Kennel cough in dogs is also called Canine Cough, Bordetellosis and Infectious Tracheobronchitis. Its will stimulate a coarse, dry, hacking cough about three to seven days after the dog is initially infected. It sounds as if the dog needs to “clear it’s throat” and the cough will be triggered by any extra activity or exercise. Many dogs that acquire Kennel Cough will cough every few minutes, all day long. Their general state of health and alertness will be unaffected, they usually have no rise in temperature, and do not lose their appetite. The signs of Canine Cough usually will last from 7 to 21 days and can be very annoying for the dog and the dog’s owners. Life threatening cases of Kennel Cough are extremely rare and a vast majority of dogs that acquire the infection will recover on their own with no medication. Cough suppressants and occasionally antibiotics are the usual treatment selections.

Actually, clinical cases of Kennel Cough are usually caused by several infectious agents working together to damage and irritate the lining of the dog’s trachea and upper bronchii. The damage to the tracheal lining is fairly superficial, but exposes nerve endings that become irritated simply by the passage of air over the damaged tracheal lining. Once the organisms are eliminated the tracheal lining will heal rapidly. The most common organisms associated with Canine Cough are the bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica and two viruses called Parainfluenza virus and Adenovirus and even an organism called Mycoplasma.

How is it transmitted?

The causative organisms can be present in the expired air of an infected dog, much the same way that human “colds” are transmitted. The airborne organisms will be carried in the air in microscopically tiny water vapor or dust particles. The airborne organisms, if inhaled by a susceptible dog, can attach to the lining of the trachea and upper airway passages, find a warm, moist surface on which to reside and replicate, and eventually damage the cells they infect.

The reason this disease seems so common, and is even named “Kennel” cough, is that wherever there are numbers of dogs confined together in an enclosed environment such as a kennel, animal shelter, or indoor dog show, the disease is much more likely to be spread. The same is true with the “colds” spread from human to human… they are much more likely to occur in a populated, enclosed environment such as an airplane, elevator, or office. All it takes for contagion to occur is a single source (infected dog), an enclosed environment, and susceptible individuals in close proximity to the source of the infection. Infected dogs can spread the organisms for days to weeks even after seeming to have fully recovered!

Treatment

There are two treatment options depending on the severity of the disease. In the most common mild (uncomplicated) form of the disease, antibiotics are usually not used. If the dog has a good appetite and is alert but suffers only from a recurrent cough, we will often let the disease run its course just as we would with a cold in humans. Treating the mild case does not shorten the length in which the animal will be a potential spreader of the disease. Many times, prednisone is given to help reduce the severity and frequency of the cough and to make the dog more comfortable. In addition, Bronchodilators like aminophylline or cough suppressants may also be used.

In more severe (complicated) cases where the animal is not eating, running a fever, or showing signs of pneumonia, antibiotics are often used. The most common ones are tetracycline or trimethoprim-sulfa. However, many other choices are also available. Steroids or cough suppressants are not usually recommended because of the risk of immunosuppressive with steroids and the need to continue to clear extra fluid or mucous in pneumonia patients. Bronchodilators and even aerosol therapy can be used. In moderate or severe cases, veterinary care should be instituted, as the resultant pneumonia could become life threatening if not treated properly and promptly.

Vaccination and prevention

The best prevention is to not expose your dog to other dogs, especially young puppies. If this cannot be avoided, then proper vaccination is the next best option. Chances are that if your dog is regularly vaccinated with a standard 5-way or 7-way vaccine, he is already being protected against several of the agents causing tracheobronchitis, mainly parainfluenza and adenovirus. However, these vaccines alone rarely provide protection against contracting the disease, although they will help reduce the severity of the disease if the animal becomes infected.

More commonly, for best protection, an intranasal vaccine containing both parainfluenza and Bordetella is used. Intranasal vaccines create localized immunity that greatly reduces the incidence of clinical signs and illness. There are several precautions and warnings that need to be observed pertaining to this vaccine. Some dogs will develop mild signs similar to tracheobronchitis when given this vaccine. Very often, the symptoms will last for several days and the dog will recover without treatment. Dogs that are vaccinated can also shed the virus and cause other dogs to become mildly infected and show mild signs. This shedding usually lasts less than 72 hours. In addition, it takes up to 4 days after vaccination for dogs to develop protection. When you combine these facts, you will see why I strongly recommend that a dog not be given intranasal vaccine within 72 hours of coming into contact with other susceptible dogs. Do not give the vaccine the day before a dog show, boarding, etc. Try to give at least four days before contact with other dogs, and preferably 7 days. This way you will protect your dog from becoming infected by other dogs, and protect those dogs from becoming infected by yours.

This vaccine is not without its problems. It is a very effective vaccine, but it must be used carefully and is generally only recommended for dogs that are at high risk. If your dog is not shown, boarded, or comes into contact with stray dogs, your dog is considered low risk.

In kennels where tracheobronchitis is a problem, strict hygiene with thorough cleaning and disinfection of cages and food and water containers is essential. In addition, kennels that are indoors should have good ventilation with an air turnover rate of at least 12 times an hour. Agents causing tracheobronchitis can be transmitted on hands and clothing as well as through the air, so infected animals must be isolated and handlers should wear gloves and use proper handwashing to help prevent spread. Vaccination of all animals, especially puppies is indicated in problem kennels. After initial vaccination as puppies, a yearly booster is recommended. However, some dogs that are at very high risk are vaccinated every six months.

Sources: Pet Ville, Emergency Animal

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