Veterinarians are seeing a concerning rise in kennel cough in dogs. At the Pembina Valley Humane Society, we are doing everything we can to keep it from entering the shelter and spreading to the dogs in our care. Read on to learn about kennel cough, prevention, and treatment.
So what IS kennel cough?
Kennel cough is the common name given to infectious bronchitis in dogs. Just as in chest infections in humans, a number of different bacteria and viruses can cause the illness – normally a combination of both. It affects their respiratory system, causing them to cough.
In most cases, dogs with kennel cough will appear healthy apart from coughing. But some dogs will have a runny nose, sneezing or eye discharge. They should retain their appetite.
While a nuisance, kennel cough is not normally dangerous and is likely to need no treatment at all. But in puppies, elderly dogs or those with existing illnesses, the condition can be more serious and can develop into pneumonia. Depending on the germs which have caused the virus, some strains of the infection can also be more severe than others.
How do dogs GET kennel cough?
Kennel cough is airborne and highly contagious, which is why it can spread through kennels quickly. It is also transmitted with bacteria on toys, food bowls or other shared objects.
A dog’s respiratory system is designed to protect against the invasion of infection, but certain situations and environments leave them more vulnerable to illness. These include stress caused by crowded environments, exposure to heavy dust or cigarette smoke, cold temperatures and poor ventilation. Kennel cough has an incubation period of two to 14 days, and some dogs can be carriers of the infection for months without developing symptoms.
How is kennel cough diagnosed?
There is no single test to diagnose kennel cough. Usually, if your dog has symptoms and has been exposed to a crowd of other canines within the incubation period, it’s adequate to diagnose them with kennel cough. Swabs can be taken to determine the exact virus or bacteria causing kennel cough – although this isn’t always useful for treatment. If there are suspected complications, radiographs can be used to assess a dog’s condition.
If your dog is bright, perky, eating well and playful, you may not need to visit the vet. But always phone for advice if you are worried and advise the clinic on arrival that your dog has been coughing – it’s best if they wait somewhere other than a crowded waiting room. In general, it’s a good idea to keep your dog away from other dogs while they are coughing.
How is kennel cough treated?
In most cases, dogs will recover from kennel cough without treatment within three weeks, but it can sometimes linger for anything up to six weeks. To aid recovery, make sure your home is well ventilated and avoid using a collar and lead, as any pulling might aggravate the wind pipe further – a harness is a better option on walks. Should treatment be given, antibiotics can kill the Bordetella bacteria – the most common present in kennel cough cases. Cough suppressants and anti-inflammatories can also be given to make your pet a bit more comfortable as they make a natural recovery.
There are many different strains of kennel cough – as there are among common colds in humans – so your dog can catch the infection multiple times. But if your dog has contracted the Bordetella bronchiseptica strain, he or she will typically be immune to reinfection for six to 12 months.