Kennel Cough: An in-Depth Look
What is Kennel Cough?
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.
Kennel Cough in dogs 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 his
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.
How is Kennel Cough
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
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 Even a chance encounter with
a carrier of Kennel Cough can transmit the disease. 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!
Even in the most
hygienic, well ventilated, spacious kennels the possibility of a dog
acquiring Kennel Cough exists. Kennel Cough can be acquired from your
neighbor's dog, from a Champion show dog at a dog show, from the animal
hospital where your dog just came in for treatment of a cut paw. So try
not to blame the kennel operator if your dog develops Kennel Cough shortly
after that weekend stay at the kennel! There may have been an infected
dog, unknown to anyone, that acted as a source for other dogs in the
Many dogs will have
protective levels of immunity to Kennel Cough via minor exposures to the
infective organisms and simply will not acquire the disease even if
exposed. Other dogs that may never have had immunizing subtle exposures
will be susceptible to the Bordetella bacteria and associated
viruses and develop the signs of coughing and hacking.
How is it Kennel Cough
Many dogs that contract
Kennel Cough will display only minor signs of coughing that may last seven
to ten days and will not require any medication at all. The majority of
dogs with the disease continue to eat, sleep, play and act normally --
except for that annoying, dry, non-productive coughing that seems so
It is, however, always a
good idea to have any dog examined if coughing is noticed because some
very serious respiratory diseases such as Blastomycosis, Valley Fever,
Heartworms and even cardiac disease might display similar sounding
coughing. Your veterinarian, through a careful physical exam and
questioning regarding the dog's recent environment, will be able to
establish if the dog's respiratory signs are from kennel Cough or some
other respiratory insult.
Treatment is generally
limited to symptomatic relief of the coughing with non-prescription, and
occasionally prescription, cough suppressants. If the dog is running a
fever or there seems to be a persistent and severe cough, antibiotics are
occasionally utilized to assist the dog in recovering from Kennel Cough.
It can happen that secondary bacterial invaders will complicate a case of
Kennel Cough and prolong the recovery and severely affect the upper
airway. Therefore, the use of antibiotics is determined on an individual
How is Kennel Cough Prevented?
Many dogs, exposed to all
sorts and numbers of other dogs, will never experience the effects of
Canine Cough. Some dog owners, though, prefer to take advantage of the
current vaccines available that are quite effective in preventing the
disease. Usually these dog owners will have to board, show, field trial,
or otherwise expose their dog to populations of other canines.
Since the chances of
exposure and subsequent infection rise as the dog comes in close proximity
with other dogs, the decision to vaccinate or not to vaccinate varies with
each individual circumstance. Generally, if your dog is not boarded or
going to field trials or dog shows, you may not have a high level of need
for vaccinating your dog against Kennel Cough.
Conversely, if you plan
to board your dog, or protect it from exposure, remember to vaccinate a
few weeks prior to potential exposure to allow full protective immunity to
If your dog happens to
acquire Kennel Cough, it will then have some immunity to subsequent
exposures. The length of time these natural exposures and the vaccinations
will produce protective immunity will vary greatly. How often to vaccinate
seems to have a subjective and elusive answer.
Be aware that vaccinating
with just the commercial Kennel Cough vaccine alone (contains only the
Bordetella agent) may not be fully protective because of the other
infectious agents that are involved with producing the disease. Some of
the other agents such as Parainfluenza and Adenovirus are part of the
routine multivalent vaccinations generally given yearly to dogs.
Bordetella vaccine may produce immunity slightly faster than the
injectable vaccine if the dog has never been previously vaccinated for
It is generally assumed
that the intranasal route of inoculation works the fastest in getting
protective levels of immunity established. However, studies have indicated
that in dogs that have been previously immunized by either the intranasal
or injectable route and that have some level of immunity already present,
vaccination by the injectable route actually boosts immunity faster than
the intranasal route.
When the injectable
vaccine is given as an annual booster (to boost any immune levels already
present) the maximum effects of the vaccine will be achieved five days
after the vaccination.
So when should the
intranasal route be utilized? Some veterinarians suggest that it be used
only in unvaccinated dogs and in young pups receiving their first
vaccination. In these unvaccinated animals the first immunization would be
via the intranasal route and then two additional inoculations by the
injectable route are given. Then yearly injectable inoculations are given
to enhance the protective levels of immunity.
We hope these tips help you and your new
puppy enjoy a long healthy life!!