You know what really sucks? The flu. We’ve all been there. One minute you’re feeling great, until all of a sudden it starts; the scratchy throat, the sneezing, the runny nose. The body aches are the worst as far as I’m concerned, but for an active young adult like me, maybe that’s to be expected. Either way, regardless of your opinions of the worst symptom, we can all agree – getting the flu, SUCKS. There is one bright side to getting the flu though; nine times out of ten, it’s over in a week and you’re feeling right as rain. If you’re one of the unlucky few with a compromised immune system, I feel for you; you’re the reason we invest so heavily in flu vaccines, disinfectants and cover your mouth campaigns. Of course, that’s never enough. The flu – caused by the always irritating influenza virus – is a sneaky little bugger. It changes its hat and outer coat all the time, sneaking in the backdoor of our immune system when we aren’t looking. It looks the same on the inside, but different strains – mutations caused by exposure to new pathogens and disinfectants – hide this fact with well-engineered camouflage. If you’re struggling with it, here’s an analogy.
Your immune system is like a well-honed military force. Every single cell of the immune system has a very specific task that it performs and boy do they do it well. What you may not realize is that the immune system is so much more like the military than you think. Much like the armed forces, the immune system has a very large infantry force with basic training, from the get go, ready to go out and attack whatever threatens our body. This force is known as your innate immune system; you’re born with it and without it, we’d never make it past infancy. It’s incredibly good at looking for markers on cells that don’t resemble those in the human body; with bacteria, the presence of a cell wall – rather than a cell membrane – is like a giant red flag. It tells our infantry force that this is an enemy invader, who must be stopped. They wear the uniform of a different army, which makes it very simple for our body to recognize and destroy the invader. Now, what happens when that enemy puts on a uniform that looks an awful lot like our own? That’s where things get interesting and where our immune system has to get a little creative.
Viruses engineer themselves to hide in plain sight, by blending in with the cells that exist in our body naturally. They put on the camouflage jackets and walk amongst the infantry forces like they belong there, doing damage while no one sees. Seems like our infantry force is outclassed, so it’s a good thing that we’ve got more going for us. Like the US Navy has SEAL Team Six, we have acquired immunity. B Cells and T Cells are the major components of acquired immunity, developing slowly in the bone marrow before being shipped off to the thymus to receive their special forces training. Anyone who doesn’t make the cut or doesn’t learn enough, gets washed out and sent packing. Only the best of the best make it out alive, which we should be thankful for. Their time in the thymus allows our T Cells to develop into war machines, giving them focused tasks to do. Some of them are trained to move through the body, looking through the camouflage, checking ID and peeling back the coats that the virus wears. Once it does that, it latches on and raises the alarm, prompting other Special Forces agents nearby to jump into action – including our lethal weapons, the Killer T Cells. They come in and take out the foreign invaders, looking for any new alarm being raised. Of course, they don’t stop there. Between their duties out in the field, these T Cells run back home to teach the next generation, telling them what the newest camouflage looks like, so that next time a virus tries to sneak in wearing it, the body sees right through them.
Unfortunately, even as the immune system identifies a virus’s new way of hiding, the virus is thinking of new ways to get around it – new strands of the same thing. It’s why you can get the flu every single year – if you’re unlucky – because you’ve picked up a virus who just happens to be wearing a uniform that your body hasn’t seen yet. Feeling a little depressed? Don’t be. Even as viruses mutate and change, the fact that you’ve been exposed puts you at a higher chance for fighting it off again! So even if everyone in the office has the flu, if you’ve beaten it, you’re probably going to be alright, because chances are, you’re all battling the exact same strain – unless some jerk introduces you all to a new version that your body hasn't seen before.
So, what does that have to do with Kennel Cough? I thought you might ask that.
Kennel Cough is remarkably like the flu in how it works. The biggest difference is that Kennel Cough is simply a name we give to describe a set of symptoms that can be caused by a multitude of things; bacteria, viruses or even allergies. The most common cause of Kennel Cough is the Bordetella virus, followed by Canine Parainfluenza and occasionally Canine Distemper. Sound familiar? That’s because all of those vaccines are required for boarding situations where social boarding is in play.
Think back though, to our analogy. All of these are viruses, so all of them wear those many camouflaged layers, in a bid to sneak into a dog’s immune system. We can kill the virus with disinfectants and boost the immune system by tossing it dead versions of the virus so they can learn, but unfortunately it’s not foolproof. The reason that the Bordetella virus is the largest cause of Kennel Cough is because of one main factor; it’s airborne. If a dog across the street coughs, it can spread to any dog nearby, who can then bring it with them wherever they go; whether that’s daycare, overnight boarding or even just to the groomer. Can you track exactly where you got your flu bug from? No. You can’t do it with Kennel Cough either. High exposure situations are obviously a potential site of infection, but how do you know how it got there? How do you know who gave Janice in accounting the flu bug that she gave to everyone else on the third floor? The best thing you can do for yourself (and your four legged friend) is to give them some Robitussin (seriously, it works wonders) and some time to let that Special Forces army in their body, do the hard work.
Anyone who works in animal welfare will tell you that biosecurity is one of the most important components of quality care. Good boarding facilities will have strict vaccine regulations and regular disinfectant regimes. Dogs showing symptoms should be isolated and removed from the pack as quickly as possible, and not allowed back until the virus is completely cleared – even if the symptoms stop abruptly. If your regular doggie daycare is doing all of the above, then rest assured that they’re doing their best. It may be frustrating if your four legged friend comes home with a cough, but just remember that chances are, they’ve put more work into trying to keep it away, then anyone at your office did into keeping you from getting the flu!
Zoe is a second year veterinary student, studying at the #3 globally ranked program at the Royal Veterinary College in London. When she isn't studying abroad or logging hours with veterinarians, she's a Kennel Supervisor at Club K9, where she brings her wealth of knowledge and medical background to the staff team. Her own dog (a miniature aussie named Rue) is a regular and much loved member of the Club K9 pack.