Kennel Cough (Bordatella)

Many canine owners are unfortunately familiar with kennel cough. Kennel cough is a very contagious upper respiratory infection that is passed around between canines around the world. It is commonly known as kennel cough, bordatella, or tracheobronchitis. Dogs that commonly go to the groomer, boarding facilities, dog parks, or are frequently socialized with other dogs are more likely to get the virus. Kennel cough can come from multiple sources. What are most commonly believed to be the causes of kennel cough are the parainfluenza virus, mycoplasma, and bordetella bronchiseptica. Other viruses that may come into play with the disease are the canine herpes virus, the canine adenovirus type 2, and the reovirus. These viruses can weaken the immune system, allowing a dog to be more vulnerable to kennel cough. Bordetella bronchiseptica is one of the more common bacteria seen with the disease, which leads to the name, bordatella.

Bordatella can be contracted in many different ways. Dogs can contract the disease through direct contact with an infected dog, from an area where an infected dog was recently present including surfaces and bedding and bowls, off of clothing or unwashed hands, and through the air. Bordatella consists of inflammation of the voice box, windpipe, and lungs. The virus and bacterium is inhaled, where it then attacks the upper respiratory tract. Any environment that has been exposed to an infected dog needs to be thoroughly and properly disinfected. The incubation period is usually anywhere from 2 to 14 days post exposure. Depending on the type of bacteria, as well as the health of your furry friend, symptoms can last anywhere from 6 days to 6 weeks. They can shed the virus up to 14 weeks after symptoms have resolved. Pneumonia is a concern in dogs where the symptoms persist after treatment or even without treatment.

Symptoms include:

  • A “honking” cough that can also sound dry.
  • Cough can also become so violent that vomiting is present afterwards.
  • Lethargy, although some dogs may show no signs of this and may be active and have a normal appetite.
  • Fever
  • Nasal discharge (sometimes clear)

It is also important to take into consideration if your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, whether or not they have been vaccinated and whether or not they could have been exposed. There are several tests that can be performed to confirm a positive case and help pinpoint the exact bacterium causing the inflammation. Typically though, diagnosis is based off of exposure history, symptoms, and vaccine history.

Treatment for kennel cough will vary with the severity of the symptoms. If the symptoms are mild with no fever or lethargy, a bronchodilator and/or cough suppressant can be used to keep the cough at bay and allow time for your four-legged friend to fight the disease. Antibiotics may or may not be used at this point. In more severe cases where fever and lethargy are seen with the cough or it has possibly become pneumonia, antibiotics are used as well as bronchodilators. Steroids might be used. Left untreated with persisting symptoms can lead to pneumonia and become life threatening. While your pet is recovering from kennel cough, it is recommended to use a harness or nose lead, avoiding any collars or bandanas that may place pressure on the trachea.

We recommend vaccinating your dog for kennel cough if you know that you will be taking your canine companion to the groomer, boarding facility, doggy daycare, dog park, or if they will be socializing with other dogs whose vaccine histories are unknown. There are many different vaccines used to protect our canine friends from this disease. It is important to discuss your dog’s exposure level with your veterinarian and what precautions you need to take including vaccinating.

If you suspect your canine companion may have been exposed to kennel cough or may be showing symptoms, call your veterinarian immediately!