If your dog has kennel cough, you’ll no doubt hear about it: A blaring, hacking cough like a goose honk is the most common sign. Affected dogs will often retch and gag, as if trying to dislodge something from their throats.
This extremely contagious respiratory disease, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, isn’t always caused by a single organism. In fact, it often involves a number of them. Common canine viruses including distemper, adenovirus type 2, parainfluenza, reovirus or herpes virus may be involved, as well as bacteria such as Bordetella bronchiseptica or even other organisms.
Aptly nicknamed “kennel cough,” the infection is commonly associated with places where dogs are exposed to other dogs, such as kennels, day care, grooming facilities & dog parks.
It's an Infectious Disease
When an infected dog coughs, viruses and bacteria are dispersed into the air. Other dogs become infected when they inhale these infectious organisms, which, in turn, irritate the lining of their respiratory tracts, making them vulnerable to other organisms.
Dogs don’t need to have direct contact with sick dogs to become infected. The viruses and bacteria can even spread on toys and food and water bowls. Depending on the organisms involved, dogs will start to show signs four to 10 days after infection.
Coughing & Hacking
With a mild, uncomplicated infection, your dog may have a dry, unproductive cough (meaning he doesn't bring up phlegm or mucus when he coughs) that can worsen when he exercises, is excited or pulls against his collar. Usually, he’ll still have plenty of energy and an appetite.
Signs of a secondary bacterial infection can include lethargy, nasal discharge and loss of appetite. The infection can also spread deeper into the lungs, leading to pneumonia, which can be life threatening. In such severe cases, dogs may have a wet, productive cough (bringing up phlegm or mucus), difficulty breathing, fever and weight loss.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your veterinarian can usually diagnose kennel cough based on your dog’s history and clinical signs, along with a physical exam. In many cases, simply placing gentle pressure on the trachea will elicit the telltale coughing. To help determine the severity of infection, your veterinarian may recommend additional tests, such as bloodwork and X-rays. If necessary, other tests can help identify the exact organisms involved, to help guide treatment.
All dogs with kennel cough should be isolated for at least two weeks to help prevent exposing other dogs to the infectious organisms. Although kennel cough is typically not spread to humans, people who are immunocompromised may be at risk for certain bacterial agents.
Bordetella vaccines are used to provide protection against a highly communicable canine respiratory pathogen known as "kennel cough". If you plan to board your dog, or protect it from exposure, remember to vaccinate a few weeks prior to potential exposure to allow full protective immunity to build up. If your dog happens to acquire Kennel Cough, it will then have some immunity to subsequent exposures. The length of time these natural exposures and the vaccinations will produce protective immunity will vary greatly. How often to vaccinate seems to have a subjective and elusive answer.
Be aware that vaccinating with just the commercial Kennel Cough vaccine alone (contains only the Bordetella agent) may not be fully protective because of the other infectious agents that are involved with producing the disease. Some of the other agents such as Parainfluenza and Adenovirus are part of the routine multivalent vaccinations generally given yearly to dogs.
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