Burton's Blog

KENNEL COUGH:  Infectious canine tracheobronchitis

In our desire to live lives of black and white decision-making, we tend to have a hard time dealing with the grays, especially when it comes to disease. We want no-risk pharmaceuticals and doctors with an uncanny ability to sugarcoat our treatments. Insurance companies and many other professions build their net worth with scare tactics that encourage you to buy cure-alls and prevent-alls. Dog food companies sell poor dog foods as super-premiums through misleading marketing practices. It’s all about tapping into what we want to believe. When it comes to our pets, it seems that these tendencies toward oversimplification are taken to extremes.

Consider vaccines. There have been some reactions to vaccines (some bad) so many people are not vaccinating their pets. This is shortsighted. Vaccines are important, but it is important to understand how to vaccinate properly. Giving a bunch of vaccines to a dog all at once has some drawbacks. We need to spread them out for maximum safety and prevent over-taxing the immune system. We need to vaccinate more wisely; we need to concentrate on high-risk problems.  Better vaccine application means better immunity and fewer side effects. The misapplication of vaccines might help the budget of your veterinarian, but it can also put your pets at risk. There have been some fairly rare, but well publicized reactions to specific vaccines, and, as a result people are not vaccinating at all. This is dumb. And this brings us to the Kennel Cough disease.

Kennel Cough is a consortium of diseases, and we only have vaccines for two of them: Bortedella (a bacteria) and parainvluenze (a virus).  Fortunately normal adult dogs generally ward off these diseases without complications. Being human, however, spurs the desire is to solve and eliminate all problems with our innate intelligence. But this is not always possible. We just need to use common sense and understand the etiology of disease a bit better.

There is perhaps no more misunderstood canine disease than Kennel Cough.  We want to think of it as a single disease, but veterinarians know better and can only use what they have available (Bordetella and parainfluenze) to treat it and call it a day.  Some veterinarians will instruct their clients that this is not foolproof and that even if their dogs contract Kennel Cough the disease generally runs its course in a fairly short time. The cough may linger for a few weeks. For most dogs, the disease causes little harm. Old dogs or young dogs, however, with impaired or deficient immune systems may not fare as well. The disease can actually open the door for pneumonia. In young dogs their immune systems are just not “experienced” enough to ward off the disease. Kennel Cough rarely proves fatal but vigilance is still required.

People think that if their dog is vaccinated then there is nothing to worry about.  By requiring mandatory Kennel Cough vaccines, kennels and day-care centers give people the idea that they are protected from this disease when in fact they may only be partially protected, if at all. Anytime your pet goes to a kennel, the dog park, or even your vet’s office, he is at risk. Any time your dog goes into the woods or yard he is at risk. Personally I believe we are over-vaccinating for some diseases, but that is another story. Right now I’m specifically concerned with Kennel Cough.

Kennel Cough causes symptoms called tracheobronchitis. There are viral, mycoplasma, and bacterial types. The bacterial type is generally Bordetella which is the same genus (not species) of bacteria that causes whooping cough in our children. Bordetella in dogs causes a type of kennel cough, but it is not the same bacterium that causes whooping cough. For those that don’t vaccinate their children for Bordetella pertussis (whooping cough), you are grossly misled into thinking the risk of abstinence is less dangerous than the risks associated with vaccination. This stuff kills kids. Prior to the whooping cough vaccine, 10,000 to 20,000 children per year died from the disease.

But back to your dog and Kennel Cough.  If your dog is vaccinated for Bordetella that is a good thing, but obviously that is not the end of the potential problems.  There are also a number of viruses that cause severe coughs in dogs. Vaccinating for Bordetella (a bacterium) and parainfluenze (a virus) prevents just a couple of the diseases that can cause Kennel Cough. The package of diseases we call Kennel Cough is actually the aforementioned Bordetella bronchioseptica, parainfluenza, and several types of adenovirus. The rest of the viruses that cause trachiobronchitus are just wild cards for which we have no vaccines.

It’s a lot like our cold symptoms. You say “I’ve got a bug” because more often than not, you have no idea what the specific virus might be. You suffer through it for a few days and then it’s over.  Most of these diseases are viruses of some type that create cold symptoms. There are hundreds of strains with no vaccine for them. They are so plentiful and so hard to isolate that there is no value in expending resources to find them. When our children start school they get all sorts of cold symptoms and pink eye (another misunderstood disease that is highly contagious), because they have no established immune system.  The immune system of a 1- to 8- or 9-year old is immature and consequently not capable of fighting illness. The result is that they contract and pass everything along to parents who participate in the misery because their immunity has dissipated.

So often we want absolutes when it comes to our or our pets’ health, but few of those exist. Boarding kennels have strict policies for immunization against parainfluenze and Bordetella. They do this to protect themselves. When a beloved pet gets ill at a kennel, the owner typically wants to blame the kennel.  Vaccinating is helpful but not a sure thing. The immunity created by vaccines for Bordetella and parainfluense, for the most part, is short lived. In regards to the vaccination types there are three methods of administration. One is an injectable, the second is an oral form, and the third is an intranasal spray.  I prefer the intranasal spray because it creates a stronger immune response largely through the ability of the body to produce interferons associated with the intranasal spray.

If you vaccinate your dog for Boretella and parainfluenza prior to kenneling, make sure you do it at least 10 days ahead of time. Vaccines take time to build immunity.

Kennel Cough can hit your pet at any time whether they are vaccinated or not.  Vaccines do help against two specific antigens. If your dog gets Kennel Cough allow him plenty of rest and use a cold vapor vaporizer like Swiss-O-Air. If your dog continues to cough or the cough becomes violent, talk to your vet. He may want to use an antibiotic to help prevent secondary infections. I would like to see kennels take more precautions and sanitize better, but absolute protection at any step of you or your pet’s life is not possible. Health care is about minimizing potential risk while reaping the potential rewards of an active life. Be involved in your health and keep an open mind. The rules change because the bugs don’t believe the rules apply to them. It is a challenge to keep ahead or at least even with the changes that diseases seem to throw at us. With higher populations come more diseases. With high populations of animals in combination with high human populations, the risk of disease skipping from one species to another is inherent to the process. When a disease is zoonotic like Lyme Disease, West Nile virus, swine flu, bird flu, etc. exposure is all about the susceptibility of our immune systems.  The immune system is dependent on age, nutrition, and condition of the gastrointestinal tract (which some estimate as being 75% of our total immune system). We have to engineer total health for us and our pets, but always engineer while using some common sense.

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