What is Kennel Cough and Why Should I Be Concerned?

Canine Kennel cough (aka tracheobronchitis) is akin to a cold in a human.  While no one wants to see any pup ill, it is quite common; and unfortunately, also quite contagious.  How can you avoid it?  Vaccination and being selective about the environments in which you pup is exposed to other dogs.  Most kennels will require proof of vaccination; but given that the current vaccine only covers less than half of the known stains of the virus, it is quite possible for your pup to still contract the disease.

One of the most common causes is the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica. Unfortunately, dogs infected with Bordetella will have at least a temporarily compromised immune system so they can also be infected with something else they may or may not have been vaccinated for, which can include canine distemper, canine herpes virus or parainfluenza.  Your best defense is to prevent kennel cough by keeping all vaccines up to date (or perform a titer where possible).  Keeping pups away from environments where there is less than fresh air and large groups of dogs is also important.  This means indoor kennel runs and shelters can be a hotbed or transmission.  But it is best to remember that just like the flu shot for humans cannot protect anyone from mutated strains of a virus, neither can the bordatella drops or vaccine.  The good news is that even if your vaccinated pup does come down with kennel cough, it means that he/she should have a less severe version of the disease.  If your furbaby does display a persistent cough after being around any other dog, it is important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out both kennel cough and the less prevalent canine influenza strains.

The sound is usual quite obvious in that it is more like a hacking cough and can often mimic a choking sound and typically arises after a 3-4 day incubation period.  It is most likely that kennel cough will not be an occasional but a persistent, dry (not wet) sounding and can be quite forceful.  It is often accompanied by sneezing, a runny nose or eye discharge.  Changes in appetite or energy level are rare; but dogs who are excited or undergoing significant exercise can cough up a white, frothy phlegm.  Only your veterinarian can diagnose kennel cough and treatment options vary from cough suppressants to antibiotics.  While many dogs recover without treatment, it is important to follow through for treatment not only to speed your furbaby’s recovery and minimize discomfort but also because he/she will be highly contagious to other dogs.  And remember if your pup has not recovered within the expected time frame, schedule a follow-up appointment with your veterinarian.  This is the best way to ensure that the case of kennel cough did not progress to something more serious like pneumonia.  For most, all symptoms will disappear slowly over the course of three weeks but geriatrics, puppies and furbabies with other illnesses can take up to six weeks to fully recover.

As with most infections, prevention is key.  Choose facilities that have plenty of open air along with maintaining a sanitary environment and take a long sniff when you walk in.  Something that smells clean, generally is; and there is no excuse for a dirty or smelly environment.  Keep your furbaby vaccinated appropriately and/or titered.  Keep your dog away from environments where you cannot guarantee a dog’s vaccination status who is coming in direct contact with your dog (a dog park is a perfect example).  And of course, see your veterinarian immediately if something seems wrong with your pup.



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