Kennel Cough: Prevention is key

With the warm weather and lots of vacations, and thus kennel stays, we have seen a number of cases of kennel cough. Kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis, is a respiratory infection that can be very contagious among dogs. Exposure often occurs at boarding facilities, grooming salons, training classes, dog shows and dog parks. It is commonly seen in warmer months when more dogs are out and about enjoying summer activities with their owners.

Affected dogs will develop a deep, hacking cough that is often followed by retching. It can sometimes be confused with something stuck in the throat. The dogs are typically normal otherwise with a good appetite and normal energy level.

Kennel cough is caused by a combination of viral and bacterial agents. Symptoms often develop three to 10 days after exposure to an infected dog. In rare cases, kennel cough can progress to pneumonia. Signs of pneumonia include those of kennel cough, but typically the dogs will also become lethargic, have a decreased appetite and may develop trouble breathing.

Many times your family veterinarian will suspect kennel cough from the examination and history. Your veterinarian may recommend chest x-rays, blood work or other diagnostics to rule out pneumonia or other causes of coughing.

With uncomplicated kennel cough the healthy immune system should clear the infection within seven to 10 days without treatment. In some cases your family veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic or other medication. If pneumonia has developed, more aggressive treatment and sometimes hospitalization is needed. The prognosis with kennel cough is excellent, but worsens if pneumonia develops.

You can prevent kennel cough infection by limiting your dog’s exposure to other dogs and by choosing boarding and grooming facilities that require distemper and bordetella vaccines. The distemper vaccine helps prevent some of the infectious agents that cause kennel cough and the bordetella vaccine reduces the chance of contracting the bacteria and lessens the symptoms if the dog becomes infected. (Though vaccination is very helpful in reducing risks of disease, vaccinated dogs can still contract kennel cough due to the number of different infectious agents involved.)

If your pet has been diagnosed with kennel cough, it should be kept away from other dogs not living in the same house for three months to avoid spreading the infection. Generally this disease is limited to dogs and human risk is minimal. However, there have been rare instances of young children, infants and adults with compromised immune systems developing illness due to bordetella. The symptoms of the infection in humans are very similar to that of a bad cold or flu. The best bet to avoid such a situation is by vaccinating your dog.