With our own cold and flu season well under way, many pet owners may find themselves wondering, can my pet catch a cold? There are a few infections to be aware of that may present with “cold like” symptoms in your pet. For our canine companions the most common infection is kennel cough or bordetella, while our feline friends can have a viral upper respiratory infection.

Kennel cough or Bordetella (Infectious Tracheobronchitis):Kennel cough is an infectious bronchitis (inflammation of the airways); it is usually distinguishable by a harsh, hacking cough, often described by many people as sounding like “something stuck in the dog’s throat.” Some cases of bordetella can be brief and mild requiring no medical treatment, while others can progress to pneumonia depending on the individual animal and infectious agents involved. Kennel cough symptoms usually last 1-2 weeks and generally appear as coughing/hacking fits with an otherwise normal demeanor (no fever, no loss of energy or appetite). Kennel cough can be caused by one or several different infectious agents includingparainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus-2, and a bacteria, Bordetella bronchiseptica. Dogs at risk of infection are those that frequent kennels or boarding facilities, or interact closely with a multitude of other dogs, for example at the dog park or an obedience class. Any place where there are a lot of dogs and poor air circulation or warm air, such as a shelter or grooming facility could also be a source of infection.

When to seek medical attention?: Because Bordetella typically does not require medical attention or treatment it can be difficult to determine at which point, if any, to visit your vet. Dogs make many different and sometimes unrecognizable noises, coughs, hacks, grunts, sneezes, retching and choking sounds so it is important to determine that your dog really is coughing and is not dealing with another issue. If you are unsure, do not hesitate to call your vet or make an appointment. If you have accurately identified your dog to be coughing and have also noticed lethargy, decreased appetite, nasal or ocular discharge or a fever you should visit your vet to rule out a secondary infection. If your dogs’ coughing fits seem to be especially strenuous, worsening or not resolving it is very important to see your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may prescribe a cough suppressant to help keep your dog more comfortable, or in more serious cases a course of antibiotics may be prescribed.

What to do if your dog has kennel cough: Bordetella is highly contagious, if your dog has kennel cough it is important to keep them away from other dogs. An infected dog sheds the bacteria and/or virus through respiratory secretions; these can be transmitted through the air, on toys, food bowls, blankets and other objects. The infected dog can continue to shed the infectious organisms for two to three months following resolution of all outward signs of infection.

Prevention: There is a kennel cough vaccine that can be administered every 6-12 months. Because there are multiple infectious agents involved, there is still a chance of infection in a vaccinated dog; however, the vaccine does generally decrease the severity of clinical signs and limits the duration of infection.

Feline Upper Respiratory Infection: Feline viral upper respiratory disease is a highly contagious “cat cold.” Cats usually become infected through contact with actively infected cats, carrier cats, or contaminated bedding, food dishes, litter trays, etc. Young, stressed or immunocompromised cats are most susceptible to infection; however, cats that come from shelters, go outdoors, or are housed in multiple cat households are the most commonly infected. Nearly 90% of feline upper respiratory infections are caused by either feline herpesvirus(feline viral rhinotracheitis) or feline calcivirus. Common symptoms include sneezing, nasal or eye discharge, inflamed conjunctiva, hypersalivation and decreased appetite. Typically signs last somewhere between 5-10 days, but unfortunately the infection is life long. A recurrence of signs is often brought about by stressful situations such as boarding or kenneling, moving, or any change around the home that could upset the cat. Episodes can recur throughout a cats life, however, as the individual gets older symptoms are often less severe, possibly going unnoticed by owners.

When to see a vet: For many cats, the upper respiratory infection will run its course without any medical intervention; however, more severe cases can warrant a visit to the veterinarian. If your cat is not eating well, has a high fever, lethargy, or is very congested with open mouth breathing they should be seen by the veterinarian. Hospitalization with IV fluids and antibiotics may be needed if the cat becomes dehydrated or a secondary bacterial infection has developed.

Prevention:Feline vaccines are available for herpesvirus, and calicivirus; these are often administered as a “combo” vaccine with feline panleukopenia. Routinely vaccinating your cat can help strengthen their immunity against infection. If you are unsure whether your cat is at risk, contact your vet.

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