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A dry, hacking cough that sounds like something might be stuck in the dog's throat is one of the symptoms of Kennel Cough. Bordetella Bronchiseptica has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days. It's often caught while dogs are boarded in kennels (hence the name) or even in dog obedience classes, dog parks, vet waiting rooms, etc.. It's more commonly passed along in poorly ventilated areas (and puppies in pet stores or shelters are especially vulnerable). It's a bacteria which in normal situations isn't especially difficult to treat. There is usually a secondary infection (or more) that needs to be addressed in order to eliminate the problem, so a vet check is warranted. The treatment is an antibiotic medication that may be given with a cough suppressant (a med that is prescribed).
In dogs with immune system or other problems, this could be a more serious condition and indicate emergency treatment to insure a better chance of survival.
Other causes for dog coughing are environmental, like cigarette smoke exposure, dust, temperature extremes (too hot, too cold) and even stress. It could be tracheal disease or just allergies.
Heartworm may cause coughing, shortness of breath and other signs of distress.
To make him more comfortable until you see the vet: Some people recommend Robitussin DM .5 to 1 mg per pound. There are eye dropper/measuring delivery systems available for baby care in most pharmacy aisles of stores. They're great to have on hand for pets.
Setting up a vaporizer (without medications in it) in the room with the dog may also prove helpful. Offering a heat source such as a heating pad set on low, beneath their bedding may make them more comfortable too; however, I prefer to avoid electric sources an animal may gnaw on. We use rice socks. Fill any clean sock ¾ of the way with uncooked rice and knot the end closed. Microwave this for 1 to 1 ½ minutes, shake it out to distribute the heat and make sure it's not too hot - tuck it in the dog's bedding - it stays warm and holds body heat for hours. It's very important to remember that these are just temporary, possible reliefs - in no way a cure. These will not make the animal ‘better'.
For more dog-cough information: http://www.canismajor.com/dog/cough.html
You ask a very, very good question here.
Also, there are 9 types of vaccines available against Bordetellosis, usually products with whole cell bacterin, extracted cellular antigens or avirulent live culture. Some are intranasal (rather than injectable).
An interesting note is that among veterinarians, there is a differing opinion as to the necessity of these vaccinations, as well as how effective they actually are and whether or not the protection lasts.
So, yes - it's some protection, but no - it's not 100% protection.
Columbia Animal Hospital provides more http://www.cah.com/dr_library/kennekcough.html
It's still better to have these vaccinations than to not have them.
Also, remember, this could be something else. An allergic reaction to something or perhaps he actually did eat something wrong like a bone or piece of a toy, rawhide or ball? Dogs can be vacuum cleaners! Do you think there's any chance of this?
Well, let's take a step back and try to associate this with something in particular, or not.
Is Bentley still eating and drinking normally? No constipation or diarrhea?
Has he been around any other dogs in the last 2 weeks, or dog areas, parks, the vet, groomer or boarding?
Any changes in his food ?
How long has this cough been happening?
I'm still leaning toward bordetella, especially with the words "I notice it more at night" and that he's been around another dog, plus in the vet's office for teeth cleaning.
Everything else seems as it should be and that he's moving stool and urine normally - it's probably not a blockage. Also, since it's been going on for a while, even more against it being a blockage.
Try installing the vaporizer (without meds) and giving him a heat source for more comfort and possibly his sleeping through the night - but a course of antibiotics is probably going to be necessary so seeing the vet really has to be done.
This is actually good news you know? If it were a blockage or foreign object ingestion you might be looking at surgery and at the very least a sedation/anesthesia and endoscopy. Kennel Cough is relatively 'easy' to treat.