Kennel Cough in Dogs – Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

A diagnosis of Kennel Cough can be frightening for a dog owner, but the good news is that with proper treatment and prevention it is not usually dangerous. The condition is most common in dogs who have been kenneled or otherwise closely confined with many other dogs for a period of time, such as at a dog show, boarding facility, groomer, doggie day care center or veterinary hospital.

What is Kennel Cough?

Kennel Cough is the common name for a respiratory condition in dogs known technically as Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis. The symptoms may be mild or severe and can range from a hacking cough to a life-threatening pneumonia. Kennel Cough occurs most often in puppies over six months of age who have not been properly vaccinated, but dogs of any age can contract the illness.

What Causes Kennel Cough?

There are several strains or “types” of Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria that cause Kennel Cough; they are sometimes referred to as “strains of pertussis”. Dogs who have received all their puppy vaccinations and booster shots may still become infected with Bordetella because many of the commercially available canine vaccines do not protect against all types of Bordetella. Even if a dog has received all its recommended vaccinations, it may not be fully protected against the disease.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough in Dogs

Kennel cough is the name given to a group of symptoms that can include: A harsh dry hacking cough caused by inflamed airways and sometimes accompanied by nasal discharge Deep, hacking cough with possible retching and gagging after coughing (later in the illness) Breathing sounds may be wheezy due to airway inflammation and excess mucus Pneumonia (rare but potentially life-threatening complication that receives the most attention in news reports)

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How is Kennel Cough Treated?

Treatment can be difficult and can include: Antibiotics to treat any infection and to reduce the severity of symptoms by suppressing Bordetella activity. Medications designed to loosen secretions and stimulate mucus-thinning expectoration (coughing) to make breathing easier. “Breathing treatments” may be required for severe coughing fits.

How Long Does Kennel Cough Last?

Symptoms usually subside within 7 to 10 days, but that can range anywhere from 2 to 21 days. For most dogs with mild symptoms, at-home treatment with antibiotics is usually effective. More severe cases may require intensive veterinary care including hospitalization and breathing treatments administered by professionals.

Prevention of Kennel Cough

Treatment once the symptoms have started is limited, but prevention is very important. Since Bordetella is a bacterium that mutates rapidly, all canine vaccines should be updated regularly and your dog will need a new one at least yearly. You can also help prevent your dog from contracting Bordetella by keeping your dog away from places where it is likely to be exposed, such as doggie daycare centers, doggie parks and groomers.

Whenever possible, avoid crowded events with lots of dogs in attendance. If you must visit one of these places when they are present, keep your dog home for 24 hours afterward — even if it seems to be recovering. Bordetella infection is airborne, so even if your dog does not appear sick, he can transmit the disease to other dogs in the area.