Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis or bordetellosis.
The infection causes inflammation in a dog’s larynx, trachea, and lungs, resulting in a strong, hacking cough that sounds terrible. The condition is relatively common, and most dogs will be exposed to it at least once in their lifetime.
Kennel cough causes
According to the experts at WebMD, several different bacteria and viruses can be the culprit or culprits behind the chest infections. A bacterium called Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common culprit. Still, most dogs infected by this generally have a secondary viral infection as well, and it is unusual for only one agent to be involved. Viruses that can make your pet more susceptible to kennel cough include canine adenovirus type 2, canine distemper virus, canine herpes virus, canine influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, canine respiratory coronavirus, and canine reovirus.
Kennel cough is transmitted dog to dog via infectious bacteria or viruses in respiratory secretions. Infected dogs readily spread the disease with their coughing. A healthy dog can inhale airborne droplets, or it can be spread by direct contact or contaminated surfaces. Studies have shown that infectious material can contaminate water dishes or dog toys for days.
The American Kennel Club says dogs commonly contract kennel cough at places like dog parks, training practices, boarding and daycare facilities, and dog shows. Because the infection is so contagious, if one pet in the household displays symptoms, all of the dogs in the home have likely been infected. Dogs that have recovered are typically immune to reinfection for 6-12 months.
Kennel cough symptoms
Most dogs begin to show symptoms of kennel cough between 4 and 10 days after exposure. The most obvious sign is a persistent, hacking cough that sounds like the dog has something stuck in their throat. This should not be confused with a respiratory sound called a “reverse sneeze” typical for some dogs, especially small breeds. The reverse sneeze does not sound like a regular sneeze and is often mistaken for a cough, but the cause is generally post-nasal drip in the dog’s throat or an infestation of nasal mites.
A kennel cough infection may present other symptoms as well, including sneezing, a runny nose, or eye discharge. In most cases, the dog will seem normal except for coughing, with no fever, appetite loss, or listlessness. If your dog is showing these symptoms or experiencing rapid breathing, it could be a sign of something more severe, like bronchitis, asthma, or heart disease.
Kennel cough complications
While most cases are mild, some patients can experience complications. In severe cases, kennel cough infections can lead to pneumonia, which may require hospitalization. Some dogs may even die from the disease. Puppies younger than six months of age, senior dogs, and dogs with weakened immune systems are most at risk of developing severe complications.
If you think your dog might have kennel cough, you should contact your veterinarian. A basic exam and exposure to a crowd of dogs within the proper time frame are usually enough to diagnose. Depending on your dog’s health status and the specific symptoms, bacterial cultures, blood work, chest X-rays, urinalysis, or a fecal exam may be required. There can be many causes of coughing, and the vet will want to recommend the right treatment.
Kennel cough treatment
Most dogs with kennel cough will recover without treatment with adequate hydration, proper nutrition, and a week or two of rest. Moderate infections may require medications, like antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and cough medicines, to minimize the symptoms of the infection. Most of these cases will resolve within three weeks, taking up to six weeks in at-risk dogs. If your dog doesn’t improve within the expected time frame, another call to the vet is warranted.
Prevention is key to protecting your pet from kennel cough. Dogs who spend time with large groups of dogs should be vaccinated against the Bordetella bacterium and canine adenovirus. At the same time, high-risk dogs should be vaccinated against the canine parainfluenza virus. Most training, daycare, and boarding facilities require proof of vaccination before your dog can attend.
Currently, there are three different types of vaccines for the condition. An injectable vaccination is given in two doses approximately one month apart in puppies older than four months, with boosters given annually. An intranasal immunization is also available for puppies as young as three weeks of age, with immunity typically lasting about 12 months. An oral vaccination was approved in 2012 for puppies as young as eight weeks. This vaccine is given annually.
The intranasal and oral kennel cough vaccinations have been found to protect against kennel cough more quickly than the injected product. However, protection against kennel cough is not guaranteed with these vaccines, and in some cases, they will minimize the symptoms of illness while not entirely preventing infection.
Devin Caldwell is an animal enthusiast. He owns two dogs and doesn’t go anywhere without them. He loves to travel and see the world with his wife and two kids. He is also a freelance writer and writes for many blogs on the side. He has a great passion for writing and plans to do it for years to come.