Curtailing kennel cough

Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2005

Many people believe that kennel cough is a disease that can only be contracted from a boarding kennel. This is a common misconception that can lead to a sore throat for a canine who's companion doesn't know all the facts.

The truth of the matter is kennel cough — or canine infectious tracheobronchitis, as it is medically known — can not only potentially be picked up at a kennel, but also at the groomer, a dog show, veterinarian's office or obedience class.

Dogs can contract it any place where the animals congregate and also can get it from exposure to a single infected animal.

Kennel cough is one of the most prevalent infectious diseases in dogs and is caused by a number of different airborne bacteria and viruses.

The primary symptom of kennel cough is a dry, spontaneous, hacking cough that is easily and frequently induced.

At the end of a coughing spell, an infected dog may retch and cough up discharge.

Other signs can include inflammation of the membrane lining the eyelids, nasal discharge, fever, depression, loss of appetite or reduced water intake. However, most dogs will continue to act lively and eat well, the constant cough being the only tell-tale sign of the illness.

Symptoms of the illness are not immediately apparent. Infected dogs often may not begin coughing until five to seven days after they have contracted kennel cough.

Animals suspected of having the disease should be isolated from other pets immediately to reduce transmission.

Most cases of kennel cough will resolve themselves in one to three weeks.

However, all suspected dogs should be seen by a veterinarian to positively determine the illness.

Three weeks is a long period for a dog to feel ill and have a sore throat. Veterinarians can prescribe a cough suppressant to make recovery more comfortable or antibiotics to help prevent any secondary bacterial infections.

The best way to prevent the illness is to keep up with annual vaccinations that all dogs should have.

Routine vaccinations can prevent most viral forms of kennel cough but an additional Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccination is available to combat the bacterial agent associated with the disease.

A veterinarian should be able to provide more information on which vaccines are available, how they work and how they are administered — since it may be injected or given internasally.

Both methods have advantages. The advantage of internasal injection is that the local immunity is stimulated at the site where the natural infection would be trying to take hold.

However, injections may be more suitable for dogs that are aggressive with a veterinarian or that have an aversion to their face or muzzle being touched or held.

It's important to not wait until the last minute when protecting a pet. All vaccines take days to weeks to stimulate the dog's protective immunity to the disease.

Vaccinating a dog the day it is exposed to disease may not be protective. If planning on boarding a dog, remember to vaccinate it a few weeks prior to potential exposure to allow full protective immunity to build up.

On occasion, some dogs may have a reaction to the vaccine and it would be best to not board the dog if a reaction were to occur.

Owners know their pets best and often can notice subtle changes in behavior that a stranger may miss, thus avoiding serious complication before they arise.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at

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