Posted on 15 Aug 2014 in Dogs, Disease

Kennel Cough- Infectious Tracheobronchitis

What is itKennel Cough?

Kennel cough isan infectious bronchitis of dogs characterized by a harsh, hacking cough thatmost people describe as sounding like “something stuck in my dog’s throat.” Itis very contagious, and can be picked up anywhere, not just in a kennel.Infection is more likely when lots of dogs are together eg. kennels or doggyday care, hence the name kennel cough. This bronchitis may be of brief durationand mild enough to warrant no treatment at all, or it may progress all the wayto a life-threatening pneumonia depending on which infectious agents areinvolved and the immunity of the patient. An uncomplicated kennel cough usuallyruns a course of a week or two and entails frequent fits of coughing in apatient who otherwise feels active and normal. Uncomplicated cases do notinvolve fever or listlessness, just lots of coughing.

Numerousorganisms may be involved in a case of kennel cough. Organisms involved caninclude bacteria (Bordetella bronchiseptica), a number of different viruses(most commonly Parainfluenza virus or Adenovirus type 2, but also Caninedistemper virus, Canine influenza virus, Canine herpesvirus (very youngpuppies)) and also Mycoplasma canis.

While themajority of cases are uncomplicated, infections can sometimes progress topneumonia, particularly in a dog that is young, stressed, or debilitated.

Not sure what aCoughing Dog sounds like?

Dogs can make anassortment of respiratory sounds. Usually a cough is recognizable but it isimportant to be aware of another sound called a reverse sneeze. The reversesneeze is often mistaken for a cough, a choking fit, sneezing, retching, oreven gasping for breath. In fact, the reverse sneeze represents a post-nasaldrip or tickle in the throat. It is considered normal especially for small dogsand only requires attention if it is felt to be excessive. The point here is toknow a cough when you see one. With kennel cough dogs will often gag or retchat the end of a cough, and may bring up foam or mucous (sometimes mistaken forvomiting).

A coughing dog thathas a poor appetite, fever, and/or listlessness should be evaluated forpneumonia.

How InfectionOccurs

An infected dogsheds infectious bacteria and/or viruses in respiratory secretions. Thesesecretions become aerosolized and float in the air where they can be inhaled bya healthy dog. Obviously, areas where lots of dogs share the same airspaceincrease the likelihood of transmission. Organisms may also be transmitted ontoys, food bowls or other objects. Animals that are stressed can have a reducedimmunity and are also more likely to develop an infection.


This means thatdogs may start to show signs between 2 to 14 days after they are exposed to thebacteria or virus. The cough typically lasts for 1-2 weeks.

How is DiagnosisMade?

Usually thehistory of exposure to other dogs within the proper time frame, plus typicalexamination findings (coughing dog that otherwise feels well) is adequate tomake the diagnosis. Radiographs may be recommended in some cases, they can showbronchitis and are particularly helpful in determining if there is acomplicating pneumonia, as well as ruling out other possible causes of coughing(eg. heart failure).

PCR testing canbe done, where a swab is send to a reference laboratory to determine whichinfectious agents are involved, this is not routinely done, as it is relativelycostly, but can be considered in some cases.

How is KennelCough Treated?

Although manycases will go away on their own, antibiotics that directly kill the Bordetellaorganism, (or other secondary bacterial infections) tend to hasten recovery.Uncomplicated kennel cough may also be treated with cough suppressants toprovide comfort during recovery. Sometimes anti-inflammatory medications orbronchodilators are given.

It is importantto rest your dog and allow them to recover.

It is importantto keep your dog away from other dogs to avoid transmission. We recommendisolating your dog for until at least one week after coughing has completelyceased. If there are multiple dogs in the household, the other dogs will be atrisk of infection, but will not always become infected (depending on theirimmunity).

Preventionthrough Vaccination

Vaccination is availablefor: Bordetella bronchiseptica, Canine adenovirus type 2, Canine parainfluenzavirus, and Canine distemper. These viruses are included in the C5 vaccinationswe give to puppies and adult dogs. Infections with other members of the kennelcough complex cannot be vaccinated against. Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccination may notprevent infection. In some cases, vaccination minimizes symptoms of illness butdoes not entirely prevent infection.


Intranasalvaccinations for kennel cough are also available.

It takes fourdays to generate a solid immune response after intranasal vaccination, so it isbest if vaccination is given at least four days prior to the exposure. Somedogs will have some sneezing or nasal discharge in the week followingintranasal vaccination; this should clear up on its own. As a general rule,nasal vaccination provides faster immunity than injectable vaccination.


Both injectableand intranasal kennel cough vaccinations provide immunity for approximately 12months (2 vaccinations 4 weeks apart are required initially for the injectablevaccination). However, if boarding is planned and more than 6 months havepassed since the last booster shot, consider bringing your pet in for anintranasal vaccination 5 days or more before the start of boarding. This willmean that they are as well protected as possible.

What if KennelCough doesn't Improve?

As previouslynoted, this infection is generally self-limiting. It should be at leastimproved partially after one week of treatment. If no improvement has beenobserved in this time, a re-check exam (possibly including radiographs of thechest) would be a good idea. Failure of kennel cough to resolve suggests anunderlying condition. Kennel cough can activate a previously asymptomaticcollapsing trachea or the condition may have progressed to pneumonia.

If you havequestions about a coughing dog, do not hesitate to call us. If bringing acoughing dog in for an appointment, we will try to put you and your petstraight into a consultation room in case your dog has an infectious cough. Youmay be asked to wait in the car until we have a room available.

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