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What is kennel cough, and how can I protect my dog?

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My little darlings by mollypop on Flickr

My little darlings

by mollypop on Flickr
Question: What is kennel cough, and how can I protect my dog?
Most people have heard of Bordatella, or "kennel cough", but what are the signs seen? Is the disease serious? How can I protect my pet? Learn these answers and more in this FAQ.
Answer: Kennel cough is a fairly common and highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs. It is also known as Infectious Tracheobronchitis or Bordatella (although the Bordatella organism is just one component of kennel cough). It is easily spread when dogs are in close contact with infected dogs, such as; kennels, veterinary hospitals or other boarding situations.

What causes kennel cough? Kennel cough may be caused by a variety of disease agents, either singly or in combination with each other. Possible disease agents include: canine parainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus 2, or canine distemper virus. Other viruses may play a role, but the information is not as definitive.

Bacteria, such as Bordetella bronchiseptica may be a sole causative agent or may be a secondary infection after initial viral damage. Other bacteria, usually gram negative bacteria, may also be secondary infectious agents after an initial viral infection.

Clinical signs appear anywhere from 5 to 10 days after exposure to affected dogs. While the cough may sound serious, this disease is often harmless and dogs recover uneventfully in a week or so. Symptoms may last as long as 20 days. It is worthwhile to note that kennel cough may have potentially serious respiratory complications for very young and very old dogs.

Patients with kennel cough usually act fine as far as activity levels, appetite, and general attitude. The cough produced is harsh, dry, and can be quite loud and forceful; sometimes inducing dry heaves or retching. If nasal discharge, lethargy, anorexia or other signs of illness are noticed, it may be something more serious than kennel cough. Either way, a visit to your veterinarian is in order.

In patients with kennel cough, the trachea is often very sensitive; a collar may initiate a coughing spasm, so care must be taken to avoid use of collars and leashes in dogs with kennel cough to prevent tracheal damage.

Treatment for kennel cough is aimed at cough control. In some cases, antibiotics are necessary, but most often dogs will recover on their own in 5-20 days. The cough control is important because it reduces damage to the trachea. Common medications for cough control are hydrocodone and butorphanol. Your veterinarian will determine the most appropriate medication(s) for your pet.

Prevention of kennel cough is via vaccinations and isolating infected animals. A subcutaneous vaccination of modified live distemper, parainfluenza, and adenovirus 2 (which also protects against adenovirus 1) and a modified live intranasal vaccine of B bronchiseptica are protective for kennel cough. Dogs that are boarded or hospitalized frequently will be more at risk. Your veterinarian will be able to help set up a vaccination schedule suitable for the age and lifestyle of your pet.

Related Reading:
What is a "Reverse Sneeze"?

Reference: The Merck Veterinary Manual, 9th ed.

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