Kennel cough is a respiratory disease that dogs can acquire by being in close contact with other dogs. Kennel cough usually involves more than one infectious agent.
Some of the infectious agents include bordetella bronchiseptica (bacterium), canine adenovirus 2 (virus), parainfluenza (virus), canine influenza (virus), and canine distemper (virus).
Having your dog vaccinated for these diseases does not guarantee prevention. Most vaccines help decrease the severity of the symptoms should your canine friend come down with kennel cough. Other agents known to be involved with kennel cough are Mycoplasma canis (neither a virus nor a bacterium), and Canine reovirus.
The symptoms of kennel cough are either a deep, honking-like cough or a cough that sounds like the dog is hacking up a hairball. Sneezing, nasal discharge, and runny eyes can be seen as well. Most cases will resolve within one to two weeks, however, the dog could be infectious for up to three months.
Some of the more complicated cases can progress to pneumonia. If your dog does not get better in a week to 10 days with treatment, have your pup rechecked. Treatments for kennel cough may entail antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and/or cough suppressants.
Rest is extremely important when recovering. With excitement and exercise, airflow through the trachea and lower airways increase, which causes the irritation that induces more coughing. More coughing equals more irritation so the vicious cough cycle continues. Using a harness instead of a collar will help to relieve any pressure on the trachea, which can also cause coughing.
The incubation time from exposure to showing clinical signs is from two to 14 days. Many puppies and dogs from shelters or rescues commonly get sick after they are brought home. This is why it is always important to isolate a new dog from any other dogs in your household for at least two weeks.
With the emergence of doggy day care facilities, dog parks, and more restaurants allowing dogs, the exposure to these diseases becomes more likely. If your dog frequents these or dog shows, groomers, or boarding facilities, then it is a good idea to have your dog vaccinated.
Bordetella vaccines are labeled for one year, but some facilities require dogs to be vaccinated every six months if they are going to be exposed to a lot of other dogs. Bordetella vaccines are available in injectable, oral, and intranasal forms. It is always good to have your dog vaccinated two weeks before he or she is exposed to other dogs.
Getting vaccinated the day of boarding is not ideal, but if your dog gets vaccinated every six to 12 months, then there will be some immunity. Those dogs that have not been vaccinated in the past and then get vaccinated the day of boarding are more at risk for developing disease.
It is important to note that respiratory diseases in dogs are highly contagious, and even the most immaculate of places cannot be 100 percent sterilized, since the particles are in the air. Kids that go to school get sick because they are in close contact with things that other kids are touching and are coughing and sneezing in the environment.
We see more cases of kennel cough during our own flu season and during the holidays when a lot of dogs are boarding, even with the best precautions. If you must expose your dog to a place where other dogs are gathered, there is a small chance that your dog could get sick.
Coughing should not be confused with something called a “reverse sneeze.” Many dogs get rushed to the emergency clinic because of this type of episode. To see what a reverse sneeze looks and sounds like go to YouTube and type in “reverse sneeze in dogs.” You can also see what kennel cough sounds like on YouTube.
Many people think their dogs are choking when in reality they are coughing or reverse sneezing. If a dog were really choking then he/she would not be passing air and you would need to do the Heimlich maneuver right away to try to clear the airway. The trip to the ER may be too long.
The American Red Cross has great CPR and first aid books that they publish for both dogs and cats. The books come with a DVD as well. This is a great investment and may actually save your animal’s life one day.
Kim Donovan, D.V.M., is an associate veterinarian and medical director at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital in Seminole with 16 years experience and a special interest in feline medicine.