Understanding Kennel Cough in dogs– Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Also known as tracheobronchitis or Bordetella, kennel cough is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection affecting the dog’s trachea and bronchi. Its name derives from the fact that it’s commonly found among dogs who are housed together in close quarters such as in a kennel or shelter. This condition is mostly caused by the canine parainfluenza virus and the bordetella-born chiroptical bacteria, but other agents such as adenovirus, reovirus, herpes virus, and mycoplasma canis can be involved as well. Kennel cough is not considered a zoonose; therefore, it, fortunately, cannot be transmitted to healthy humans.

How do Dogs Get Kennel Cough?

The method of transmission is similar to the common cold. Basically, airborne droplets are dispersed through sneezing and coughing. The droplets which contain viruses and bacteria are then inhaled by another dog that becomes infected. Another method of transmission is through contaminated surfaces. A dog with kennel cough may sneeze on a food bowl and the other dog licks it with the end result of getting infected. Normally, a healthy dog’s respiratory tract is lined with protective mucus, but at times, the lining may be compromised either by stress, exposure to cold, or other debilitating factors, allowing virus and bacteria to set in.

Most of the time, affected dogs have a history of being boarded. However, exposure may also happen in other places where dogs congregate such as dog daycare, the vet’s office, the dog park, a dog training facility, or a grooming center. Puppies and young dogs are most commonly affected, but adult and older dogs can get it as well.

Signs Your Dog Has Kennel Cough

After exposure, it generally takes a minimum of 2 to 10 days for the first symptoms to appear. The symptoms of kennel cough seem to be most severe in young puppies, older dogs, and pregnant dams because of their lowered immune systems. Complications may arise in severe cases requiring hospitalization. Most healthy dogs though only develop mild symptoms that tend to go away within one week, but if there is more than one organism involved, it may take up to three weeks. When complications develop, dogs may require up to 6 weeks to recover.

  • The signature symptom of kennel cough is a dry, hacking cough which some owners describe as “honking.” Other owners may describe the coughing to be similar to the cough seen when something is stuck in the throat. The coughing might be exacerbated by exercise, fervor, and pulling on the leash if a collar is used.
  • The affected dog may cough a few times and then retch, sometimes coughing up white foamy phlegm which is sometimes confused for vomiting.
  •  Some dogs may also develop a watery nasal discharge.
  • Generally, the dog still feels well overall, eating drinking, and playing normally.
  • In severe cases, kennel cough may progress causing loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, trouble breathing, and in some cases, even pneumonia.

How Kennel Cough is Diagnosed

The vet will diagnose kennel cough based on the dog’s clinical symptoms and history of being boarded or in contact with other dogs. Mild pressure on the dog’s windpipe may elicit a bout of dry coughing. A complete blood count and a chemistry profile may be run in the case of generalized malaise. A fecal test may rule out migrating parasites. A chest x-ray may reveal the presence of pneumonia. Other further tests may be run to rule out other medical conditions that cause coughing.

Treatment of Kennel Cough

In mild cases, the vet may recommend just let kennel cough run its course allowing the body to heal itself. Cough suppressants may be prescribed when the cough is not productive. Antibiotics are used when a secondary bacterial infection is identified. These though will not cure kennel cough, they’ll only take care of the secondary infection.

What Can you do at Home?

If your dog is diagnosed with kennel cough, there are a few things you can do at home if you are dealing with a mild case. Please refrain from the temptation to use over-the-counter cough suppressants as several may be toxic to dogs. Always ask your vet for advice before trying any OTC medications.

  • Running a humidifier or a vaporizer can give some relief and soothe those irritated breathing passages. If you don’t have these items, you can always run hot water in your shower, close the bathroom door and let your dog breathe the vapor.
  • Add warm chicken broth with no garlic or onion to your dog’s kibble.
  • Encouraging the dog’s fluid intake helps maintain good hydration.
  • On walks, you may want to skip the collar and try a harness instead.
  • Avoid smoking around your dog as this may further increase coughing.
  • Offer Manuka honey, special honey coming from New Zealand which has impressive antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory powers. It’s soothing and most dogs love the taste. According to CJ Puotinen, ½ to 1 teaspoon of honey given three or four times per day should work well.
  • Coconut oil is another help from nature that most dogs enjoy. It’s an infection fighter that can be taken along with the Manuka honey. According to author doctor, Bruce Fife known as the “coconut doctor” The daily intake of coconut oil is like a daily inoculation. It helps prevent dogs from becoming infected.

How to Prevent Kennel Cough

. Vaccination

Kennel cough can for a good part be prevented through vaccination, but the problem with vaccination is that vaccination doesn’t cover all the strains. Most boarding kennels and daycares recommend vaccination if their services must be used but this is mostly done for liability purposes. There are two types of vaccination: the intranasal and the injectable form. The intranasal form, under the form of a mist, sprayed up the dog’s nostril, is known for being less toxic as it doesn’t contain adjuvants. With the intranasal vaccine there are also chances for side effects, explains veterinarian Karen Becker.

. Isolation

When a dog develops a suspicious cough, he should be immediately isolated from other dogs to prevent exposure. It’s important to consider that even after the symptoms disappear, dogs who just had kennel cough remain contagious and are capable of shedding the bordetella organism for several weeks.

. Hygiene

Disinfecting is of paramount importance to prevent the spread of disease. Thorough cleaning and good ventilation are a must.

. Education

Last but not least, recognizing the early signs of kennel cough is important to prevent exposure to other dogs. Just as in the case of the human cold, it’s best to keep your dog at home and avoid daycare or that trip to the dog park to prevent other dogs from getting sick as well.

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