Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel Cough in Dogs

What Is Kennel Cough?

Kennel cough is the term that was commonly applied to the most prevalent upper respiratory problem in dogs. Recently, the condition has become known as tracheobronchitis, canine infectious tracheobronchitis, or Bordetella. It is a highly contagious upper-respiratory condition found in dogs.

Signs & Symptoms of Kennel Cough

Clinical signs of infections occur three to four days after exposure, and if uncomplicated with other agents, will last around ten days. However, after the infection has been resolved, your dog will continue to shed the bacteria for 6 to 14 weeks and can spread the disease to other susceptible animals. In a mild case of kennel cough, symptoms may be unnoticeable and subside. If the case is more severe, you will notice some of the following:

  • Dry hacking cough, sometimes followed by retching (This is usually described as a “honking sound”)
  • Watery nasal discharge  
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression

With mild cases, dogs continue to eat and be alert and active. Many times, there is a recent history of boarding or coming in contact with other dogs. The majority of severe cases occur in dogs with weak immune systems or young unvaccinated puppies.

Causes of Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is the result of a bacterial and viral complex.  It is extremely contagious and can move quickly through areas where there are dogs living in close quarters.  The transmission of disease is generally airborne, or through direct contact between animals. 

Diagnosis of Kennel Cough

Diagnosis is usually based on the symptoms and a history of recent exposure to other dogs. Bacterial cultures, viral isolation, and blood work can be performed to verify individual agents of the disease.

Treatment for Kennel Cough

There are two treatment options depending on the severity of the disease. In the most common mild (uncomplicated) form of the disease, antibiotics are usually not used. If your dog has a good appetite and is alert but suffers only from a recurrent cough, your veterinarian will often let the disease run its course like a cold in humans. Treating the mild cases does not shorten the length in which the dog will be a potential spreader of the disease. Many times, prednisone is given to help reduce the severity and frequency of the cough, and to make your dog more comfortable.

In more severe (complicated) cases where the animal is not eating, running a fever, or showing signs of pneumonia, antibiotics are often used. The most common ones are tetracycline or trimethoprim-sulfa. However, many other choices are available.

Prevention of Kennel Cough

Most commonly, for best protection, an intranasal vaccine containing both parainfluenza and Bordetella is used. Intranasal vaccines create localized immunity that greatly reduces the incidence of clinical signs and illness.

There are several precautions and warnings that need to be observed pertaining to this vaccine. Some dogs will develop mild signs similar to tracheobronchitis when given this vaccine. Very often, the symptoms will last for several days and the dog will recover without treatment.

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