Dogs With Upper Respiratory Infections: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

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Dogs are more like humans than you might think, especially regarding their health. If you notice your dog coughing, sneezing, sniffling, or they have a runny nose, it could indicate an upper respiratory infection (URI).

Upper respiratory infections in dogs should not be taken lightly. If your dog exhibits symptoms similar to a cold in humans, you should limit their contact with other dogs because URIs in dogs are highly contagious. But how do dogs get upper respiratory infections, and what can you do about it? Keep reading to learn more about dog upper respiratory infections, including causes, types, and treatments. 

What Are Upper Respiratory Infections?

Upper respiratory infections in dogs affect your dog's nose, throat, sinuses, and lungs.1 They're highly contagious and spread through viral and bacterial pathogens through direct contact and in the air, entering the dog's body through its mouth or nose.1  Dogs can spread URIs when they sneeze, cough, breathe, or infect objects like toys when playing with them. These infections are most common in boarding facilities, daycares, pet shelters, and kennels because there are places where dogs have the most direct contact with one another. However, any dog can get an upper respiratory infection because they're so easily spread. 

How Do Dogs Get Upper Respiratory Infections?

URIs in dogs are highly contagious, and dogs can become infected when they have direct contact with a sick dog or an infected object like a tennis ball. Many dogs will have at least one respiratory infection in their lives, but most have the immunity to protect them from serious illnesses. Since respiratory infections in dogs are spread through contact with other dogs and infected objects, they're most common in places where dogs are grouped or housed together, such as groomers, daycares, boarding facilities, and pet shelters. However, your dog can also be infected at the dog park or while on walks, even if they don't have direct contact with an infected dog.2 

Dog upper respiratory infections are most commonly known as kennel cough when caused by a bacterial pathogen because they're associated with kennels. The most common symptom is a dry cough. One of the main pathogens that cause upper respiratory infections in dogs is Bordetella, which spreads through close contact between dogs and can be transmitted through infected objects, such as when dogs share toys or bowls. However, upper respiratory infections can also be caused by other bacterial and viral pathogens, such as viruses like distemper and influenza. 

Types of Upper Respiratory Infections In Dogs

There are several types of upper respiratory infections in dogs, but kennel cough is one of the most common. There are many other names for upper respiratory infections in dogs, including laryngotracheitis, infectious tracheobronchitis (ITB), and infectious respiratory disease.2

Bordetella, a bacteria, and parainfluenza virus are other common pathogens that can cause upper respiratory infections in dogs, along with canine respiratory coronavirus and herpesvirus.1 

In addition to bacteria and viruses, some parasites can cause upper respiratory infections in dogs, including canine nasal mites that may cause reverse sneezing, snorting, and difficulty breathing. 

Dog upper respiratory infection symptoms

Dog Upper Respiratory Infection Symptoms

In dogs, upper respiratory infection symptoms resemble a cold or flu in humans. However, kennel cough is most commonly associated with a dry, honking cough.1 Dogs can also develop nasal discharge and foamy saliva.1 In addition to the common symptoms, dogs may also experience the following:

When left untreated, kennel cough can turn into pneumonia, resulting in a wet cough. Pneumonia can be dangerous, so you should take your dog to the vet for treatment as soon as you think they're sick to prevent a potentially life-threatening illness. 

How Are Dogs Diagnosed With A Respiratory Infection?

If you believe your dog has an upper respiratory infection, you should consult a vet as soon as possible. Your vet will diagnose your dog based on clinical signs and other tests, such as radiography, cytology, and bacterial culture.2 They may also do a nasal biopsy to identify pathogens affecting the airways. 

Are Dogs With An Upper Respiratory Infection Contagious? For How Long?

Dogs with an upper respiratory infection are highly contagious and should be quarantined from other dogs. Therefore, if you believe your dog has an upper respiratory infection, you should stop taking them to the groomer, dog parks, and daycare facilities. If you have other pets in the home, it's best to separate them until the infection is gone. 

Unfortunately, dogs with upper respiratory infections can be asymptomatic.1 This is one of the many reasons URIs are so dangerous for dogs; since you can't always tell when your dog isn't feeling well, you might accidentally take them to places where they can infect other dogs. Dogs are contagious for up to two weeks, so even when your dog starts displaying symptoms, they may have already been contagious for a few days. 

As soon as your dog starts exhibiting signs of illness, you should keep them home as much as possible and limit the objects they touch, especially if those objects are shared with other dogs in the home. For example, if your dogs share food or water bowls, you should keep them separate until your dog is no longer contagious, which can take months, depending on the pathogens involved.1 Luckily, washing your dog's toys, food and water bowls, and anything else they've touched should eliminate the pathogens and prevent the spread of the illness. 

Once your dog is diagnosed with URI, you should contact any pet owners whose pets may have come into contact with your dog to prevent this serious illness from spreading and get dogs early treatment whenever possible. Even once your dog is feeling better, you should continue to keep them away from other dogs for at least a week or two since they might still be contagious. 

Usually, these infections are mild and should resolve within one to two weeks.1 However, since they can spread through direct contact and the air, you should contact your vet for diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. While humans can't get dog upper respiratory infections, they can spread the infection from dog to dog.3

Treatment for upper respiratory infections

Treatment For Upper Respiratory Infections In Dogs

Once your dog is diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection, your vet may offer tips to help you care for them at home. Most infections are self-limiting, meaning the dog's body will fight the infection without needing medical intervention.1 Your vet might suggest any of the following treatments to soothe your dog's symptoms:

  • Cough suppressants
  • Breathing in steam
  • Avoiding collars
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Limiting exercise
  • Staying hydrated

 If the pathogen that caused your dog's upper respiratory infection is bacterial, your vet may prescribe antibiotics to help your dog's body fight the infection. Antibiotics can be used to fight Bordetella and other bacteria, but they're not effective against viruses. A few antibiotics your vet might use to treat URI in dogs include the following: 

  • Doxycycline: If you're ever had a bacterial infection, your doctor may have prescribed doxycycline, which can also be used to treat respiratory infections in dogs. 
  • Azithromycin: Azithromycin is another popular antibiotic if doxycycline isn't an option. 
  • Prescription nose drops: Nose drops can help target bacteria in your pet's nose and can include lincomycin to clear the airways and prevent dehydration to support healthy immune function.

However, in most cases, dogs won't need medication, and supportive care will ensure your dog can get better as soon as possible. You can do many things at home to make your dog more comfortable and reduce their symptoms. A few tips for caring for your dog with an upper respiratory infection at home include:

  • Have them diagnosed: Many symptoms of URIs in dogs are similar to other types of infections, illnesses, and diseases. You should never try to treat your dog at home until you know what you're dealing with. Having your dog diagnosed by a vet will ensure you are taking the proper precautions at home. 
  • Give them a cozy spot: Your dog needs rest to get better, so they should have their own cozy spot away from the hustle and bustle of the house, where they can rest and relax. Your dog won't want to do much when they're not feeling well, so giving them a comfortable place to rest is crucial. 
  • Exercise less: If your dog usually loves being active, you may be tempted to engage them in play. However, they need their rest. Therefore, you should only take your dog outside for potty breaks and let them spend most of their time sleeping or lounging inside. Never force your dog to play when they don't want to, especially when they're not feeling well. 

Prevention tips for URIs

Preventing Your Dog From Developing An Upper Respiratory Infection

Unfortunately, many dogs get upper respiratory infections in their lifetimes. Luckily, they're usually mild, and dogs can recover within a few days or weeks. The best way to prevent upper respiratory infections and prevent their spread is by visiting your vet for yearly wellness exams.1 During these exams, your dog will receive their vaccination boosters to help their immune systems fight pathogens that can cause kennel cough and other infections. 

Your dog should receive their DHPP, Bordetella, parainfluenza, and canine influenza vaccinations on a regular schedule. However, if you're unsure when your dog should get their next vaccination, you can call your vet's office for more information. 

Owner comforting Shiba Inu in their lap

Final Notes

Protecting your dog from upper respiratory infections is crucial. Consider the last time you had a cold or the flu. Those symptoms are what your dog may experience if they get kennel cough or another upper respiratory virus that can affect their quality of life. In addition, these infections can progress to life-threatening pneumonia, so you should ensure your dog is vaccinated, especially if they spend any time with other dogs or places where dogs are, such as the groomers or daycare facilities. 

If your dog is experiencing coughing, sneezing, or any other signs of illness, you should consult a vet as soon as possible. Dutch makes it easy to get the care your pet needs from the comfort of your own home. We can help diagnose and treat dog upper respiratory infections to make your dog more comfortable while they fight their infection. Try Dutch today. 

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References

  1. Johnstone, Gemma. “Upper Respiratory Infections in Dogs: What You Need to Know.” American Kennel Club, 17 Nov. 2022, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/upper-respiratory-infections-dogs-need-know/.

  2. Vieson, Miranda D, et al. “A Review of the Pathology and Treatment of Canine Respiratory Infections.” Veterinary Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, 26 June 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6065594/.

  3. “Respiratory Disease in Canines.” Animal Humane Society, https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/health/respiratory-disease-canines.

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