Kennel Cough is a very contagious upper respiratory disease, also known as “canine infectious tracheobronchitis”. It is spread through the air or through direct contact with infected dogs or contaminated objects. Because of it’s contagious nature, the disease is most common in areas where large numbers of dogs are present, such as at kennels, dog shows, grooming facilities and obedience classes.
In the majority of cases, several agents simultaneously cause Kennel Cough, the most common being the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria (this is why Kennel Cough is also referred to as Bordetella). While infected with the Bordetella bacteria, most dogs are usually also infected with a virus at the same time. These different viruses make the dog more susceptible to the Bordetella infection.
A dry hacking and coughing, sneezing, along with discharge from the nose and/or eyes are the most common and sometimes only symptoms. It might even sound like your dog is choking, which can sound scary, but in most cases kennel cough is not a serious condition and most dogs recover without treatment. In other cases, some dogs may be carriers of the disease, but show no symptoms. The coughing might also irritate the trachea enough to cause vomiting and in rare cases the infection may lead to lethargy, fever, rapid/labored breathing and reduced appetite.
As mentioned above, in most cases the infection is not severe, and usually the only symptom is coughing and a sore throat. If this is the case, there are several things you can do at home to help. Things such as running a warm shower and letting your dog breathe in the steam or giving a teaspoon of honey can help relieve your dog’s sore throat. Also using a harness instead of a collar during this time can be helpful, as it minimizes pressure on your dogs already sore throat.
If the symptoms are more severe, you should contact a veterinarian, to let them decide if a more aggressive treatment plan with antibiotics and cough medicine would be best for your pet.
Most dogs recover within 3-4 weeks, however dogs with a lowered immune system (such as puppies, senior dogs, or dogs with other medical conditions) may take up to 6 weeks to recover.
More serious ongoing Kennel Cough infections can lead to Pneumonia, so be sure to follow up with your veterinarian, if your dog does not improve in the expected amount of time
Vaccinating against Bordetella
There are 3 different forms of Bordetella vaccines to help boost your dog’s immune system against the bacteria. One type is given orally, one nasally, and one is injected under the skin. One vaccine dose is given, and it is then good for 1 year (but some boarding facilities recommend or require it every 6 months).
This vaccine should be given 1-2 weeks before your puppy/dog goes to obedience classes, to a kennel for boarding or training, or to a groomer. Generally, anywhere with large amounts of dogs is where the risk of encountering the bacteria is highest. These vaccines help lower the risk of Kennel Cough, but since it can be caused by more than just the Bordetella bacteria, it cannot guarantee complete protection against the disease.
Article written by: Sara