Dear Dr. Thompson,
I recently purchased a cockapoo from a breeder. He was 11 weeks old and had a cough. When I questioned the breeder she advised me that since birth the pup's bedding was lined with sawdust and he may have inhaled some and the cough would go away shortly. The pup got increasing ill and I returned him for another pup in the litter. Needless to say this pup has a cough as well. Is the sawdust story possible or was I sold a sick puppy?
There are a few possibilities that could account for the cough you are describing. Without having examined the puppy I can only speculate, but kennel cough is a common cause of a dry, hacking cough that is extremely contagious between dogs. It affects the upper airway and the resulting tracheal inflammation leads to a honking sound or retching action when they cough. Many of these dogs will recover in a week or two from this bacterial infection, but often it can be so debilitating that antibiotics and cough suppressants may be needed.
Young dogs can be more susceptible to developing pneumonia secondarily and should always be evaluated by your veterinarian to make sure it does not progress.
Dogs heavily infected with intestinal parasites can have a mild to moderate cough as well. Part of the life cycle of some intestinal parasites involves migrating through the body into the lungs to be coughed up and swallowed. Some of these same parasites can infect people so this would a very important possibility to consider before bringing the puppy into your home.
Other infections or congenital defects are less common but should considered as well.
Her contention that the environment was the source of the cough highlights some very important points when considering bringing a dog into the family. How are the puppies housed? Is it clean and safe? How many dogs are on the property and is this person selling multiple breeds?
You should be able to see and meet both adult dogs from the litter. Are they part of the breeder's family or just money makers for them? You should also question the breeder on what medical care the puppies have received and ask for supporting documentation.
They should have been examined by a veterinarian to determine if any obvious congenital problems are present like hernias, cleft palates, or heart murmurs. This would also be time to evaluate contagious diseases like a cough or intestinal parasites and properly vaccinate and treat the puppies for any intestinal parasites.
Some breeders offer a health guarantee, but you should ask what will become of the dog when you return it. Will it simply be sold to another unsuspecting person, or even worse, suffer untreated for whatever medical condition may be there?
Another option I would strongly recommend is adopting a dog from the humane society, pound, or established local rescue. These puppies have been examined by a veterinarian, started on the necessary vaccinations, and treated for the more common parasites. You can even find many of the breeds you might be considering.
Good luck and I hope your new puppy makes a full recovery soon.
Questions for Dr. Gary Thompson can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.