What to know if your dog is coughing and has the sniffles
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Dogs, like people, get respiratory infections, and most of the time recover without incident. Sometimes, however, those infections turn into pneumonia, which can be fatal. How can dog owners know if their pet’s runny nose and cough might put his life at risk?
How sick your dog will get from his version of a cold or flu depends on many factors. Puppies and senior dogs are at increased risk of developing pneumonia. So are the so-called brachycephalic breeds, those with flat faces like pugs or bulldogs. Other dogs may have underlying health conditions that put them at additional risk.
Because contagious respiratory diseases are airborne, dogs who mingle with other dogs at dog parks and similar locations are also at increased risk of respiratory disease.
Another important risk factor is the cause of the pneumonia, which can include everything from a bacterial or viral infection, to a structural defect in the respiratory tract, to near-drowning or electrical shock.
Dr. Cynda Crawford of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine is the researcher who discovered the first known canine influenza virus (CIV). “There’s an increased risk for progression to pneumonia with CIV compared to other infectious causes,” she says.
Vaccinations can reduce the severity of the symptoms and make dogs less contagious to other dogs, but it doesn’t completely prevent illness. What’s more, Crawford says, “The vast majority of pathogens that can cause respiratory infections in dogs are still unknown. Of the small number we’ve identified, only about half of those have a vaccine available.”
So is a canine biohazard suit the only way to protect a dog from a respiratory infection that could lead to pneumonia? Not at all.
“First, be aware that despite your best efforts, your dog may pick up a respiratory infection,” Crawford says. “Fortunately, for the vast majority of cases, these infections will be mild and short-lived, so there’s no need to panic by putting your dog in a bubble. But do protect your dog with vaccinations and avoid places where they may encounter sick dogs.”
What should you do if your dog shows signs of a mild respiratory infection, such as coughing and sniffling? If your dog is unhealthy, hasn’t had all his vaccines, is very young or old, or has other risk factors, it’s best to seek veterinary care immediately.
If your dog is otherwise healthy, is not a puppy or senior and has no additional risk factors, Crawford advises you to check with your veterinarian to see if there are canine influenza viruses circulating in your community. If so, you’ll probably want to seek medical care, as these infections are more likely than others to develop into pneumonia.
If there is no CIV circulating and your dog is in good health, your veterinarian will probably advise you keep him home until the danger of transmitting the disease to other dogs has passed. However, Crawford says, “If the coughing, sneezing and nasal discharge persist for more than a couple of days, or if the dog stops eating or develops rapid breathing, contact your veterinarian right away.”
If you do head for the vet, be sure to ask about what you can do to protect other dogs in the hospital waiting area from being infected by your pet. Many veterinary clinics will ask clients whose dogs have respiratory symptoms to wait in the car or enter through a separate door. Be sure to ask how long your dog needs to be kept away from other dogs, as well as what signs to watch out for that can alert you to developing pneumonia.