‘Tis the season for coughing dogs — especially if your dog has recently been boarded during the winter Holidays. If your dog starts honking like a goose within days of visiting the groomer, daycare center, or boarding kennel, chances are your dog’s upper airways have been infected with a contagious bug impossible to avoid. The good news is that with some TLC most likely your can dog skip the dog doc and just stay home from work for a few days of R&R.
Animal shelters and boarding kennels are infamous breeding grounds for two common pathogens: bacteria (bordetella) and viruses (parainfluenza) that can team up to cause an outbreak of what is commonly called “kennel cough”. If your dog presents to the vet for symptoms of a dry, hacking, relentless cough and has recently been boarded or is a daycare playmate, chances are your vet will quickly diagnose your dog with tracheobronchitis. That’s medical jargon for inflammation of the trachea (windpipe) and bronchioles (upper airways leading to the lungs).
Typical cough for dog with tracheobronchitis:
Your hacking dog 101
Symptoms can appear within one week of exposure (usually 3-4 days) and can persist for up to 2 weeks. Like the common cold in people, kennel cough is highly contagious, rarely fatal, and runs its course in a week or two. Healthy adult dogs are usually treated with cough suppressants and various natural remedies to boost the immune response — making antibiotics unnecessary. More at risk for serious infections are puppies, elderly dogs, and those with compromised immune systems. If your dog develops a snotty nasal discharge, becomes lethargic, or isn’t eating well — off to the vet your dog goes!
What about vaccines?
Although boarding kennels (and daycare centers) will most often require that your dog receive the Bordetella vaccine, it is impossible to guarantee that your dog will be protected against the nuisance of kennel cough. As many as 20 different strains of bacteria and viruses have been identified to cause symptoms of tracheobronchitis. So, it’s more like your dog is getting a flu shot — could be totally worthless or offers only partial protection.
There are two ways to vaccinate your dog with the Bordetella vaccine: nose drops (intranasal route) or with an injection under the skin. Most vets agree that the intranasal route is the preferred way to vaccinate cooperative dogs. The intranasal route boosts local immunity at the site of an attack (the nose and throat) and so it makes better sense than trying to stimulate the general immune system with an injection. Furthermore, injectable vaccines have a systemic effect on the body and are more likely to cause unwanted side effects. Veterinary recommendations range from vaccinating every six months to not at all! Note: The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has classified Bordetella as a non-core vaccine — making its use optional.
Don’t fret if your social dog succumbs to the hack of kennel cough. Here are some natural remedies to help your dog fight his own germ battle:
Soothe the throat and speed the healing with good old fashioned honey! This bee food has both antibacterial and antiviral properties. While all honeys have these medicinal properties, Manuka honey from New Zealand (native bees harvest nectar from the manuka bush) has shown impressive results in the research studies done at the University of Waikato: http://bio.waikato.ac.nz/honey/contents.shtml. It is sold in the United States and might be well worth the higher price it commands. If you prefer to shop locally, buy a good quality raw honey (not processed) to ensure higher nutrient value.
The suggested honey dose for dogs is anywhere from ½ to 1 teaspoon three to four times per day. Dogs lick it up or mix in their food.
Another popular all-purpose infection fighter is coconut oil. The healthy fats in this oil can also benefit the coat and aid in the treatment of arthritis. Get the facts on this amazing oil http://coconutresearchcenter.org/aboutus.htm.
Recommended daily dose is 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight — best to give in 2 divided doses. Give a 20 pound dog 1 teaspoon of coconut oil twice a day. If your dog is infected or has been exposed, the dose should be doubled. The only adverse effects of a too-high dose are loose or greasy stools. So, adjust the dose accordingly to your dog’s bowel tolerance.
For best results, combine honey and coconut oil together to optimize the effects of these two powerful health boosters. Your dog will thank you for the extra treats and feel better too!
Plant kingdom remedies
Apitherapy Honey Wild Cherry Bark Syrup from Honey Gardens in Vermont combines raw honey, apple cider vinegar, wild cherry bark, propolis (sticky mixture that bees collect from tree sap and other botanical sources which doubles as a natural antibiotic to both seal and protect the hive) with a mixture of medicinal herbs and essential oils.
This wild cherry syrup is pure plant medicine! It works as a respiratory relaxant, an anti-inflammatory for inflamed respiratory tissues, and an antitussive for relieving irritating, relentless, and spasmodic coughs. The propolis and raw honey contribute to its natural antimicrobial action making this a very effective product. Keep some in your medicine cabinet for human colds, too!
You can find it in natural food markets and on-line retailers:
Honey Gardens Apiaries Apitherapy Honey Wild Cherry Syrup 8 oz.
Dosage guideline: 1 teaspoon per 20 pounds of dog. I recommend that you ask your vet or pharmacist for a syringe to give the syrup orally — one tsp is equal to about 3 ml (same as cc). You can also just mix the syrup into a little honey or something your dog really likes. Give one dose every other hour while symptoms persist or 4-6 times per day. Shake well.
Hyssop is often called the Biblical herb — referenced in the New Testament. So, its usage has stood the test of time! Relieves hoarseness, mucous buildup, and is an effective aid for respiratory problems in general. Available in powered capsules or tinctures.
Nature’s Way makes good quality herbal products:
Nature’s Way – Hyssop 890 mg 100 caps.
Common guideline for herbal supplements: Use ¼ the adult human dose for each 20 pounds of your dog’s body weight
Home Remedies — turn up the steam!
Water vapor helps loosen mucus clogs, making it easier for your dog to cough it up. The moisture is also soothing to inflamed air pipes in the throat and chest.
Create your own temporary sauna by running your shower on its hottest setting and letting steam build up with the bathroom door closed. After a good water vapor builds up, let your dog breathe in the steam for about twenty minutes. Or use a home vaporizer as another way to help your dog breathe easier. Place the unit near the area where your dog sleeps, but not so close that he might burn himself on it or feel tempted to chew on the cord. Optional: add several drops of eucalyptus oil to the water.
Good old-fashioned cure all — chicken soup for the cough
Grandma was right! Medical science finds proof that a homemade concoction of chicken, onions, sweet potato, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery stems, and parsley has anti-inflammatory and healing properties. So, brew up a healthy pot of chicken soup for you and your under-the-weather hound. Just remember to remove the onions before canine consumption. The extra licks (not the ones you will get!) will also help to keep your dog hydrated if also battling a fever.
My dog Rosie
Not all dogs exposed to kennel cough germs will get sick. For my dog Rosie, home away from home is my veterinary clinic and in our past 11 years together, Rosie has not fallen ill to any infectious diseases. Why? I believe her low stress lifestyle and health promoting diet gives her an advantage. In fact, she has never been vaccinated with the bordetella vaccine— no doubt her long term exposure to multiple strains at the clinic has blessed her with natural immunity. And even if your dog does wake you up gagging like there is something stuck in his throat, take some comfort knowing your dog will build up natural immunity with repeated exposure.
Dogs and humans alike are exposed to a countless array of contagious infections by bacteria and viruses. Whether or not we (and our dogs) get sick depends on how well our immune system is functioning at the time of sneaky germ attacks.
For more information on how to prevent illness, review articles posted in the cancer series: Our immune system (when working properly) has the natural ability to find and destroy cancer cells as well as the viruses and bacteria that make us sick.
Don’t let your canine pal be a sitting duck for the next germy bug out here — boost your dog’s immune system with better diets, probiotics, antioxidants, and keep reading Dog-Breath