What is Kennel Cough?

The kennel cough complex is a group of highly contagious respiratory diseases in dogs. The name comes from the fact that the infection tends to spread rapidly, especially among dogs in boarding kennels or dogs who have been to places where large numbers of dogs congregate, including dog shows and dog parks. Several viruses and bacteria, alone or in combination, can cause the disease. The organisms most frequently involved are canine parainfluenza virus and the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica (both are discussed in chapter 3). Canine adenovirus types CAV-1 and CAV-2, as well as canine herpesvirus, canine distemper, and mycoplasma, are other causes of kennelcough.

A harsh, dry, hacking cough is the characteristic sign of tracheobronchitis. The cough is unproductive and is often accompanied by gagging and retching. Except for the cough, the dog is bright and alert, and has a good appetite and a normal temperature. In most cases kennel cough is a mild disease. With rest and a stress-free environment, most adult dogs recover completely in 7 to 14 days. Keeping the dog quiet will speed recovery.

Kennel cough may be complicated by secondary bacterial pneumonia. This is most likely to occur in dogs with bronchitis, collapsing trachea, or diseases that lower their resistance to infection. In puppies, kennel cough can be accompanied by nasal congestion. These puppies require frequent care to loosen thick secretions, improve breathing, and prevent pneumonia. This is also true for toy breeds.

A severe form of tracheobronchitis that can lead to pneumonia is characterized by low-grade fluctuating fever, loss of appetite, and depression. These dogs have a moist productive cough, nasal discharge, exercise intolerance, wheezing, and rapid breathing. This form of kennel cough requires hospitalization.

Treatment: Kennel cough should be treated by a veterinarian. Isolate dogs to prevent spreading the disease. The quarters should be warm, dry, and well-ventilated. Humidification is beneficial. A cool mist vaporizer offers some advantage over a heat vaporizer, because it is less likely to add excessive heat to the atmosphere. If one is not available, having the dog in the bathroom while you shower can help.

Moderate daily exercise is beneficial to the extent that it assists bronchial drainage. Strenuous exertion off leash should be avoided. If the dog drags against her collar, use a harness or head halter.

Antibiotics are routinely used to treat kennel cough. The drugs of choice are the tetracyclines and trimethoprimsulfa. Continue the antibiotics for 7 to 10 days. Excessive coughing is controlled with cough suppressants.

Dogs with severe tracheobronchitis or pneumonia must be hospitalized and treated intensively with intramuscular or intravenous antibiotics and drugs that dilate the breathing passages.

Prevention: The intranasal Bordetella vaccine is useful but may have to be given twice annually. There is also an intramuscular Bordetella vaccine. CPI and CAV-2 vaccines-incorporated into routine immunizations-will decrease the prevalence and severity of kennel cough. Show dogs, boarded dogs, and dogs who go to grooming salons may benefit from the optional bordetella vaccination.

This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.