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out of breath: clearing the air on kennel cough

Dr. Kim Smyth
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Mar 20 2013

Young brown and white puppy | Kennel cough in pets | Petplan

If you’ve ever boarded your pet, you're probably familiar with the vaccine for kennel cough; most boarding facilities and groomers will require it before your pet can stay with them. But how serious a problem is it for best friends?

The medical term for kennel cough is infectious tracheobronchitis, which describes what it is: a highly contagious infection of the upper airways that causes a characteristic and persistent “goose honking” cough, which may be followed by gagging or retching. Typically, your dog will start to cough about a week to 10 days after having been exposed. Because it is so highly contagious, dogs can be exposed in kennels while boarding (hence the name), at the groomers, or in any other area populated by lots of other dogs.

There are many causative agents in the kennel cough complex. Bacteria, like Bordetella bronchiseptica, and viruses, like parainfluenza and adenovirus, are most often to blame. Kennel cough is transmitted in respiratory excretions, so all of that coughing spreads the organisms quite well.

Usually, cases of kennel cough are mild. So mild, in fact, that many veterinarians don’t even prescribe antibiotics for it. Occasionally, when the cough is so bad that it interferes with your dog’s eating or sleeping (or your sleeping!), cough suppressants are recommended. The symptoms generally subside on their own in a week or two.

Sadly, however, sometimes kennel cough can be quite serious. In dogs with compromised immune systems and young puppies, kennel cough can turn into life-threatening pneumonia. These unfortunate animals will need to be hospitalized for treatment with antibiotics, nebulization and fluids. Despite veterinarians’ best efforts, we do sometimes lose severely affected patients.

Vaccines against kennel cough are available and are universally recommended for dogs who go to a groomer or kennel. Though no vaccine is 100% effective, the Bordetella, parainfluenza and infectious canine adenovirus vaccines go a long way in both minimizing the occurrence of disease and the severity of clinical signs if contracted. An injectable vaccine and an intranasal vaccine are available, and your vet probably has a preference. Just be sure to get your pet vaccinated at least five days prior to his stay for maximum efficacy.