What to Know About Kennel Cough

Several times a year we see an outbreak of “KENNEL COUGH” or INFECTIOUS TRACHEOBRONCHITIS at our clinic.  It is always concerning to owners but the good news is that most dogs get better within 7 days and are back to normal.

The typical signs are a hacking, choking cough that sounds like something is stuck in the throat. Some dogs will even gag or bring up some clear foam or fluid. Often the dogs have recently been in a kennel or doggy daycare where they have been exposed to other dogs that may have had it. This is where the name, KENNEL COUGH, comes from. Dogs can still become infected without going to a kennel. Most dogs still act quite normal other than the cough.

Infectious tracheobronchitis is caused by many different strains of viruses and bacteria. One example of a cause is Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria. However, each outbreak can be caused by a different strain of virus or bacteria or combination of both. This makes it possible for dogs to get the illness more than once. It also means that a dog who receives the kennel cough vaccine may still come down with the infection because it is impossible to vaccinate against all the strains. Vaccination is still recommended as it can help them get over the infection quicker and most kennels will require it for boarding.

Dogs that are suspected of having kennel cough should be examined by a veterinarian. This is especially important with older dogs because of other illnesses, such as heart disease, often cause a similar type of the cough. Very young puppies under the age of 6 months old can become dehydrated quickly as well so an examination by a veterinarian is strongly recommended. The veterinarian will be able to listen to the chest, assess breathing, hydration and body temperature. The majority of dogs with kennel cough do not need antibiotics but often go home on a cough suppressant to help ease their symptoms. It is rare for a case of kennel cough to need to be hospitalized to treat pneumonia but does sometimes happen. If the cough persists for more than 2-3 weeks, then chest x-rays and other tests are usually recommended.

The incubation period for infectious tracheobronchitis is 3-10 days. This is the time period from when they were exposed to the illness to when they show the clinical signs of coughing. Dogs that have been diagnosed with infectious tracheobronchitis are contagious to other dogs and should be isolated until their illness resolves. It is best to inform kennels, doggy day care or groomers that they have been to recently that they have this illness so they can take precautions.

Written by Dr Jessica Wilson