Q: What is kennel cough, what you do do about it, and can my dog get it?

A:  Canine infectious tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) is one of the most prevalent infectious diseases in dogs.  Fortunately, the majority of cases are not serious, and resolve on their own in one to two weeks.  The main cause of kennel cough is the airborne bacteria, bordetella bronchiseptica.  A dog with kennel cough will develop a coarse, dry, hacking cough about five to ten days after being infected.  It sounds as if the dog needs to “clear his throat” and the cough will be triggered by any extra activity, drinking water, or being exposed to a change of temperature or level of exercise.  Many dogs that acquire kennel cough will cough every few minutes, all day long.  They will wretch and sometimes vomit and white foamy looking matter. Their general state of health and alertness are usually not affected, they usually have no rise in temperature, and do not lose their appetite. 

Even in the most hygienic, well ventilated, spacious dog facilities, the possibility of a dog acquiring kennel cough exists.  Kennel cough can be acquired from your neighbor’s dog, from a champion show dog at a dog show, from the animal hospital where your dog just came in for treatment for a cut paw, from the sidewalk where an infected dog walked earlier...so try not to blame anyone or any place if your dog developed kennel cough.  There may have been an infected dog, unknown to anyone, that acted as a source for other dogs. The signs of kennel cough usually will last from seven to 21 days and can be very annoying for the dog and the dog’s owners.  If you suspect your dog has kennel cough, isolate your dog and visit your veterinarian for medical advice.  First and foremost, isolate your dog,  Do not take your dog to public places in order to prevent the spread of infection. If your dog has recently been to dog school, daycare, or any other place where your dog was exposed to other dogs, notify the correct individuals that your dog is coughing.

You don’t need to isolate your dog to prevent infection.  The best recommendation is to discuss with your veterinarian what combination of vaccines and boosters they recommend. Many dogs that contract kennel cough will display one minor signs of coughing that may last seven to ten days and will not require any medication at all.  Treatment is generally limited to symptomatic relief of the coughing with non-prescription, and occasionally prescription, cough suppressants. If the dog is running a fever or there seems to be a persistent and severe cough, antibiotics are occasionally utilized to assist the dog in recovering from kennel cough.  It can happen that secondary bacterial invaders will complicate a case of kennel cough and prolong the recovery and severely affect the upper airway.  Therefore the use of antibiotics is determined on an individual basis.  Follow the advice and course of treatment that your veterinarian has prescribed.  Don’t allow your dog to exercise, as this will trigger the cough.  


REFERENCE: Merck Veterinary Manual - Eighth Edition, Dr. Michele St. Pierre, Waterloo West Animal Hospital