Pet Talk column: Why is my dog coughing? |

Pet Talk column: Why is my dog coughing?

Tom Suplizio, DVM
Pet Talk

The Western Slope has seen a large number of cases of coughing dogs this year, and while some causes of coughing may be fairly harmless and self limiting, it may be an indication of a much more serious underlying condition such as heart disease, heart worm infection or pneumonia. Therefore, it is recommended that all coughing dogs be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Infectious bronchitis, or kennel cough, has numerous causative agents including the bacteria bordetella bronchiseptica, the viruses para influenza, adenovirus type II, canine distemper, canine influenza, canine herpes, canine reovirus and the non-viral, non-bacterium mycoplasma canis. It may also be a combination of two or more of these.

The name “kennel cough” leads to the misconception that if a dog doesn’t board it doesn’t need to be vaccinated against kennel cough. The reality is, while outbreaks in kennels do occur, the majority of outbreaks are seen at dog parks and other settings where dogs congregate.

Typical kennel cough infections produce a harsh, hacking cough. It is usually a non-productive cough, but it can cause dogs to hack up white, foamy phlegm. Sometimes owners think their pet is trying to “cough something up.” Dogs with kennel cough typically remain active and happy and have no other changes in their condition.

Bordetella bronchiseptica has an incubation period between 2-14 days. The cough can be very mild, lasting one to two weeks and requiring no treatment, or it can produce a cough severe enough to require medication. More serious cases progress to a life threatening pneumonia if left untreated. It is difficult to know how long a dog remains contagious because it depends partly on whether the underlying cause was viral or bacterial. The general belief is that if bordetella is involved, then a dog remains infectious for 2 to 3 weeks after symptoms have resolved. Treatment of kennel cough generally involves the use of antibiotics and cough suppressants to reduce your dogs discomfort. The simplest way to reduce your dogs risk is to keep them up to date on vaccinations. The distemper-parvovirus vaccine also includes adenovirus type II and para influenza. This vaccine is given at eight, 12 and 16 weeks and one year, with boosters every 3 years after that. Canine influenza is a yearly vaccine while bordetella bronchiseptica is given annually, or biannually if your dog visits kennels, groomers, or dog parks.

Don’t be surprised if you are asked to keep your coughing dog in your car rather than bringing them into the veterinary office until an initial exam can be done. This is obviously a safety measure to prevent the highly contagious infectious bronchitis from spreading through the clinic. The take away message is that any cough should be taken seriously and preventive care is always your best friend’s best friend.

Veterinarian Tom Suplizio practices at the Vail Valley Animal Hospital and ER, with locations in Eagle-Vail and Edwards. For more information, call 970-926-3496 or visit

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