What to Know About Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a highly contagious disease spread mainly among dogs, cats, humans and a few other species. It doesn’t usually pose any threat to humans unless they are immunocompromised.

Kennel cough may be caused by the bacterium “Bordetella Bronchiseptica” or it may be viral which could be caused by Parainfluenza, Adenovirus, Canine distemper or Coronavirus.

Dogs tend to show 2 different syndromes when affected by parainfluenza:

  • Mild – Which produces a dry, hacking cough and either a whitish or greenish coloured nasal discharge, both of which will usually go away on its own.
  • Severe – This presents with a high fever and pneumonia which can develop into hemorrhagic pneumonia, which can produce blood when coughing. Some dogs may have difficulty breathing because the virus affects the lungs capillaries

Puppies/Kittens or dogs/cats with severe health issues are at a higher risk and Bordetella can lead to death in extreme cases.

Some owners may notice the puppy or dog exhibits signs such as trying to vomit or a choking behaviour which appears like something is stuck in the throat. Signs will usually develop about 14 days after exposure.

Diagnosis is usually based on clinical signs. If needed a complete blood count could be taken, and it would show an elevation in a type of white blood cell called a “neutrophil” also a tracheal wash could also be performed, but neither are necessary and are not done very often.

Usually, a course of antibiotics is all that is needed to clear the bacteria from the system and sometimes a cough suppressant is also prescribed.

Kennel Cough is contracted when a dog is in contact with respiratory secretions, fomites such as clothing, furniture and aerosols. It has been shown to survive in the soil for up to 45 days. There have also been studies that show the bacteria can survive in lake water at 10C and 37C for 24 weeks.

Even though the disease is called “Kennel Cough”, it is not in so many words from kenneling your pet. We all know that being in a kennel is stressful for some, therefore the animals immune system is weakened due to the stress. Because this disease is spread through the air, it can be picked up easily in a kennel environment as well as at grooming facilities, dog parks and other areas where a lot of animals frequent. Infected animals can continue to spread the disease for days to weeks even after a full recovery.

There are available vaccines dogs. There are three types of vaccine available for use in dogs – internasal, oral and injectable. Some believe that the intranasal gives the best immunity because it gets right to the source. Studies show that if no vaccine has ever been given, then the intranasal provides the quickest immunity but if previously vaccinated, then the injectable gives the quickest immune response.

Remember, just because your pet has a cough don’t assume that it is kennel cough and it will go away on its own. There are many reasons for coughing like cancer, heartworm heart disease or even blastomycosis.

Talk to your veterinarian and let them do the diagnosing and discuss which vaccination protocol is best for your pet.

Written by Laurie Box, RVT