By Jennifer Broome, QK Owner
Please be aware that I write this article as feedback from being a kennel owner now for nearly 20 years. I am not a veterinarian, a scientist who studies canine diseases or someone at all with a medical background. However, as a dog lover and commercial kennel owner I make it my duty to learn as much as I can about canine illnesses, I educate myself through online articles, books and most importantly the direct feedback of the many veterinarians that I respect and reach out to.
This summer we experienced another bout of canine viruses at QK and my goodness did it stress us out! The employees at QK love dogs, love caring for dogs, and they take incredible pride in their work with the dogs. When we need to call you to inform you that your dog is sick it literally makes us sick too. So, why and how do dogs get sick?
Well, in general, any time you have groups of dogs together, they can easily spread parasites, diseases and viruses. No matter how diligently we scrub, clean and disinfect our kennel building daily it is the constant coming and going of dogs that bring in the illnesses. Dogs are physical, they play mouth to mouth, and they think NOTHING of eating poop, licking other dogs, putting everything and anything in their mouths and licking their feet after they’ve run through the grass, dirt, and water. This is just a recipe to get sick easily!
Let’s start with parasites such as worms and giardia. Statistics say that nearly 50% of puppies and young dogs will get worms, coccidia or giardia. With young immune systems, not only is it more difficult to ward off the parasites, but puppies EAT EVERYTHING! Getting worms is easy! Want tape worms? Eat a little dead animal such as a rotting mouse carcass. OR, just eat a flea. Want to pick up some giardia!? Well contrary to what some people think (only by drinking contaminated water), giardia is most easily spread by cysts that are shed from an infected animal. They can survive for weeks in the environment as cysts (often in soil, wet areas, grass), and when they are ingested by an unsuspecting host, they turn into trophozoites and repeat the life cycle. So even with our meticulous poop pick-up, dogs can shed these cysts and other dogs can step in the poop remnants, lick their foot or even pick up a stick or eat grass that has the cysts on them. These parasites are fairly easy to diagnose once a dog has acquired them (most common is diarrhea that is very fowl-smelling for giardia) or you will see worms in their stools (tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, oh yum!). At QK we spend WAY too much time examining poop… but this helps us to learn more about the health and wellness of the dogs in our care!
Have you REALLY looked in your dog’s mouth!? Well, in our training program we make a habit of touching the dogs all over and giving them thorough examinations as part of our training, desensitizing and handling. Sadly we cannot do this with many of our boarding dogs because they are so ill-behaved they will not allow us to examine their mouths. It is not all that uncommon for me to find the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) in puppy’s mouths, especially those pups that have previously been to dog parks or daycare. These are viral mouth warts that are pretty gross and very contagious and typically affect young dogs under the age of 2 because, once again, their immune systems are not fully developed. These oral warts are small benign tumors found on the lips, gums, and mouth. They are easily spread when dogs make direct mouth contact, share toys or eat/drink out of the same bowl. While some cases may need veterinary intervention if the dog has so many growths it affects eating or becomes infected, most often there are just small clusters that go away on their own within 1 to 5 months as the affected dog’s immune system matures and mounts a response to the virus. Last year I adopted a lab pup who came from a NYC family. This pup had HPV and readily gave it to my own lab puppy who grossly developed a mouthful of the warts. Other than being really yucky, they were gone within 1 or 2 months, but not before she so nicely spread it to some other pups I was raising. Even my 3 year GSP got a few in his mouth; oh what fun!
And lastly, the worst of the canine sicknesses we all too often experience involves coughs and respiratory illnesses. It is common that nearly twice a year we contract a respiratory virus at the kennel, often around the holidays when we are super busy and just one dog brings it in despite not showing any symptoms. In fact, dogs are typically contagious BEFORE they even start to cough, so once they start coughing, they already spread the virus. Since the holidays are the busiest times of the year, the windows are shut (baby it’s cold outside!) and the heat is blasting, this dog-packed toasty environment can be a nice host for those pesky viruses. Then we also seem to see cases by mid-summer when again we are full of dogs in boarding and training, it is extremely hot and humid, and we need to keep the buildings shut with the air blasting to keep our canine guests comfortable. Despite our incredibly modern filtration systems, air exchange system and meticulous disinfecting, the viruses thrive in these environments.
Each year we examine the illnesses that we encounter, we reach out to dozens of veterinarians to compare what they are seeing, and we get advice on how to manage and treat the illnesses. We experienced our first case of mild canine cough at the end of July this year. At first it seemed like a mild strain. While often referred to as kennel cough, Bordatella bronchiseptica is an easily contracted bacteria that causes a hacking cough or, occasionally a runny nose. Any pet can get the disease, and many cases are self-limiting enough that they require no treatment at all. BUT, in a kennel environment when your dog, simply put, is more stressed than leisurely living in their own homes, your dog can not so easily fight off the illness. Our local veterinarian prefers to put all dogs on Doxycycline right away to help ward off secondary infections. One of our client veterinarians recently said he has seen over 500 cough cases last month! Another client’s dog contracted the cough at the dog show circuit. This has been a bad year. Through August and into September with a packed house of dogs we just could not seem to eradicate the virus. Not only were we seeing the common Bordatella, we took the initiative to cover the costs for tests to swab several dogs to see what was being transmitted. We had identified several different species of bacteria. While we commit ourselves at QK to 100% transparency and we started to warn all of our clients back at the end of August in and early September, we soon realized that unless we began to send dogs home and try to empty the kennel, we could not get rid of the looming viruses. We sent all of our training dogs home by mid-October and closed down the building for 2 weeks. We brought any new dogs into the Lodge building to keep them isolated.
Thankfully in November, we saw a healthy kennel again with just a few cases of sniffles and minor coughs. Now in December, we have put our new protocol into place requiring ALL of our boarding and training dogs to have the 2 part bivalent canine flu vaccine. The recently-developed canine influenza vaccine can help reduce the spread of this disease and the severity of its symptoms. The vaccine can also reduce the occurrence of the disease and prevent complications such as pneumonia. However, it doesn’t prevent dogs from contracting the infection. It does decrease the duration of coughing and the severity of lung lesions. The vaccine has been successfully tested on dogs and is found to be safe and well-tolerated by pets. While thank goodness we have NEVER experienced the canine flu at QK, it certainly has been seen in nearly every state in the US and we are helping to protect our dogs from an outbreak.
We explain much of our protocols and vaccine requirements in our boarding contracts. We warn that dogs are more susceptible to illnesses in group settings no different when people pack into an airplane and share the same air or we gather together with a variety of family and friends at the holidays. We all seem to get sicknesses from these occasions at some time or another.
While a healthy dog with a strong immune system can easily ward off illnesses, younger dogs, immune-compromised dogs and older dogs can certainly be at risk. An upper respiratory infection in some dogs can turn to pneumonia in a flash although fairly uncommon. If you are concerned about your dog’s health and want to have them covered for accidents, illnesses and injuries which can ultimately be very costly, I highly recommend Healthy Paws Canine Insurance.
By clicking here we link you to our Healthy Paws partnership. I personally have 4 of my 7 dogs insured and honestly, their health insurance is far better than my own. I pay $250 total for all 4 dogs each month. Just a few weeks ago my show/field German Shorthaired Pointer needed facial surgery after a porcupine encounter on our Michigan hunting trip. The surgery cost over $3,400; thankfully Healthy Paws covered 80%. In the past, another one of my competitive field labs needed two emergency exploratory surgeries for a painful and distended belly. Turned out he had a spleen torsion and those bills were over $8,000 and 80% covered. My sweet field lab, Treat, also endured 2 years of leg surgeries and rehabilitation after an ACL tear then LDE tear, and her medical bills were nearly $15,000. Yup, once again covered!
So, while we do our very best at QK to keep your dogs safe, happy and healthy, we do not keep them in a bubble. We let them romp, play, chase birds, socialize and exercise. Accidents, illnesses and injuries can occur, and for your dog’s well-being please consider getting them health insurance. The piece of mind knowing that you can pursue high quality medical, specialty and emergency treatment is incredibly valuable and comforting for our furry family members.