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Truths About Kennel Cough

Has your dog been around other dogs at a boarding facility, groomer, or dog park and later developed a harsh cough? If your dog has an acute onset of a hacking cough that seems like he or she is trying to “cough something up” or is acting like there is “something caught in their throat,” then your dog may have kennel cough, or Bordetella bronchiseptica. Kennel cough is an airborne disease that is very contagious among dogs. All boarding facilities do their best to provide a clean and well-ventilated facility for your dog to stay while you are away, but kennel cough is very difficult to control. Furthermore, the Bay Area has experienced an especially virulent strain of the disease this last year, and the number of kennel cough cases has been staggering.

This contagious cough is most frequently spread from one dog to the next in an enclosed facility where dogs are breathing next to one another; hence, that is why it got its name of kennel cough. The incubation period for kennel cough is about five days, which means that a dog will not show symptoms until about five days after exposure. Additionally problematic is that an exposed dog will shed the infective organisms and is contagious for two days prior to when the coughing starts, making it difficult to identify a carrier before the disease is spread.

Kennel cough, also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is usually caused by a combination of two viruses and a bacterium. Unfortunately, a 100 percent preventative vaccine does not exist, because there are multiple bacterial strains. It’s the vaccine developers’ best guess as to whether or not the current infective organisms are the same strain as the vaccine, a process similar to what happens the human flu vaccines. There have been several forms of the Bordetella vaccination (oral, injectable, intranasal), and all of them are about equally as effective and ineffective, because the strains mutate from year to year. However, a vaccinated dog will often have some degree of protection even if the strain encountered is different from the current vaccine. Symptoms in these cases may be mild and shorter-lived, or the dog may have no symptoms at all. Vaccination with the Bordetella vaccine is recommended at least 10 days before exposure to provide maximum immune protectiveness against the disease. Most Bordetella vaccines are effective for one year; however, some boarding facilities require the vaccine every six months. The DHLPP vaccination also covers the two common viral components of the disease.

The harsh, hacking cough is self-limiting and can last for about seven to 14 days and can be more severe in very young or very old dogs. Since veterinary hospitals also try to limit the contagion of the disease in their facilities, it is best to call your veterinarian to discuss the symptoms your dog is having. Oftentimes, only supportive care at home is necessary for the self-limiting disease to run its course. A cough suppression medication can be prescribed to help diminish the severity of the cough. Additionally, your veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic if there is the suspicion of a concurrent (and usually opportunistic) bacterial pneumonia. Young puppies and geriatric dogs are at greater risk of developing a secondary opportunistic lung infection, which usually consists of the dog becoming lethargic, experiencing a decreased appetite, and having more “wet cough” with mucus production.

Most importantly, it is imperative and responsible for you as an owner to keep your actively coughing dogs isolated from other dogs and rested until the disease has resolved. Kennel cough is only contagious to other dogs. All pet species and people cannot become infected with this disease.

Amy Benjamin, D.V.M., is a Bay Area native. She attended UC Santa Barbara for undergraduate school, UC Davis for veterinary school, and graduated in 2005 and has been a small animal veterinarian at Berkeley Dog and Cat Hospital for over 10 years. She lives with her husband, a 17-year-old cat, and a 2? year-old-daughter. “I enjoy treating and healing dogs and cats while helping their owners feel confident in my medical practice,” she said.

Main article photo by: Photo by Eric Vernier-Creative Commons