Kennel Cough in Dogs
Kennel cough, the common name given to canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) complex, is a highly contagious respiratory disease among dogs.
Kennel cough in dogs is typified by inflammation of the trachea and bronchial tubes, similar to the common cold in humans. Kennel cough is found throughout the world and is known to infect a high percentage of dogs at least once during their lifetime.
It is also sometimes referred to as bordetellosis, after the bacteria most commonly associated with the symptoms.
Young puppies often suffer the most severe complications that can result from kennel cough since they have immature immune systems. Also at increased risk are older dogs, who may have decreased immune capabilities; pregnant dogs, who also have lowered immunity; and dogs with preexisting respiratory diseases.
In these groups, kennel cough can rapidly become pneumonia, a serious complication that may require hospitalization of your dog.
Symptoms of Kennel Cough in a Dog
- A persistent dry cough is the most common symptom
- Coughing in dogs throughout the night that keeps them awake
- Watery nasal discharge
- In mild cases, dogs are often active and eating normally
- In severe cases, symptoms progress and can include pneumonia, inappetence, fever, lethargy and even death
Causes of Kennel Cough in Dogs
Some of the most common microorganisms that contribute to CIRD are Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria, canine adenovirus, parainfluenza virus and mycoplasma. Any of these organisms, along with a long list of other less common organisms, can cause the symptoms of this disease, alone or in combination. Infections with multiple organisms tend to cause the most severe symptoms.
Dogs often develop clinical signs associated with kennel cough 3-4 days after exposure to a large number of other dogs (e.g., at a boarding facility, shelter or dog show), but it may take up to 10 days. Dogs may also experience mild symptoms after receiving the vaccine.
Diagnosis of Kennel Cough
The diagnosis of this disease is largely based upon the type of symptoms that are present and a dog's history with regards to exposure to other dogs.
You will need to give a thorough history of your dog's health and onset of clinical signs. Your veterinarian may order some combination of blood chemistry tests, a complete blood cell count, a urinalysis, fecal examinations and chest X-rays.
If a dog does not respond to treatment as expected, additional testing (e.g., bacterial cultures) may be necessary to identify the cause of the cough.
Treating Kennel Cough
Treatment depends on the severity of the infection. If your dog is alert, active, eating well and has only minor symptoms, your veterinarian may only prescribe general supportive care, like rest, good hydration and proper nutrition.
More severely affected dogs benefit from dog medications that reduce inflammation and coughing, like dog-safe cough syrup. If your veterinarian suspects that a bacterial infection is present, dog antibiotics may help shorten the course of the disease. Dogs who develop pneumonia often need to be hospitalized for more aggressive treatment.
Living and Management of Kennel Cough in Dogs
In order to prevent the spread of this disease, dogs with kennel cough should be isolated until they are better and no longer contagious. Any dog who potentially comes into contact with another dog (especially those who attend shows or spend time in boarding, day care facilities or dog parks) should be vaccinated against Bordetella bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza virus. All dogs should be vaccinated against canine adenovirus.
Even after being vaccinated, dogs may still acquire kennel cough (although usually a less severe form than they would have otherwise). It is best to be observant and prepared.
If one dog in your home acquires kennel cough, the other dogs in your home are likely to develop symptoms as well. If possible, keep the dogs separate and deep clean all surfaces the dogs use, including bedding and flooring. If you can’t separate the dogs, frequent cleaning will at least limit cross-contamination.
Although this infection usually does not cross over to humans, there are instances where young children and adults with compromised immune systems may be at risk. In these instances, it is best to talk to your health care provider about your options.