Kennel cough, also called tracheobronchitis, bordatella, canine infectious tracheobronchitis, or bordetellosis, is an extremely contagious respiratory infection. Kennel cough may be caused by a viral or bacterial infection and causes a dry, hacking cough. There also can be a watery discharge.
The infection spreads through direct contact, via airborne droplets which are expelled when an infected dog sneezes or coughs. Contaminated surfaces, toys, and water bowls also spread the infection from dog to dog. Most of the time the illness will resolve itself, but sometimes it will progress to pneumonia, particularly in immune-compromised dogs.
The most common infectious agents which cause kennel cough are Bordetella bronchiseptica, parainfluenza, and mycosplasma. Usually the cough is actually caused by more than one organism. There are vaccines available which are said to protect against many of the agents which cause kennel cough. Many boarding facilities will not accept dogs that have not been vaccinated, because a case of kennel cough will rapidly spread throughout a facility, particularly if the cages are not properly disinfected between dogs. Kennel cough is most often caught at the veterinarianâ€™s office, dog park or boarding kennel, but can also be caught simply by passing an infected dog on the street.
Testing and Detection
Symptoms of kennel cough usually last between ten and twenty days, as long as infection does not spread. Sometimes a stressful situation may cause the illness to come back. The dog may or may not develop a fever. Signs your dog has kennel cough include a dry, hacking cough, sneezing, snorting, retching, or gagging or even vomiting if pressure is put onto the trachea, or if the dog gets excited.
Many people consider the sound of their dog's cough as being a â€œhonkingâ€ sound when they have kennel cough. Most dogs continue with the daily lives â€“ they eat and play as normal â€“ they just cough.
Diagnosis is usually done through the symptoms as described by the owner, as well as any possible exposure to other dogs with the infection. Blood work and cultures may be done, but most of the time a â€œwait and seeâ€ outlook is given.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, treatment takes one of two forms. For mild cases, or where the animal is robust and otherwise healthy, no treatment is made. The infection is allowed to take its course. A normal period of infection is ten days to three weeks, and nothing is done during this time. Sometimes, cough suppressants or bronchodilators are prescribed.
For dogs with severe symptoms, fever, lack of appetite, or otherwise suppressed immune symptoms (previously weakened or ill), antibiotics are given. Dogs with sensitivity to trachea pressure should wear head or body harnesses rather than neck collars, as this can irritate the throat. All dogs should be monitored for worsening symptoms, as this could be a sign of pneumonia.
Dogs with kennel cough should be isolated from other dogs as much as possible.