Kennel cough or acute respiratory infectious tracheobronchitis, is a commonly occurring respiratory infection affecting dogs. At our clinic we have witnessed a recent increase in numbers of dogs presenting for kennel cough infection locally. Many dog owners may be aware of the increased incidence of disease currently being seen, and are taking preventative measures to reduce the risk of contracting disease in their dogs.

Kennel cough is caused by a number of respiratory viruses; canine distemper virus, parainfluenza virus, herpes virus and reovirus. The only respiratory bacteria is known to cause infections is Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Kennel cough signals can range from mild respiratory infections to severe protracted infections, and signals include coughing, lethargy, inappetance and high temperature, but rare cases progress to bronchopneumonia.

After coughing many dogs can retch and this is often interpreted by owners as vomiting or choking. In fact many pet owners initially believe that their animals are choking on something that they should not have eaten, especially when the symptoms start so suddenly.

Coughing may last typically for around 1 week but some severe cases may cough for several weeks before finally resolving.

Bordetella infections, the bacterial cause of kennel cough, affects the small hairs or cilia that line the respiratory tract, preventing effective mucus movement from the airways, and inducing and inflammatory reaction in the airway.

This slowing of movement of mucus from the airway induces the coughing and can help the organism survive in the airway. In fact this prevents the dog from clearing the bacteria from the airway and allows persistent shedding of the bacteria for up to THREE MONTHS. This means that affected dogs may pass on disease for up to three months post infection.

Infection normally occurs by inhalation of infected droplets from infected dogs, and does not require long term exposure and can occur from short term exposure to an infected shedding dog on pavement walking, or parks.

Exposure may also occur at dog clubs, training schools, kennels and show circuits.

The organism may even be transported on the owners or handlers clothing, bedding or bowls resulting in infections even though a dog has not been in direct contact with an infected individual.

Vaccination of dogs reduces likelyhood of infection with kennel cough.

Two types of vaccination are commonly in usage

  • Parainfluenza vaccination, which is included in our routine annual vaccination program
  • a nasal drop vaccination against Bordetella which is an additional vaccination for dogs- commonly known as kennel cough vaccination.

Key steps in reducing risk of infection:

  • Consider vaccination , especially if increased local incidence of disease or before kennelling
  • If your dog is affected avoid contact with other dogs until at least 1 week after clinical signs of coughing have stopped.
  • Avoid contact with dogs with recent or current clinical signs of coughing

Fortunately kennel cough is readily treatable; some cases may require anti-inflammatory and bronchodilator therapy as well as antibiotics. All affected dogs should avoid irritant atmospheres (smoke/dust/dry or cold air), and restrict their exercise during the recovery period. Steam therapy (shower or bathroom) can reduce airway irritation, and avoidance of the use of a collar during convalescence may help.