Canine Kennel Cough

We’re all used to our dogs barking and making some other “affectionate” sounds to get our attention. With that being said, coughing is not one of the sounds that we would want to hear from our beloved furry friend.

Canine kennel cough is one of the most common causes of acute/sudden respiratory disease in dogs. Other names for kennel cough are canine tracheobronchitis, canine upper respiratory complex, or canine infectious respiratory disease.

It is important to know that several viral and bacterial organisms are associated with kennel cough and that one or more organisms may be present in each affected dog. Bacterial organisms include Bordetella bronchiseptica, Mycoplasma sp., Streptococcus equi subsp. zooepidermicus. Viral causes include canine distemper (CDV), canine parainfluenza (CPIV), canine adenovirus type 2 (CAV-2), canine influenza (CIV), canine herpesvirus (CHV), canine respiratory coronavirus (CRCoV), pantropic canine coronavirus, canine reovirus, and canine pneumovirus (CnPnV).

Kennel cough can be transmitted through the dog’s contact with aerosolized respiratory secretions, dog to dog contact and via contaminated surfaces/materials (please note that this can include your personal items such as clothes, shoes!). Exposure to high-stress, high-density environments (e.g. shelter, veterinary hospital, kennel, grooming facility, dog park, dog show or other competition) can play an important role in disease transmission. Depending on the pathogen involved, the time it takes from exposure to kennel cough organism to the first manifestation of clinical signs is 2-10 days (average is 2-3 days).

Clinical signs are typically mild for kennel cough may include the following:

  • Coughing (may be high-pitched and hacking)
  • Sneezing
  • Eye and nasal discharge
  • Retching and gagging
  • In severe cases, fever, lethargy, anorexia and breathing difficulties can be observed.

Coping with kennel cough as a pet owner involves different aspects. As pet owners, there are several things that we can consider in order to deal with kennel cough:

Vaccination – important preventative measure. Vaccines are available for CPIV, CDV, CAV-2, CIV, and B. bronchiseptica. It is important to note that vaccines do not exist for some pathogens that are responsible for kennel cough. Also, vaccination does not produce complete immunity against kennel cough (the only exception is CDV), and that vaccinated dogs can still become infected and shed kennel cough. The advantage of being vaccinated for kennel cough though is that usually, dogs who have been vaccinated manifest milder clinical signs.

Environmental management – affected patients should be isolated. It is recommended to wait for a minimum of 10 days after cessation of clinical signs before letting your dog resume socializing activities. Environmental disinfection can be considered as almost all kennel cough pathogens (except CAV-2) are readily susceptible to routine disinfectants (eg. Bleach) as long as surfaces are thoroughly cleaned, a minimum of 10-minute contact time is observed, and the areas are dried thoroughly after. Other things to consider in order to help decrease kennel cough transmission are adequate ventilation, minimizing stress, reducing overcrowding, and reducing stay at a kennel/shelter environment.

As mentioned earlier, most cases of kennel cough are mild and should resolve within ten days. Medical intervention is usually considered for the complicated/severe cases, and of course, a veterinarian’s role will be vital in determining the best course of treatment.

Written by: Raymond Reboja, DVM

Resources: Veterinary Information Network