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Pet Health


Upper Respiratory Infections in Dogs

This past fall and winter, the news was inundated with reports of a canine cough outbreak. In February of this…

This past fall and winter, the news was inundated with reports of a canine cough outbreak. In February of this year, the canine flu was also making headlines in many regions of the United States. These upper respiratory infections in dogs, otherwise known as “URIs,” are infections that need to be treated, but first, they need to be identified.

What Is An Upper Respiratory Infection?

Upper respiratory infections in dogs are similar to the kinds of colds and flu we experience as humans. The Animal Humane Society defines an upper respiratory infection as an infection normally caused by a virus or bacteria, ranging from minor to severe.

As the name suggests, an upper respiratory infection affects the upper part of the body, including the nose, sinuses, and trachea (windpipe). In humans, we would probably call that a “head cold.” An infection appearing lower in the respiratory system – the lungs or the bronchi tubes – is, logically, a “Lower Respiratory Infection,” although some infections can spread to both upper and lower areas of the body. With few exceptions, the symptoms of both upper and lower respiratory infections are similar.

Symptoms Of An Upper Respiratory Infection In Dogs

When your dog is suffering from an upper respiratory infection, you may see many of the same symptoms in your dog as you would in yourself when you have a cold: runny nose and/or eyes, coughing, labored or noisy breathing, fever, fatigue, sneezing, and lack of appetite. You may notice your dog is sleeping more than usual or is not interested in playtime or going for a walk.

Causes Of An Upper Respiratory Infection In Dogs

There are three categories, or causes, of upper respiratory infections in dogs: bacterial, viral, and parasitic. For our purposes, we will discuss the two most prevalent pathogens bacterial and viral. Again, both bacterial and viral infections have nearly identical symptoms. There is only one way to know for sure if the infection is bacterial or viral, and that is by a veterinarian’s exam. You can make an “educated guess” by the type of cough the infection produces. A dry cough is often a sign of a bacterial infection. “Canine cough” is a good example. A moist cough may indicate a viral infection.

Sometimes, bacterial and viral infections occur together. It is no wonder that identifying and treating upper respiratory infections in dogs is so frustrating for dog parents and veterinarians.

Types of Bacterial Infections in Dogs

Probably the most common upper respiratory bacterial infection in dogs is the “canine cough,” which comes from the bacteria, bordetella bronchiseptica. But there are other bacteria that can raise havoc in a dog’s upper respiratory system; your vet can identify them for you if you are interested, but the bordetella bronchiseptica is the most prevalent bacterial infection in dogs in the United States.

You may recognize the name “bordetella” from the vaccine that is given to dogs to help protect them from “canine cough.” Although the bordetella vaccine is not a core vaccine, meaning, it is not included in your dog’s annual or triannual vaccination regime, it is highly recommended and often required when dogs are going to be around other dogs. Holiday Barn Pet Resorts requires the bordetella vaccination for any dog visiting our facilities for dog daycare or dog grooming.

Bordetella bronchiseptica is very contagious. It is spread by a dog’s respiratory secretions, which can be inhaled by other dogs. It can also be picked up from an infected dog’s mucus or saliva on toys, dog bowls, or whatever the dog came into contact with even if it came from our clothes and hands. As you can guess, in a group of dogs it would be impossible to control.

Types of Viral Infections in Dogs

The most popular upper respiratory viral infections in dogs are canine distemper and canine influenza. Your dog’s core vaccines protect them from distemper, but not from influenza. While humans are subject to any number of flu viruses, there are currently only two types of flu viruses that affect dogs: the H3N8 and the H3N2.

As mentioned, there has been a rise in reported outbreaks of canine flu recently. Holiday Barn Pet Resorts has kept our customer base updated on the risk and vaccination availability. Likewise, we require dogs that visit our resorts to be vaccinated for both the H3N8 and H3N2 flu viruses.

Just like the bordetella bacteria, the canine flu is highly contagious. It is also spread by respiratory secretions, which linger in the air or on surfaces where they can survive for hours.

The AKC says that depending on the type of viral or bacterial pathogens involved, it can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months for them to stop spreading contagions.

Treatments for Upper Respiratory Infections in Dogs

A veterinarian may recommend for a dog with mild symptoms to rest at home, just like your doctor would recommend for you when you have a cold. Keep your dog warm, comfortable, and hydrated. Healthy, strong dogs should recuperate well, generally within a week to 10 days. Very young dogs, senior dogs, or dogs with other health issues may need medical intervention.

How can we determine that our dog’s symptoms are mild enough that a trip to the vet is not needed? We really can’t. With so many incidences of upper respiratory infections in dogs being reported, we recommend you visit your veterinarian if any symptoms are present, mild or otherwise.

If a serious upper respiratory infection is left untreated, secondary infections like staph, strep (streptococcus), or pneumonia can occur. Unfortunately, relapses occur often. A veterinarian will prescribe a plan of action to treat your dog and to help avoid a relapse.

Treatment for an upper respiratory infection is determined by the results of diagnostic tests and clinical signs observed by a medical professional. A veterinarian will usually prescribe antibiotics to thoroughly clear a bacterial infection. The vet may also prescribe cough suppressants and something to help clear the excess mucus that is present in an upper respiratory infection.

What Can I Do If My Dog Gets An Upper Respiratory Infection?

As mentioned above, making your dog comfortable and keeping it warm is important. So is providing fresh, clean water. In addition to lots of TLC, here are some other ideas that will help:

  1. Invest in a humidifier to help relieve upper respiratory symptoms.
  2. Limit your dog’s exercise. While symptoms are present, potty walks should be the only outdoor activity.
  3. Clean and disinfect daily to help prevent the spread of the infection. Wash your dog’s food bowls with warm soapy water after each feeding and their water bowls several times a day.
  4. Wash your hands often.
  5. Avoid putting a neck leash on your dog if at all possible. This will help minimize coughing and help avoid airway irritation.
  6. Swap out or change your dog’s bedding daily.
  7. Try to isolate your dog from other pets in the family.
  8. Implement a nutritious diet to help strengthen your dog’s immune system.
  9. Do not socialize your dog with other dogs if it is displaying any symptoms or has been diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection.

Lastly, be sure to contact anyone whose dogs may have encountered your dog in the last few days to let them know your dog is sick and may have been contagious. If your dog has visited our resort, please call and speak with our Pet Care Manager to let us know.

Vaccinations for Dogs

Vaccines are available for bordetella and the two flu varieties, H3N8 and H3N2. Just like the human flu vaccine, these vaccines must be given every year. Protection from bordetella is sometimes recommended every six months, depending on the individual dog’s risk factors as determined by the veterinarian.

While vaccinations are designed to protect your dog from upper respiratory infections, they are not 100% effective. Even though vaccinations do not always prevent upper respiratory infections in dogs from occurring, they have been shown to boost your dog’s immunity and reduce the severity of its symptoms.

How Long Is My Dog Contagious With An Upper Respiratory Infection?

Depending on the source of information, the amount of time a dog is contagious varies. Cynda Crawford, a clinical associate professor in shelter medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida, recommends that in the case of the dog flu, you should not take your dog to public places where there may be other dogs, for three to four weeks, even if your dog is no longer symptomatic.

Most sources agree that dogs are not contagious after 10 to 14 days of having an upper respiratory infection. This is after the seven to 10 days that the upper respiratory infection is active. So, if a dog is sick, it will shed contagious particles for seven to 10 days and will need to wait another 10 to 14 days before it can return to the general pet population like dog daycare, boarding, grooming, parks, stores, restaurants, or anywhere a face-to-face greeting is possible.

At Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we rely on the recommendation of your veterinarian for when a dog is able to come back to our resort. We allow dogs with “canine cough” to return once all medications are finished and the dog shows no further symptoms.

Managing Your Dog’s Upper Respiratory Infection

As I am sure you have guessed, once an upper respiratory infection is introduced into a group of dogs, it is very difficult to manage. At Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we have stringent cleaning practices to help reduce risk:

  • Accommodations and camp enclosures are cleaned daily with hospital-grade disinfectant. The rooms are cleaned again if a new guest checks into a room that was previously occupied.
  • Biodegradable Dawn dishwashing liquid is often recommended for kennel use. We use Dawn regularly to eliminate organic build-up, such as saliva, lanolin, poop, etc.
  • Dog water bowls are disinfected daily, and again, washed between guests.
  • Dog bedding is washed daily.
  • Our staff is encouraged to wash their hands frequently.

Studies have found that there is “strong and sufficient evidence to demonstrate the association between ventilation…and the transmission and spread of infectious diseases.” Our facilities are well-ventilated to help reduce the concentration of airborne contaminants. Exhaust fans introduce fresh air into the kennel areas, as well as sweep away impurities. Air filters are changed or cleaned weekly.

If a guest shows any symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, the dog is quickly isolated from other pets; a veterinarian is contacted; and treatment is pursued.

Unforeseen Circumstances

Unfortunately, there are some things that cannot be determined regardless of meticulous cleaning procedures and proactive prevention methods.

Dogs with upper respiratory infections can be asymptomatic, meaning there are no apparent symptoms to warn us that they are carrying an infection. Dogs that are asymptomatic can spread the disease for up to two weeks. Also, once a dog has completely recovered from an upper respiratory infection, it can continue to be a carrier.

And if that’s not bad enough, most dogs are contagious before they start showing any signs of illness. It’s discouraging, isn’t it?

With all of this evidence working against us, there are ways we can work to prevent our dog from getting an upper respiratory infection.

How Can I Help Prevent My Dog from Getting an Upper Respiratory Infection?

Just like we can’t always avoid getting a cold, there is no guarantee your dog will not become sick with an upper respiratory infection at least once in their lifetime. The best you can do to ensure your dog is strong and healthy is by scheduling regular wellness visits with its veterinarian and consistently following its vaccination schedule. Avoid dog parks and similar environments where proof of bordetella and flu vaccinations are not required. Lastly, feeding our dogs highly nutritious foods and making sure they get plenty of fresh air and exercise is essential to their good health.

We are not medical professionals at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. Our experience with pets has given us the insight and ability to communicate on medical issues, but we are in no way suggesting our expertise on the subject. Our intent is to help you recognize what may be a potential red flag and encourage you to seek the advice of your veterinarian.

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