Kennel Cough – What is It and Who is at Risk?

What is Kennel Cough?

“Kennel cough” is the common name for either Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis (CIT) or Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRD). It, basically, is the dog version of a human cold. It is highly contagious, causes inflammation of the dog’s trachea and bronchial tubes (it’s upper airway), and is found worldwide.

Who is at risk for kennel cough?

Many, different pathogenic organisms can cause “Kennel cough”. Bortdetella bacteria, Para influenza virus, canine adenovirus, mycoplasma, or any other numerous viral or bacterial organisms can cause respiratory symptoms in dogs.

“Kennel cough” is sometimes called “bordetella” because if is often the most common bacterial agent involved. In most cases, more than one pathogen is present. For example, the dog has a virus AND gets exposed to bacteria, such as bordetella.

A very high percentage of all dogs will be exposed to a “doggy cold” at least once in their lifetimes, and most of those dogs will show symptoms for, at least, a brief period.

Dogs can be exposed to any number of infectious organisms either at the dog park, out on a walk, anytime they have nose-to-nose contact with another dog, during a visit to their veterinarian, or after boarding at a dog kennel or pound.

Basically, think of how you last caught a cold. It could have been anywhere, but in some places you are more exposed to germs than others.

What are the symptoms, and which dogs are most at risk?

Dogs that are either old, very young, not vaccinated, immune-compromised, or rarely (if ever) around other dogs are at highest risk for contracting a respiratory illness, and the symptoms are likely to be more severe.

Symptoms of “kennel cough” include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Watery nasal discharge
  • Decreased activity level
  • Low-grade fever
  • Loss of appetite (in rare cases)
  • Lethargy (more severe cases)
  • Difficulty breathing (more severe cases likely with pneumonia)

Symptoms usually appear 3-4 days after exposure, but may take up to 10 days. Generally, a full recovery is expected in 2-6 weeks, but in “at risk” dogs the symptoms may last longer if the illness has progressed to a more severe case.

What are the treatment options?

The majority of “kennel cough” cases tend to be mild, and often no special treatment is necessary. Just as humans generally recover from the common cold without any prescribed treatment, dogs will recover from a mild case of “kennel cough” with simple rest.

In moderate cases, dogs may need more supportive care, including doggy “cough syrup”, prophylactic antibiotics (in case a secondary pneumonia may be present), and forced rest.

In the very small percentage of dogs that develop a severe illness from “kennel cough”, veterinary hospitalization may be needed. Antibiotics are almost always prescribed, IV fluids may be given, and additional diagnostic tests may be needed to make sure there aren’t other, underlying, issues present (like a respiratory fungal infection or cancer).

It is up to a responsible, reasonable dog owner to make the determination if a veterinarian should see their dog.

How can my dog be protected from “kennel cough”?

The only sure way to avoid exposure to “kennel cough” is by keeping your dog away from any other dogs. But, since responsible dog owners vaccinate their dogs, the dog will need to make a trip to the veterinarian periodically and likely encounter other dogs.

Asking how I may TOTALLY prevent my dog from getting ill during its lifetime is like asking, “How can I keep my child from getting sick?.

The best way to help your dog avoid “kennel cough” is to regularly vaccinate him. A vaccine is available from your veterinarian that may, in some cases, either prevent or lessen the severity of “kennel cough”.

It is commonly referred to as the “bordetella” vaccine, since bordetella bacteria is often associated will canine respiratory illness.

While this vaccine is clinically only between 40-60% effective, in conjunction with other vaccinations, is the best option to keep your dog healthy.

Can “kennel cough” be completely prevented?

A problem with “kennel cough” is that dogs are contagious 1-5 days BEFORE they show signs of illness and are still contagious up to 14 weeks AFTER they are no longer symptomatic.

So, dogs may arrive at the kennel without showing any signs or symptoms of illness or may come back to the kennel after being home sick, and the dog may still be contagious.

In addition, dogs that receive the bordetella vaccination often develop symptoms of “kennel cough” within 2 weeks after receiving the vaccine.

If the vaccine was given just a few days prior to boarding, your dog may come home and develop a cough and runny nose.  Most owners will then assume their dog has contracted “kennel cough” from the recent stay but will simply be showing symptoms from the vaccine.

In addition, if your dog gets the vaccination only a few days before boarding, the dog’s immune system will not have had enough time to develop resistance to the bordetella bacteria, and may, in fact, be ill with some sort of respiratory illness.

Also, just like people, when a dog gets a vaccination its immune system gets sent into overdrive to develop antibodies to the vaccination, and this, stresses the immune system thus making the dog, potentially, at higher risk for another illness.

Since there are MANY canine respiratory pathogens, it’s possible your dog has a different doggie cold than one caused by bordetella.  Ahhh!

What efforts does Stonebridge Kennels take to reduce “kennel cough”?

No dog that seems outwardly ill upon arrival will be allowed to board at Stonebridge Kennels until it appears well or has a wellness check provided by a veterinarian.

Stonebridge Kennels also takes extra precautions to maintain a clean facility.  Not only clean surfaces, but clean air as well.  In addition, we adhere to strict vaccination rules to reduce the risk of bringing illness or disease into our facility.

Read about our vaccination policies and cleaning procedures here. We do everything possible to provide a safe and healthy environment while your dog is in our care.