Common and contagious, canine kennel cough can be transmitted quickly among dogs in the close quarters of a kennel or animal shelter. And while most kennels require proof of vaccination, this does not always preclude the possibility that your dog could come into contact with, and possibly contract, the cough.
Kennel cough, also referred to as tracheobronchitis, is similar to the human cold. One of the most common causes is the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica. Dogs infected with Bordetella can also be infected with a virus that they might not have been vaccinated for, such as canine adenovirus, canine distemper, canine herpes virus, parainfluenza, and canine reovirus. As a result, pet owners should seek to prevent kennel cough by vaccinating their pets, not only against Bordetella, but also against other viruses that their veterinarians recommends vaccinating against. Co-infection with other respiratory bacteria are also possible.
But like vaccines developed to protect people from contracting strains of human influenza virus, the vaccination does not prevent the transmission of mutated strains, meaning that even vaccinated dogs can contract mutated or less-severe strains of the cough. If your dog begins coughing persistently after being around other dogs, do not rule out the possibility of kennel cough, and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
Symptoms often include coughing or hacking noises that mimic choking sounds, which arise after a 3- to 4-day incubation period. If kennel cough is suspected, note that the coughing will be persistent, forceful, and often will sound dry. Other symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, or eye discharge, but not all dogs suffer from these symptoms. Dogs afflicted with kennel cough often will not experience any changes in energy level or appetite, but, if excited, dogs can cough up a white, frothy phlegm.
Though many dogs recover without treatment, you should always consult your veterinarian if you believe your pet may have contracted kennel cough, not only because it is highly contagious to other dogs, but also because medications can speed your dog’s recovery and minimize symptoms. Antibiotics may be given to treat any present bacterial infections, and cough suppressants are prescribed to mitigate the immediate symptoms. Humidifiers or vaporizers can also provide some relief, and consider switching your dog’s collar for a harness if he pulls during walks.
If your pet has not recovered within the expected time frame, schedule a follow-up appointment with your veterinarian to ensure that kennel cough did not lead to a more serious infection, such as pneumonia. In most cases, symptoms will decrease and ultimately disappear within 3 weeks, but young puppies and older or immunocompromised dogs can take up to 6 weeks to fully recover.
As with many infections, prevention is key. Choose kennels that disinfect all the dogs’ cages routinely and maintain a sanitary facility. Keep your dog away from others you believe may be infected, and ensure that your dog’s vaccinations remain current. And, of course, consult your veterinarian immediately if you believe your dog may have contracted canine kennel cough.
Based in Denver, Colo., where she lives with her Rhodesian ridgeback mix, Jennifer Ryan writes for the American Animal Hospital Association.