Symptoms of respiratory disease in dogs are similar to those seen in humans. Nasal congestion and discharge, coughing, fever, runny eyes, sneezing, laboured and/or rapid breathing, general lethargy and a poor appetite are all signs. Any symptom relating to the upper or lower respiratory system needs to be investigated thoroughly as they can range from minor self-limiting problems to life threatening.
A lot of the severe infectious diseases that cause respiratory disease are included in the dog’s annual vaccinations. Canine Distemper is a virus that affects multiple organs but commonly causes a severe respiratory infection that results in Pneumonia. Fortunately, it is rarely seen except in unvaccinated animals. Canine Parainfluenza is a highly contagious viral infection and is similar to the human cold virus. It spreads rapidly between dogs in close proximity to each other. Canine Adenovirus is spread via nasal secretions and coughing - both of these are included in the annual vaccinations. Canine Influenza virus causes a disease similar to flu in humans. It has only been identified recently and in most cases the infection will clear in a couple of weeks, but it can progress to fatal pneumonia in young, elderly or infirm animal.
Bordetella Bronchiseptica infection is more commonly known as Kennel Cough. It attacks the lining of the respiratory tract and inflames the upper airways. It is incredibly contagious and is spread when an infected animal coughs. The dog will have a rapid onset, severe non-productive cough that often sounds as though there is something stuck in the dog’s throat. They usually remain well in themselves and the infection clears in 7-10 days. In more severe cases, the vet will prescribe antibiotics and drugs to reduce inflammation of the airways. Kennel Cough can be vaccinated against with a yearly intranasal vaccine and although not always 100% effective, a vaccinated animal will tend to have less severe symptoms. Outbreaks of Kennel Cough are more common in the summer.
Foreign bodies can become stuck in the nasal passages or at the back of the throat. Grass seeds can be inhaled into the nostrils and this usually results in a violent sneeze and irritation of the nasal passages. If the dog doesn't clear the blockage then as urgent trip to the vet is required for removal. Similarly, at the back of the throat a foreign body will cause a great deal of distress and rapid veterinary attention is required.
Allergies can cause nasal irritation; these are seen more commonly in the summer and can result in sneezing, coughing and nasal discharge. These can be treated with antihistamines or anti-inflammatories.
In older animals, tumours can cause blockages in the upper respiratory tract. These are often on one side so you may see a discharge from one nostril only or facial distortion on one side. These tend to develop slowly so clinical symptoms will be gradual and discharges can become bloody. In smaller dogs, coughing can be due to an anatomical problem called Tracheal Collapse. It is due to malformation of the cartilage rings in the trachea or windpipe. It usually develops as the dog gets older and is difficult to treat although most dogs can cope with the symptoms. In larger dogs, paralysis of the larynx can be a problem as they get older and causes a loud honking cough or noisy breathing. Depending on the severity this can be treated surgically or managed so the dog can live with the symptoms.