Sick as a dog: Canine viruses strike

An increasing number of canines has been catching doggie colds, making the outbreak the largest that at least one local veterinarian has seen in the past seven years.

"Kennel cough," also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, can be caused by a number of airborne bacteria and viruses. It can cause a dry-sounding cough followed by dogs retching a white foamy discharge. Animals can contract the disease by being in contact with other dogs, or canines can catch it from people who handle a wide variety of dogs. Cold spells can last up to 10 days, veterinarian Kelly Hepworth of McCandless Animal Hospital said.

"I've seen a handful of cases each day," he said.

"It's as bad as I've seen it in the seven years I've been here."

Veterinarians have noticed the symptoms in dogs for the past three weeks.

Hepworth said he's seen bouts of the disease in pooches during the years, but lately it seems to be spreading quickly. He said that people get the virus on their hands and clothes and pass it back and forth to dogs.

Most dogs are given a vaccine once a year to ward against the cold-like symptoms, but animals can be treated every six months, Hepworth said.

Younger dogs are more resilient to catching the bug, but the virus can be debilitating to older dogs, he said.

A representative at Craig Veterinary Hospital said the facility saw many cases of dogs with the coughing symptoms, but the outbreak seemed to peak during the past week. To guard against the spread of the disease, animals have been ushered into a side door and the waiting room area has been bleached.

Hepworth said it's a tough call whether dog owners should bring their dogs in to get a vaccination or if it's better to keep them at home away from other animals. He said the clinic's staff might be able to administer shots to dogs from inside the owners' cars in an effort to decrease the chance of spreading the disease.

Still, Hepworth urged dog owners not to panic. Similar to a cold or the flu that people can contract in the workplace or at school, kennel cough also will pass. He advised dog owners to keep their animals away from public places until the rash of doggie colds passes.

"I don't want people to freak out," he said. "They might be just as well off to isolate their dogs, rather than take their chances and bringing them in (to vets' clinics)."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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