What is kennel cough?
Kennel cough is an infectious bronchitis which is transmitted through the air, and is most susceptible to dogs which are stressed, overly exposed to dust and smoke, or receiving poor ventilation. These may be qualities of dogs who are kept in kennels, which is why recent boarding experiences is a number one cause for an infected animal. This is how the disease gets its nickname (the scientific name is canine tracheobronchitis)! Kennel cough is very common, infecting a high percentage of dogs at least once during their lifetime. The bronchitis causes a hacking cough which is often described as sounding like there is an obstruction in the throat of the animal. The sickness can range from uncomplicated, lasting one or two weeks and requiring no treatment, to complicated, possibly resulting in a life-threatening pneumonia.
How is kennel cough contracted?
An infected animal will shed their bacteria or virus through respiratory secretions, which then become air bound, ready to be inhaled by a healthy dog. As mentioned previously, ventilation and stress are major causes, but the disease can also be contracted through exposure to infected toys or food bowls too.
A more in-depth explanation requires mention of a very important structure in a dog’s respiratory system called the mucociliary escalator. This structure is sticky with mucus and its job is to help remove debris and infectious agents by allowing them to stick to it, and then pushing them up where they can be coughed out or swallowed.
This mucociliary escalator becomes damaged in the presence of shipping stress, crowding stress, heavy dust exposure, cigarette smoke exposure, cold temperature, and poor ventilation! When it is damaged, the infections can waltz right down into the lungs, and this is how infection occurs.
What problems does kennel cough cause?
The mildest cases, as mentioned previously, will cause no problems at all. The pet will cough for a week or two and will not need to be treated.
Complicated cases on the other hand, may result in fever and listlessness, as well as pneumonia. Young puppies, and older or pregnant dogs are the most at risk because their immune system’s capabilities are the weakest.
What are the symptoms of kennel cough in my pets?
The symptoms of the disease are easy to spot and may include:
- Dry hacking cough
- Cough which sounds like honking
- Watery nasal discharge
- In severe cases, symptoms can include pneumonia loss of appetite, fever, lethargy and even death
How can I prevent and treat kennel cough?
Prevention can be difficult because the main causes of the disease are generally difficult to avoid (e.g. obedience classes, dog parks, toys and bowls, boarding kennels, doggie daycares). If desired, a vaccination can be provided by your veterinarian which immunizes the animal from a few of the agents that can cause the disease. If you are going on vacation and your pet is being boarded, make sure you make your appointment at least one week ahead so there is time for the vaccine to take effect. Certain members of the kennel cough complex cannot be immunized against. Additionally, nasal vaccines can be provided for puppies as young as three weeks of age which aims to immunize the puppies for their first year of life. Talk to your veterinarian to determine which choice is best for your pet!
These vaccines are not helpful for pets who are already infected, so this is when treatment becomes a focus. To reiterate, uncomplicated cases can go away on their own and do not require treatment. That said, antibiotics and cough suppressants can be provided to increase comfort and possibly speed recovery. If pneumonia is detected, then more progressive treatments will need to begin–but that’s another article altogether!
If you are unsure about the severity of your dog’s cough–do not hesitate to make an appointment with your veterinarian.
Brooks, W. C. (2001, January 01). Kennel cough. Retrieved from Veterinary Partner website: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=600
(2012). Kennel cough in dogs. Retrieved from Pet MD website: http://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/respiratory/c_dg_canine_tracheobronchitis
Content Contributor: Dr. Sandy Drury