Kennel Cough, The Doggy Common Cold

Kennel cough is a highly contagious disease that causes upper respiratory problems and a deep, persistent cough.  Because it is so contagious, it can sweep through a kennel in a matter of days, hence the name “kennel cough”.  This infection is actually found wherever dogs congregate, such as dog shows, the groomer, veterinarian’s offices, or dog parks.

Dogs with kennel cough show several symptoms.  The most obvious is a dry, hacking cough that may sound like honking.  There may also be retching and watery nasal discharge.  Severe cases can progress into pneumonia and even death, although that is rare.  Puppies and old dogs are at most risk for complications from this disease, since their immune systems are not as active as healthy adult dogs.

Kennel cough is actually caused by several problems, among the most common being Bordetella bronchiseptica, parainfluenza virus, and mycoplasma.  In fact, it is commonly thought that kennel cough results from an infection of more than one of these diseases simultaneously.  Symptoms, especially the cough, can last up to three weeks in adult dogs, six weeks in puppies or immune compromised adult dogs.  This is miserable for both dog and owner.

Treatment consists of treating the cough with an mild anti-inflammatory medication to reduce throat irritation.  Severe cases may require cough syrup and an antibiotic to prevent secondary infections.

Several vaccines are available for the agents that cause kennel cough.  There is a parainfluenza vaccine and a bordetella vaccine.  You will need to consult with your veterinarian about the advisability of having your dog vaccinated for these problems.  If your dog is almost never around other dogs, the risks of vaccination may outweigh the benefits.  If, however, your dog is social and often around other dogs, vaccinating against these illnesses may well be the lesser of two evils.

There are two bordetella vaccines, the intra nasal vaccine and the subcutaneous vaccine.  The intra nasal vaccine takes effect faster but the injected vaccine lasts longer.  Both should be given every six months in high risk dogs.

The parainfluenza vaccine is usually given with the distemper parvo vaccination.  However, this vaccine will lessen the severity of kennel cough caused by this virus but does not completely prevent it.  Further, there is some evidence that the vaccine does not last a full year and may be needed every six months just as the bordetella vaccines are.  The injectable vaccine does not eliminate the virus from the nasal passages of vaccinated dogs.  This means they become carriers and can still spread the disease.

There is an intra nasal vaccine for parainfluenza that is given with the intra nasal bordetella vaccine.  Many veterinarians alternate the injectable forms of these two vaccines with the intra nasal ones.

Kennel cough is usually not serious, but does make both dog and owner miserable.  Talk to your veterinarian to see if your dog is at risk for this disease.