At least two veterinarians in Lunenburg County are reporting signs of an outbreak of kennel cough, or canine infectious respiratory disease.
Bridgewater's South Shore Veterinary Services posted a warning on its Facebook page advising clients about the concern. Melanie Colwell, one of the owners, told LighthouseNOW on May 11 that the clinic had seen "somewhere upwards of 15 to 20" cases of kennel cough within the previous week.
Lisa Welland, owner of the Chester Basin Animal Hospital, said her clinic had seen "three or four" cases in roughly the same period.
According to the veterinarians, kennel cough is a complex syndrome that can be caused by a number of different infectious bacterial and viral agents.
Welland says the term kennel cough, as the syndrome is commonly referred, is "a bit of a misnomer, because it's not just from kennels. It can be from off-leash dog parks, grooming facilities, puppy classes - really anywhere where dogs kind of form in groups together in close contact with each other."
The symptoms include a gagging, hacking cough, listlessness, loss of appetite and a slight temperature.
"Often people mistake the gagging for vomiting. I have had a couple of cases where the dogs are actually gagging so much that they're bringing up their food and water," said Colwell, adding that owners may assume their pets have stomach issues, "when in fact it's just a severe cough."
Colwell says kennel cough is not fatal, but she conceded it is stressful for dogs and their owners alike. Treatment can be complicated in that swabs of the throat, nostrils and eyelids and sent for testing are expensive and results can take anywhere from 48 hours to five days, and still not be entirely conclusive.
"If the dog is hacking and coughing but otherwise eating and fairly happy then we will treat with a cough suppressant. And that makes the dog feel better and of course then puts the [owner] at ease," said Colwell.
If the symptoms are severe and the owner confirms the dog has been in close proximity to other canines, "then we will add an antibiotic in right away," she said.
Colwell emphasized there is a reluctance amid veterinarians to prescribe antibiotics "judiciously."
"We don't tend to encourage jumping right on that antibiotic wagon, mostly because of the antimicrobial resistance which is quite an issue these days," agreed Welland. Both vets noted antibiotics are effective in treating bacterial infection but not viruses.
"Quite often the leading things in these cases are more viral," said Welland.
The veterinarians advise there is not much that can be done to prevent the syndrome, other than keeping infected dogs away from other animals, which both pet owners and those offering pet services should do.
Colwell says the agent doesn't last in the environment and it's not indicative of the cleanliness of the kennel.
"It just happens. Kids get viruses. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the cleanliness of the day care."
She advises that it's a good idea to have dogs showing the symptoms of kennel cough checked out, "especially if they don't have a history of being in a kennel or being around other dogs recently," since there are a number of reasons why dogs can cough.
A vaccine is available to help prevent kennel cough, but as Welland noted , "vaccines are really only against one bacterial component and two viral components."
However she says her clinic recommends clients whose dogs frequent kennels, grooming facilities or puppy classes to consider a vaccine against kennel cough, "because I think it does lower the risk somewhat."