunately, this current outbreak is not caused by Bordatella, but rather pathogens that we do not have vaccines for. It is still important to get your dog vaccinated for Bordatella.
Importantly, we see canine cough more commonly in other places besides kennels. This disease spreads much like colds do in people so we see it in areas where dogs go to be social and interact more frequently. We live in a unique mountain town where people are very active with their dogs and many people don’t have fenced yards. We typically see it in dogs from neighborhoods all over town and dogs that frequent the dog park. We can also see it in boarding facilities even when dogs are required to be vaccinated. This is because asymptomatic dogs can spread the disease without anyone knowing it and we do not have vaccines for the typical pathogens that cause Canine cough. We see Canine cough cases year round but do seem to have more outbreaks in the winter months likely because people visit the dog park more and dogs are confined to snow trails and more likely to contact each other.
While outbreaks of coughing dogs are not new, how we treat them has evolved over the past few years thanks to new vaccines and affordable testing. At Pet Kare Clinic we use an oral Bordatella vaccine made by Elanco. This company wants to know if their product is working so encourages us to send in cultures (for free) on coughing dogs that have been vaccinated with their product. What that has allowed us to do is identify what the infectious agents are each year. At $250 each these cultures were not financially feasible in the past, especially for a disease that we were used to treating based upon clinical signs. In the past many dogs would get antibiotics as Bordatella responds to antibiotics. For some dogs with minor signs we would just let the disease run its course. For all dogs we would tell people to keep them isolated until they stopped coughing. Since we started culturing we have found out our Steamboat dogs do not carry Bordatella, but Mycoplasma instead. What is interesting about Mycoplasma from a “dog community health standpoint” is that dogs can have no clinical signs but continue to shed it and infect other dogs for 2 to 3 months if they are not treated appropriately with a course of antibiotics. This is huge! No wonder outbreaks continue. The free cultures have given us the ability to know exactly what we are treating and to treat it for the appropriate amount of time. It’s better for the individual dog as we are treating with the appropriate antibiotic and preventing the bacteria from hanging around in the dog’s system for a long period of time. It is also much better for the community as a whole as we can hopefully prevent dogs without symptoms from spreading the Mycoplasma infection to the next unsuspecting dog and on and on….
It is a very treatable disease but the pathogens responsible for this outbreak appear to be very contagious and many of our patients can display more than just mild clinical signs. With the help of these cultures we can continue to identify the contagious organisms in our local outbreaks. In the past dogs we tested typically have Mycoplasma along with either Coranvirus or Parainfluinza virus. Usually it takes 2 respiratory pathogens working together to cause the disease with the virus attacking first and allowing the Mycoplasma to be a secondary opportunistic bacterial infection. There are currently no available vaccines for Mycoplasma or Coronavirus. The Coronavirus is a relatively new respiratory virus that was probably transmitted to dogs from cattle in 2003 and is now widespread in North America. THIS CORONAVIRUS IS NOT COVID-19 BUT RATHER A DIFFERENT TYPE STRAIN OF CORONAVIRUS. There are many Coronaviruses out there causing common cold type symptoms. Some of them preferentially affect different species and cause more significant disease. COVID-19 affects humans more, while this Canine Cough strain affects dogs and is NOT contagious to humans.
The reason we are seeing year round Canine Cough outbreaks may be due to those dogs that continue to shed the Mycoplasma without showing any clinical signs. If your dog has been diagnosed with Canine Cough make sure you follow all your veterinarians’ recommendations and be sure to call if your dog doesn’t appear to be responding to treatment. A course of antibiotics along with prescription or over the counter cough medication is recommended. Keep your dog isolated from other dogs for a full 2 weeks after the last signs of coughing/sneezing/nasal discharge. Wash any toys and bowls too as this infection, especially the Coronavirus, appears to be very contagious. (My own dog got it a few years ago after stealing the neighbor dog’s tennis ball. That’ll teach him!) If you choose NOT to treat your dog with antibiotics or if you fail to give the full course of antibiotics, realize that your dog is likely infectious to other dogs for up to 2-3 months even if not displaying any clinical signs.
If your dog is very young or old or has a compromised immune system it is best to avoid areas where there are a lot of dogs. If your dog becomes infected you may notice a sudden onset of a harsh dry cough. Many people call us thinking their dogs are choking on something or even trying to vomit because their dog is coughing so hard. Antibiotics, cough suppressants and anti-inflammatories can help your dog feel better faster. If you have questions, call your vet! That’s what we’re here for!
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