Hi everyone! I’m one of your local neighborhood vets, and today I wanted to discuss a couple of the hot topic items in the veterinary field right now - upper respiratory infections in dogs and allergies. We want you to understand these conditions, why you should know about them, and help you to help your pet!


Upper Respiratory Infection in Dogs

First, let’s talk about “kennel cough”. The technical term for this is canine infectious tracheobronchitis, which is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection, typically caused by a complex of both bacterial and viral components.


We vaccinate for bordetella, which is a bacterial component of this complex, but it is not a perfect vaccine due to ongoing mutations and multiple strains. The vaccine can help to reduce your pet’s clinical signs, however.


Dogs can get this infection by being in close contact with other infected dogs, and typically young dogs and elderly dogs are more susceptible to this due to weakened immune systems.


Chihuahua getting medication


Kennel Cough Symptoms in Dogs

Dogs can get this infection by being in close contact with other infected dogs, and typically young dogs and elderly dogs are more susceptible to this due to weakened immune systems. Dogs will typically start having a “hacking” cough - it sounds like they are trying to hack something up but nothing comes up. They may have foamy bile/foam from coughing so hard that they try to vomit. Rarely do we actually see pets stuck with something in their throat. Dogs with kennel cough generally still want to eat and drink, and most of them have a normal to a slight decrease in activity level. In general, kennel cough is often self-limiting, meaning that within days to a couple of weeks, the pet can clear the infection on its own.


The incubation period to show clinical signs ranges from about 3-10 days. Depending on the severity of your pet’s clinical signs, cough suppressants and sometimes antibiotics can be prescribed to help your pet improve. The viral portion of this complex will run its course while the bacterial portion and cough may be treated.


Right now, there is a HUGE outbreak of this in the US with dogs, and we are experiencing the same here in Austin right now. We are even seeing more abnormal presentations than normal - some of them are having colored nasal discharge, eye discharge, and we are even seeing more pets getting pneumonia with this current outbreak. Pneumonia signs in dogs can include lethargy, fever, decreased appetite, and an increased breathing rate. In fact, we are even seeing some cases where pets are not responding to our traditional therapy as well as we would expect and have to change up our treatment plan. Pneumonia is treated differently than “kennel cough,” and radiographs (x-rays) are needed to diagnose this.


Please monitor your pet closely for this hacking cough, especially if your dog was in close contact with other dogs recently, and please take them to see your vet to discuss appropriate treatment! You may even consider trying to find someone to come to your home to watch your animals right now to help prevent this from happening to your pet!


Signs of Allergies in Dogs

Now, let’s talk about allergies in dogs! We live in Austin, aka Allergy City, and just like with people, we see many dogs and cats with allergies at this time.


Dog irritated by flea


Flea Allergy in Dogs

Fleas are REALLY bad right now too, so please make sure your pet is on good year-round flea prevention. Fleas contribute to your pet’s itch level, so eliminating this as a cause is super helpful when you come to see your vet. Typically their back end near the tail base and the backs of their legs get itchy with fleas.


Environmental Allergies in Dogs

Environmental allergies, which is called atopy or atopic dermatitis in pets, are your weeds, grasses, pollens, etc. that your pet is allergic to. About 10-20% of dogs and cats have atopy, so you are not alone if you have an itchy pet! We often see their itch seasonally, but in some cases, it can be year-round. The allergens are airborne, so even if your pet is indoors a lot, they can still have environmental allergies. While humans often get a snotty nose or congestion, dogs and cats tend to manifest differently - their skin and ears are often affected. Common sites of itch for atopy are scratching/licking/chewing at their paws, sides/belly, legs, ears, and snout areas. We do see some pets that get red eyes with discharge, a clear runny nose with sneezing, and some pets that cough (bronchitis from allergies), but this is much less common compared to skin/ear itch.


We can often manage, but not cure atopy. We will often use medicated shampoos, prescription anti-itch medications (Cytopoint, Apoquel, sometimes steroids if appropriate), fish oil, and environmental control to help control your pet’s allergies. Skin allergy testing can be performed by a vet dermatologist so that you can find out what your pet is allergic to and then give them desensitizing injections over time. Over-the-counter antihistamines (such as plain Zyrtec or Benadryl) can be used in mild cases, but are typically only effective in about 20% of pets. Our goal is to control their itch, wash off allergens on their body, and prevent them from getting secondary infections from their allergies. It is often much more affordable to have a good maintenance protocol for these guys than for us to have to resolve the secondary skin and ear infections they obtained from their allergies AND also get their itch under control.


Border Collie rolling in foliage


Most Common Food Allergies in Dogs

The last allergy that we will often see is a food allergy, but a true food allergy is actually VERY uncommon - these pets are itchy year-round because they are eating the same inciting allergen every day, and it is typically the protein source and NOT the grain source that they are allergic to.


Their ears and anal area (licking/scooting) are the most common areas of itch. These dogs typically need a prescription hypoallergenic diet to help control their itch. There is no specific test to check for a food allergy - the only way to diagnose a food allergy is with a strict 2-3 month prescription food trial.


So, the bottom line is that if your pet is often licking or chewing somewhere, this is not normal! Dogs rarely lick out of “boredom” or “anxiety” - they often lick or chew because they are itchy, and we have things to help keep them more comfortable! Please take your pet to the vet if you notice these things. We can help figure out what type of allergy your pet may have and what you can do to help them out!


Irritated dog biting fur


Lastly, we would love to thank Martin’s Wellness/Lamar Plaza Drug Store for allowing us to talk about pets! We highly recommend them, especially for our specific compounded pet medications, such as when we have pets that won’t take medications well, or when we need a dose that doesn’t come in the formulation/dose/route we need to help that patient out. Their customer service is exceptional, they are efficient, and they are always willing to try to problem-solve our needs to help our furry friends!



Dr. Cheryl York


Dr. Cheryl York

Bluebonnet Riverside Vet


Dr. Cheryl York received her Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Tech University in 2009, then went on to graduate from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine in 2014. She practiced in Southern California for several years prior to her recent move back to Texas to settle down and establish roots in Austin.