One of the more commonly seen and treated diseases we will see here at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center is something called kennel cough, also known as infectious tracheobronchitis. We most often see it develop anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks after being in a situation where a group of dogs are together in a closed area – for example, boarding, grooming or a dog park. It can be caused by any one of the following: canine parainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus, canine distemper virus or Bordetella bronchiseptica. Read on to find out the symptoms of kennel cough, how we diagnose it, how we treat it and most importantly, how to prevent it.
There are many reasons for dogs to cough, with kennel cough only being one of them. The most common symptom is spasms of repetitive, dry, hacking coughing. They may retch or gag at the end of a coughing spell, sometimes bringing up nothing, sometimes bringing up saliva or white foam. This coughing can cause sleepless nights as dogs may continue to cough/hack throughout the night. However, it is important to note that most dogs with kennel cough seem to feel fine aside from the repetitive coughing.
Kennel cough can progress to pneumonia. If this happens, they will often develop a fever, they may have yellow or green discharge coming out from their nose, they typically don’t want to eat as much and are lethargic. If your pet starts exhibiting any of these signs, they should be seen immediately as pneumonia can be life threatening.
Most often, based on recent history (if they’ve been boarding or gone to the dog park recently), symptoms, and the physical exam we are able to make a diagnosis of kennel cough. However, if we are concerned that there may be something else going on, we may recommend taking chest x-rays (for example, to make sure no pneumonia is present).
Keeping your pet up to date on their vaccinations is the best thing you can do to prevent kennel cough. The DHPP vaccination that we give covers for some of the viruses we can see that cause it (distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza – the 4th “P” is for parvovirus). The Bordetella vaccine covers for Bordetella bronchiseptica, the most common causative agent for kennel cough.
It is important to know that similar to our flu vaccine, these vaccines unfortunately are not 100% protective for kennel cough. Even if your pet is fully up to date on their vaccines, it is still possible they may contract it – however, the course of their infection is often much less severe than if they had not received the vaccine.
You may have noticed that many of the things that cause kennel cough are viruses. Similar to our human flu, no treatment is going to get rid of the kennel cough. We often just need to let this disease run its course, which can take anywhere from several days to several weeks.
That being said, we do have medications to try to help things easier on your pet. We will often start a cough suppressant – repeated coughing can cause irritation to the trachea (or windpipe), also some pets aren’t able to sleep at night because of their repeated coughing – this medication is to help with both of these things. The other thing we may choose to prescribe is an antibiotic. This is because in some cases, kennel cough can progress to become pneumonia, which can be very serious. The antibiotic is to help prevent this from happening; some antibiotics also have anti-inflammatory properties to them, which can help with the inflammation within their trachea.
Your pet is going to be highly contagious to other dogs for the next 2 weeks. It is important you keep them separated from other dogs and avoid places where other dogs visit for that time frame.