Do You Really Need To Treat Kennel Cough in Dogs?

Kennel cough in dogs is a common infectious disease but are antibiotics always the best way to treat it? Can you in fact simply treat them at home? Also, does the vary depending on the age of a dog, or other diseases they might be suffering from?

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And so let's jump into the first question, and this one was sent in by Lydia and she asks: what medicine do you suggest for Kennel cough?

What is kennel cough

Well, let's start off with what Kennel cough actually is, and it's actually a syndrome rather than a specific disease. So there are a number of different causes of what is also known as infectious tracheobronchitis.

The infectious component lets you know that there is an infection going on, but it's caused by a number of different things, and actually the majority of them are viral diseases. Occasionally you get a bacterial infection, but the majority are viral and this means that antibiotics generally have no place in treating Kennel cough because they don't work for killing viruses.

Should we give antibiotics?

They’re only occasionally indicated in Kennel cough and really we don't want to be overusing antibiotics. There’s a whole problem with resistance and the development of multi-resistant bugs (have you heard about the antibiotic apocalypse?!). From a veterinary and a pet health point of view, we definitely don't want that in our pets and we don't want to be contributing to this scary problem in humans.

So moving onto Kennel cough itself, when it's a viral problem, generally it is self limiting. This means that without treatment in an otherwise well animal it will get better by itself. It doesn't necessarily need any treatment.

Problems can happen when you've got a young dog, a young puppy, when you've got an elderly dog or if you've got a dog who's being immuno-suppressed for any reason or is immuno-compromised. If a dog’s immune system isn't working very well then they're going to be more at risk of developing complications or developing serious disease such as pneumonia.

When and what to treat kennel cough in dogs with

So when do we think about treating our “normal” Kennel cough patients?

Well, if a cough is causing problems, if it's causing discomfort, if a dog is getting quite anxious and distressed by their frequent coughing, if it's interrupting sleep, then those are certainly indications that we might want to start our dog on treatment.

Treatment can include a range of different medications from anti-inflammatories to antitussives (drugs which stop coughing). Sometimes we'll give antihistamines too.

If a dog is unwell, or if it's felt to be a high risk of developing one of these kennel cough complications, then we might consider antibiotics. That's going to be very much on an individual basis, but you shouldn't go into the veterinary consultation expecting (or demanding!) antibiotics, because very often they're not appropriate and they're not going to help.

We should also remember that if we're using antibiotics when it's not necessary, they are a very broad brush and they're not just targeting the Kennel cough, lungs or throat in isolation. They will be affecting the bacteria in the gut, on the skin, throughout the body. Killing our normal healthy bacteria, and that can cause problems in itself.

kennel cough home treatment

Something else that you can do at home would be to put your dog in a steamy room, for example your bathroom when you are having a hot shower. This steam can just help to clear any mucus that's building up in your dog's throat or in their windpipe. There's the thought that honey might soothe the throat as well. That might just be an old wives' tale but it's certainly not going to do any harm and that might be something that you want to try.

So those are my treatment suggestions for Kennel cough. If your dog is unwell or if the cough is bothering your dog, if they're getting distressed, if they're uncomfortable, if they're not sleeping, you should definitely see your vet. We've got a range of different medications in our arsenal that we could use. Remember though that a lot of the time people are coming into the consult room expecting antibiotics and generally speaking they're not normally appropriate.

The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.

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