If you’ve ever had or heard a dog with kennel cough, you know the sound of the hacking cough that is its signature. While rarely life-threatening, the virus is airborne and spreads quickly in a closed environment of barking dogs (hence its name). It is a viral infection caused by parainfluenza or canine adenovirus and is characterized by a dry, hacking cough. In fact, no other symptoms accompany the cough, such as phlegm or fever – just that raspy cough. If not treated properly, a secondary invasion may develop in the form of a bacterial infection (Bordatella bronchiseptica). Bordatella then presents a more hoarse, moist, croupish cough.
Unless the infection has advanced to Bordatella, antibiotics are usually of little use here, and more an example of the overuse of antibiotics as dictated by the pharmaceutical companies. While indicated for Bordatella, please question your vet if (s)he prescribes antibiotics for kennel cough.
First- please give garlic! Garlic fights infection better than any other single herb, and is specific to the respiratory tract, as the essential antibacterial and antiviral constituents found in garlic are excreted through the lungs. Give 1/4 bulb nightly for small dogs, 1/2 bulb for medium-sized dogs, and an entire bulb for large breeds. Contrary to what you may have heard, garlic is not dangerous to dogs (unless fed in excessive quantities for extended periods); in fact, fresh, raw garlic may be beneficial to many dogs by assisting the immune system and helping to fight disease.
Any dog fighting an infection should be fasted and given vitamin supplements. The process of digestion takes a lot of energy, so when your dog is fighting off pathogens, allowing the body to use all of its resources for healing rather than digesting for a day is a good move. Vitamins A, C, and E are most important in supporting the immune response, but you can also aid the immune system and healing process by giving a good whole-food multivitamin. Whole-food vitamins are better recognized and assimilated by the digestive system than synthetics (which are mostly just peed out), so spend your money wisely!
While I’m not usually one to suggest Echinacea, as it seems so overused now, this is one of the few conditions in dogs where it’s clearly indicated. Echinacea is effective in both viral and bacterial infections, and its action is specific to the upper respiratory tract. Though most effective when given at the first hint of symptoms (like the tickling in your throat before a cold comes on), dogs are more sensitive to the effects of herbs, and may respond well to its use.
More specific to bronchitis, Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is primarily an expectorant and may relieve the rawness associated with an unproductive, spasmodic cough. A nice companion to Coltsfoot may be Licorice Root (Glycyrrhica glabra), with its antiviral and antibacterial properties – along with its demulcent action to help soothe the trachea. Other herbs to consider are Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Goldenseal (Hydrastis spp – which is endangered, so Oregon Grape Root [Mahoma aquifolium] is a good substitute), and Lobelia (Lobelia inflata).
Dogs with any form of respiratory infection should spend as much time as possible outside. Breathing fresh air is key in clearing respiration, and our dogs spend so much time indoors, now.
Of course, feeding a quality diet, adding garlic and whole-food vitamins, and ensuring lots of outdoor activity will help to prevent a health condition, to begin with!
Happy and healthy dogs to all.