Dog Germs 101


Let’s talk about germs! TL;DR: Dogs get ’em too!

After spending 3+ months outside, hiking, camping, and travelling, as we come back together into close environments, exposure to germs and viruses is pretty standard and part of your dog’s development of a healthy immune system and social life…no different than a young child starting school.

Despite vaccination, some dogs can be susceptible to Bordetella, a contagious cough that can be either bacterial or viral and is often referred to as “Canine Cough” or “Kennel Cough.” In most dogs, this presents as a cold, a deep-throated cough aggravated by exercise, hacking, a runny nose, and other moderate symptoms for up to a week. The Bordetella vaccination covers particular strains of the virus, but not necessarily all of them, or all contagious coughs for that matter. Many things vets don’t vaccinate for can routinely cause the same symptoms.

And now the tricky, but not all that surprising part given the way of the world of late: some dogs can have it and not even be showing any signs. 

That means you might have a play date with a friend’s dog or go to the dog park or come to dog daycare, and your pet is fine. But your friend’s dog or another daycare dog along the way shows all the symptoms. So can your dog, who’s healthy as a horse and fully vaccinated, still get it?! Absolutely.

The good thing is, there’s no cause for panic! If your dog is showing signs of Bordatella or has been exposed to the virus, here’s what you should do:

  • Take logical precautions, like keeping your beloved pet up-to-date on their vaccinations.
  • Keep your pet home from daycare, boarding, or the park when it’s showing symptoms. 
  • Return to socialization seven days after they have stopped being symptomatic.
    • This includes your vet’s office! Don’t sit in a lobby full of new and compromised pets with a hacking pup. Call the vet if your pet’s coughing is excessive, accompanied by fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, or other concerning symptoms. The young, the ill, and the compromised also warrant special consideration.

If your dog is healthy with a mild cough, it is possible and usually recommended they forego antibiotics and recover with supportive care like cough suppressants and maybe something to reduce inflammation.

At the end of the day, if your dog develops a slight cough but is otherwise healthy and normal, it should come through the ordeal just fine with a bolstered immune system.

Cue: 🌈 The More You Know!

But wait! There are other germs floating around that my dog can be exposed to! What about those icky things?

In a daycare or dog park environment, your dog will most likely be exposed to Bordatella. Just like when people take their kids to school, they will probably get a cold, head lice, a stomach bug, or one of the many other germs that go around. Things like puppy warts and Giardia are also seen in animals that have close contact with one another, and the younger the dog, the more likely that is, as they are still building up their immune system. 

One of these other germs your dog can be exposed to is puppy warts – small round benign skin tumours caused by a virus. Even though dogs can get warts, they are not caused by the same virus that yields them in humans. The papillomas are round and often have a rough, almost jagged surface (like a cauliflower). They generally occur on the lips and muzzle of a young dog (typically less than two years of age). But don’t fret; these benign tumours are not dangerous! And they should just go away on their own in one to five months. They’ll disappear as the dog’s immune system matures and generates a response against the virus. 

The other most common dog germ you need to be aware of is Giardia, a single-celled parasite that lives in your dog’s intestine. It can infect older dogs, but it more frequently infects puppies. 

Dogs become infected when they ingest Giardia, which may be present in water or dirt. The good news? Most dogs infected with this parasite do not get any disease! Most adult dogs are considered carriers of the parasite but don’t actually show any symptoms. Puppies, however, can develop diarrhea periodically until he is fully grown and can fight off the Giardia more easily. 

So what should you watch out for in your dog? Excessive diarrhea (which can lead to dehydration), lethargy, and vomiting. A trip to the vet will be in the books for you, and they’ll likely send you home with some antibiotics and perhaps some probiotics. Giardia is treatable, but to prevent a possibly stressful situation, you can ensure your dog has access to fresh, clean drinking water, wash your hands after picking up poop, and always keep their water and food dishes clean.

As the world learned over the last year, viruses and germs are terribly persistent, which applies even more to the dog world. Puppies love to put things in their mouths and put their mouths on things – especially their friends! You can tell your kid to wear a mask and stand 6 feet away – you cannot tell your puppy not to lick inside his new friend’s mouth. But in the end, the consequences of not socializing with other animals far outweigh the risk of getting something like Canine Cough.