Pet Health Library

Kennel Cough

Yellow lab coughing

Background

Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory tract with both viral and bacterial causes. It is commonly spread in places where dogs are in close contact, such as boarding kennels, doggie daycares, dog parks, grooming salons, or dog shows. When an infected dog coughs, droplets travel through the air, infecting nearby dogs. Kennel cough can also be spread through direct contact with contaminated objects like water bowls, toys, and bedding.

Risk Factors

Dogs who have contact with other dogs, especially in poorly ventilated areas, are most at risk for catching kennel cough. Unvaccinated, young, or immune-compromised dogs are at risk of developing more severe infections.  Symptoms usually appear about a week after exposure.

Signs

  • Hacking cough, which worsens if the dog pulls against his collar
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing

Diagnosis

While the signs of kennel cough syndrome are unmistakable, the cause is often harder to determine due to the variety of viruses and bacteria that may be responsible. Fortunately, identification usually isn’t necessary since most dogs recover on their own without treatment.

Treatment

Most cases of kennel cough resolve on their own within 10 to 20 days. During this time, reduce your dog’s activities to avoid coughing episodes, and disinfect all the items your dog is in contact with using a solution of bleach diluted in water (1:32). There is no single treatment for kennel cough, as it is typically caused by a combination of viral and bacterial agents, but some medications may be prescribed to keep your dog comfortable. If the illness has progressed to pneumonia, your dog may need to be hospitalized for oxygen and fluid therapy.

Prevention

If your dog has kennel cough, it’s important to keep him isolated from other dogs to avoid spreading the infection. Keep other dogs away from his water his food and water bowls, bedding, and toys as well. This is especially important for unvaccinated, elderly, or immunocompromised dogs, as the disease can have more serious consequences for these animals.   You could spread kennel cough from your dog to other dogs on your hands or clothing.  If your dog has kennel cough, avoid contact with other dogs.

Most kennels require the Bordetella vaccine, which is often referred to as the kennel cough vaccine. Vaccines are also available for other viruses that cause kennel cough, including two strains of influenza virus, parainfluenza virus and adenovirus 2. Since no vaccine is 100 percent effective, it’s a good idea to take other precautions.  Ask your boarding kennel and groomer what infection control procedures they have in place to protect dogs against kennel cough.

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