Kennel cough is the worst. It’s a highly contagious respiratory disease – actually called canine infectious tracheobronchitis – and it spreads like wildfire in kennels, dog parks, and anywhere else dogs congregate, hence the name.
What Exactly is Kennel Cough?
Kennel cough is a bit of a nebulous term. It’s an infection that can be caused by any number of organisms, so unvaccinated dogs can contract it after coming in contact with dogs that have a variety of ailments. Distemper, parainfluenza, reovirus, and of course, bordetella bronchiseptica can all lead to kennel cough.
Because kennel cough results in a lot of coughing, dogs who are infected readily spread the disease by hacking air and saliva in other dogs’ direction. The infection can live on for days on water dishes or dog toys.
How to Tell if Your Dog Has Kennel Cough
It usually takes anywhere from 4-10 days for the symptoms of kennel cough to appear in dogs. It’s very important to contact your vet if you think your dog might have kennel cough…its symptoms are nearly identical to serious diseases like canine distemper and canine influenza.
Many cases of kennel cough are mild, meaning dogs don’t present a lot of symptoms and still have plenty of energy to play and eat. In cases like these, a persistent, dry, unproductive (i.e. no mucus) cough might be the only symptom. Other symptoms might include a runny nose, diminished appetite, low-grade fever, or lethargy.
Here’s a video of a dog with what sounds like a mild-to-moderate case of kennel cough:
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With more serious cases of kennel cough, a secondary infection can occur. You’ll know this has happened when your dog’s cough morphs into a hacking, phlegmy affair, and when she loses energy and her appetite. A wet cough, especially one that lasts for a while, can be very dangerous for your dog as it can easily turn into life-threatening pneumonia.
Here’s a video of a dog with wetter, more serious-sounding cough symptoms:
What Can You Do About Kennel Cough
Your vet can quickly and easily assess your pet for kennel cough. Usually a slight massage of your dog’s trachea is all that’s needed to bring forth that honking cough, although your vet might recommend blood work or even X-rays if she suspects your dog’s infection has become serious.
If your dog’s kennel cough is mild, she may only need a couple weeks of rest. There’s a good chance your veterinarian might want to prescribe an antibiotic, but that depends on your dog’s case. While your dog is healing, you’ll want to walk her using a chest harness instead of a collar to avoid any irritation to her respiratory passages.
Preventing Kennel Cough Entirely
If you take your dog to the kennel or to a doggy day care, she’s probably already required to have her bordetella vaccine, which needs to be boosted every 6 to 12 months if she continues to be in close proximity to other dogs. Since the bordetella virus is a major contributor to kennel cough, that’s your best course of action. It’s also smart to keep your dog away from large groups of animals if she’s immunocompromised in any way, and to ensure she has all her own supplies (bedding, toys, water and food bowls, etc.) when visiting a dog-friendly location.