Canine Upper Respiratory Infections: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

The dog should be weaned before separating from the mother

Upper respiratory infections in dogs are easily transmitted through direct contact with other dogs and contaminated objects like toys and bowls. If your dog is displaying symptoms like coughing, sneezing, or fever, it’s essential to promptly seek veterinary care for diagnosis.

Dogs share more in common with humans than we might think, especially when it comes to their health. If you observe your dog coughing, sneezing, sniffling, or exhibiting a runny nose, it could be indicative of an upper respiratory infection (URI).

Upper respiratory infections in dogs should not be underestimated, given their contagious nature. If your dog presents symptoms akin to a human cold, it’s crucial to limit their interactions with other dogs, as URIs can readily spread. But how do dogs contract upper respiratory infections, and what steps can be taken? Read on to explore canine upper respiratory infections, including their causes, variations, and treatment options.

Understanding Upper Respiratory Infections

Upper respiratory infections in dogs affect areas such as the nose, throat, sinuses, and lungs. These infections are highly contagious and are transmitted through viral and bacterial agents via direct contact and airborne exposure, entering the dog’s body through the mouth or nose. Dogs can spread URIs when they sneeze, cough, breathe, or contaminate objects like toys during play. These infections are commonly encountered in places where dogs have extensive contact, such as boarding facilities, daycares, pet shelters, and kennels. However, any dog can contract an upper respiratory infection due to their ease of transmission.

How Dogs Contract Upper Respiratory Infections

Upper respiratory infections in dogs are exceedingly contagious, with dogs contracting them through direct contact with infected dogs or contaminated objects like tennis balls. Many dogs will experience at least one respiratory infection in their lifetime, with most having the immunity to fend off severe illnesses. Since these infections spread through contact with other dogs and contaminated objects, they are prevalent in locations where dogs congregate or are housed together, such as grooming facilities, daycares, boarding establishments, and pet shelters. Nevertheless, dogs can also contract these infections at dog parks or during walks, even without direct contact with infected dogs.

Upper respiratory infections in dogs are often referred to as “kennel cough” when triggered by bacterial agents, as they are commonly associated with kennel environments. A prevalent symptom is a dry cough, with Bordetella, a bacterium, being one of the primary pathogens causing upper respiratory infections in dogs. It spreads through close dog-to-dog contact and can also be transmitted through shared objects, like toys and bowls. Additionally, upper respiratory infections may result from other bacterial and viral pathogens, including viruses like distemper and influenza.

Varieties of Upper Respiratory Infections in Dogs

Various types of upper respiratory infections can affect dogs, with “kennel cough” being one of the most frequently encountered. Other terms used to describe canine upper respiratory infections include laryngotracheitis, infectious tracheobronchitis (ITB), and infectious respiratory disease.2

Apart from bacteria and viruses, some parasites can lead to upper respiratory infections in dogs, including nasal mites, which may induce symptoms such as reverse sneezing, snorting, and breathing difficulties.

Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infections in Dogs

Symptoms of upper respiratory infections in dogs resemble those of colds or flu in humans, with “kennel cough” being primarily associated with a dry, honking cough.1 Additional common symptoms include nasal discharge and foamy saliva.1 Other potential symptoms encompass:

  • Sneezing
  • Eye discharge
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Weakness

Untreated “kennel cough” can progress into pneumonia, which can manifest as a wet cough and pose significant health risks. In the event of illness, it is advisable to consult a veterinarian promptly to avert potentially life-threatening complications.

Diagnosis of Upper Respiratory Infections in Dogs

If you suspect your dog is suffering from an upper respiratory infection, it is essential to seek veterinary guidance without delay. Veterinarians diagnose these infections based on clinical signs and may employ supplementary diagnostic methods such as radiography, cytology, and bacterial culture.2 Nasal biopsies may be performed to identify the specific pathogens affecting the airways.

Contagious Nature of Dogs with Upper Respiratory Infections

Dogs with upper respiratory infections are highly contagious and should be isolated from other dogs. Consequently, if your dog exhibits symptoms indicative of an upper respiratory infection, it is advisable to abstain from visits to grooming facilities, dog parks, and daycare centers. In households with multiple pets, it is prudent to keep infected dogs separated until the infection has resolved.

Unfortunately, dogs carrying upper respiratory infections can be asymptomatic.1 This presents one of the challenges associated with URIs in dogs, as the absence of apparent symptoms may inadvertently lead to interactions with other dogs, facilitating the spread of the illness. Dogs can remain contagious for up to two weeks, and by the time clinical signs become evident, they may have already been spreading the infection for several days. Consequently, it is vital to isolate infected dogs as soon as signs of illness are detected.

Furthermore, it is recommended to limit the objects your dog comes into contact with, especially when such objects are shared with other dogs in the household. For instance, shared food or water bowls should be kept separate until your dog is no longer contagious. By properly cleaning your dog’s toys, food and water bowls, and other items they have interacted with, you can effectively eliminate pathogens and minimize the risk of infection transmission.

Even after your dog has made a recovery and appears to be in good health, it is advisable to continue isolating them from other dogs for at least a week or two, as they may still carry the potential for contagion.

Typically, upper respiratory infections in dogs are mild and resolve within one to two weeks. Nevertheless, their capacity for transmission through direct contact and the air necessitates timely veterinary intervention. While humans are not susceptible to dog upper respiratory infections, they can serve as carriers and indirectly spread the infection to other dogs.

Treatment for Upper Respiratory Infections in Dogs

Upon diagnosis of an upper respiratory infection in your dog, your veterinarian may offer recommendations for at-home care. Most infections are self-limiting, meaning the dog’s immune system will effectively combat the infection without necessitating medical intervention.1 In certain cases, your veterinarian may suggest treatments to alleviate your dog’s symptoms, which can include:

  • Cough suppressants
  • Steam inhalation
  • Avoidance of collars
  • Providing a nutritious diet
  • Limiting exercise
  • Ensuring proper hydration

In instances where the causative agent is bacterial, antibiotics may be prescribed to bolster the dog’s defense against the infection. It is important to note that antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections but do not combat viral infections. Commonly used antibiotics for treating URIs in dogs include:

  • Doxycycline: This antibiotic is also employed in human medicine to address bacterial infections and can be used for respiratory infections in dogs.
  • Azithromycin: An alternative antibiotic to doxycycline, azithromycin is used when the former is not suitable.
  • Prescription nose drops: These drops can specifically target bacteria in your dog’s nasal passages and may include substances such as lincomycin to clear airways and prevent dehydration, thereby supporting the immune system.

In most instances, dogs with upper respiratory infections will not require medication, and supportive care will aid in their recovery. Several steps can be taken at home to enhance your dog’s comfort and alleviate symptoms. It is vital to ensure proper diagnosis by a veterinarian before attempting any home remedies.

Caring for Your Dog with an Upper Respiratory Infection

If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from an upper respiratory infection, it is essential to seek a professional diagnosis from a veterinarian. Numerous symptoms of URIs in dogs are akin to those of other infections and illnesses, underscoring the importance of veterinary assessment to ensure appropriate care.

Providing your dog with a comfortable and quiet resting place is crucial for their recovery. Rest is essential for healing, and creating a peaceful environment will help your dog recuperate. Given that unwell dogs typically have reduced energy, outdoor play or exercise should be minimal, with only essential outings for bathroom breaks. Forcing your dog to engage in physical activities when they are unwell is not advisable.

Preventing Your Dog from Developing an Upper Respiratory

Infection Regrettably, many dogs may encounter upper respiratory infections during their lifetime. Fortunately, such infections are typically mild and resolve within a few days or weeks. The most effective approach to prevention and controlling the spread of URIs is to schedule annual wellness examinations with your veterinarian.1 These appointments typically include vaccination boosters to enhance the dog’s immune system’s ability to combat pathogens that cause kennel cough and other infections.

Vaccinations that your dog should receive on a regular schedule include DHPP (Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, Parainfluenza), Bordetella, and canine influenza vaccines. If you are unsure about your dog’s vaccination schedule, you can contact your veterinarian’s office for guidance.

Final Remarks

Safeguarding your dog against upper respiratory infections is of paramount importance. Reflect on the last time you experienced a cold or flu. The symptoms you encounter are akin to what your dog might undergo if they contract kennel cough or another upper respiratory infection, potentially affecting their quality of life. Furthermore, these infections can progress to life-threatening pneumonia. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure your dog receives appropriate vaccinations, especially if they have contact with other dogs or frequent places like grooming facilities and daycare centers.

If your dog exhibits symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, or any other signs of illness, it is advisable to promptly consult a veterinarian. Dutch offers convenient access to the care your pet needs from the comfort of your home. We can assist in diagnosing and treating upper respiratory infections in dogs, improving your dog’s comfort as they recover