How Do Dogs Get Kennel Cough?

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Kennel cough is very common in dogs. It is something like the common cold for dogs. Its medical name is Infectious Tracheobronchitis or Bordetella. It is very contagious and, worldwide, many dogs experience it in the course of their lives.

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Kennel cough can be caused by many different things. Among the things that can cause it are the parainfluenza virus, mycoplasma, and Bordetella bronchiseptica. Other things that are thought to contribute to kennel cough include the canine herpes virus (extremely common and easily spread in dogs), reovirus, and canine adenovirus-2. All of these viruses can cause symptoms of kennel cough but there is usually more than one organism involved.

Parainfluenza is the most common cause of kennel cough. It’s a common virus that causes mild symptoms that usually last less than a week unless there is another organism involved. Most kennel cough vaccines and combo vaccines provide some protection against parainfluenza.

If there is other bacteria involved in a case of kennel cough, then Bordetella bronchiseptica is the bacteria that is most often the culprit. With infection from Bordetella bronchiseptica symptoms usually appear 2 to 14 days after being exposed. If there are no other organisms involved, the symptoms usually last about 10 days. However, even after the infection has cleared up, the dog that was affected will go on shedding the bacteria for between 6 and 14 weeks. He can spread the disease to other dogs during this time.

You can protect your dog from Bordetella with an intranasal kennel cough vaccine offered by your veterinarian. Bordetella and parainfluenza are usually found together in infectious kennel cough (tracheobronchitis). The disease usually lasts two to three weeks.

The symptoms of kennel cough are a dry, hacking cough. The cough can have a honking sound in some cases. Some dogs gag or vomit after coughing. There can also be a watery nasal discharge. In mild cases a dog will stay active and alert. Dogs have usually been recently boarded at a kennel, come from an animal shelter, or around a group of dogs. In cases that are more serious, the dog can be lethargic, have a fever, lose his appetite,  have pneumonia, and in very extreme cases, even die. The most extreme cases usually occur in dogs with a compromised immune system or in puppies that have not been vaccinated.

If your dog has kennel cough you should take him to see the vet. Treatment of mild cases usually involves antibiotics and sometimes cough suppressants. Your dog will still be capable of shedding the disease and spreading it to other dogs so you should keep him away from other dogs and places where dogs go.

For severe cases, treatment involves antibiotics. Bronchodilators can be used. Veterinary care is often required to keep the dog from developing pneumonia.

The best way to avoid kennel cough is to keep your dog away from places where he could contract it but this is not always possible. The next best alternative is to keep your dog vaccinated and to use the Bordetalla vaccines that are available, including the intranasal vaccine.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta is a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine Dog News. She's also the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Award winner for 2013. In addition, she's written Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Healthy and Happy.

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